Wynton Marsalis

From Academic Kids

Wynton Marsalis (born October 18, 1961) is an American trumpeter and composer. He is among the most prominent jazz musicians of the modern era, as well as a well known African American instrumentalist in classical music.

Marsalis has made his reputation with a combination of exceptional skills in jazz performance and composition; a sophisticated, yet earthy and hip, personal style; an impressive knowledge of jazz and jazz history; and a virtuosity in classical trumpet. As of 2004, he has released 16 classical and more than 30 jazz recordings, and has been awarded eight Grammys, in both genres.



Marsalis was born in New Orleans, the second of six sons of jazz pianist, composer and teacher Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores. His older brother is Branford Marsalis, who plays tenor and soprano saxophone. His brother Delfeayo plays trombone; and the youngest brother, Jason, plays drums.

Marsalis picked up the trumpet at the age of six at the urging of his father. He began studying trumpet seriously at age 12. At 14, he performed Haydn's Trumpet Concerto with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra and at 18 moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School of Music. He became a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1980, and toured with Herbie Hancock the following year.

After signing a contract with Columbia Records, Marsalis released a self-titled debut album in 1982. In 1984, he won both jazz and classical Grammy awards, by which time he had become internationally known. (Southern 571)

In 1987, Marsalis helped found the Jazz at the Lincoln Center program, and is still its artistic director. The program begam as a weeklong classic jazz series and was fully established in 1991. The department became an independent organization — Jazz at Lincoln Center — July 1, 1996. It has developed its own board of directors, repertory company and a Classical Jazz Orchestra. Marsalis told the Amsterdam News:

"We are proud to take our place among the other outstanding organizations in the Lincoln Center family. The action places the uniquely American legacy of swing and blues as a history to be valued, an artistic achievement that is on par with the most magnificent works of Western classical music." (Southern 575)

In 1997, Marsalis became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, for his jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields, which dealt with the subject of slavery. Marsalis also helped shape the 2000 television documentary Jazz by Ken Burns, contributing to its segments on pre-World War II acoustic jazz.


The music of Marsalis was part of a movement during the early 1990s countering the perceived excesses of free jazz and fusion. During this period, the styles of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and early jazz masters were studied and revitalized. This reinterpretation of earlier music has helped preserve earlier traditions within the genre.

Marsalis' musicianship, his command of jazz history and outspoken advocacy of the music brought him to the fore of this group of "Young Lions," as they'd come to be called, who sought to return jazz to its more melodic, swing roots. Critics such as Tom Piazza of the New York Times felt that these young musicians were overhyped and the movement countered artistic progress. However, he and others believed the movement nonetheless would be the beginning of a new era in jazz. (Southern 573—574)

Marsalis' strongly held views regarding the roots of jazz and its development have generated some negative appraisals from jazz critics and fellow musicians: Well-known critic Scott Yanow praises Marsalis's talent, but has questioned his "selective knowledge of jazz history (considering post-1965 avant-garde playing to be outside of jazz and 1970s fusion to be barren)."[1] ( Trumpeter Lester Bowie opined of Marsalis' traditionalism, "If you retread what's gone before, even if it sounds like jazz, it could be anathema to the spirit of jazz," [2] ( while Miles Davis stated that Marsalis was "a nice young man, only confused."[3] (

Marsalis producing both classical and jazz albums, pointed out the importance of the connection of the two genres; black classical composers of the 1980s90s, like Marsalis, were Jazz musicians during their career. (Southern 576) The movement connecting jazz and classical had already began during the early twentieth century with Ravel, Debussy and most prominently Gershwin. Avant-garde and jazz composers have become sometimes indistinguishable as the former began to use jazz tonalities and jazz drew upon the serial techniques and other elements of the classicists with the most important emphasis in both being the impovisational or quasi-improvisational style. In a 1990 Time magazine interview on the subject, Marsalis provided his insights:

"Jazz is the primary art form....When it's played properly, it shows you how the individual can negotiate the greatest amont of personal freedom and put it humbly at the service of a group connection" (Southern 577)

Downbeat magazine's online website says of Marsalis:

For many, Wynton Marsalis saved pure jazz from a morass of pop fusion and noise. Others contend that the trumpeter instilled a regressive notion of the jazz tradition. This debate, not to mention his instrumental proficiency and compositional ambition, has made him one of the most prominent and controversial jazz musicians of the '80s and '90s. [4] (

Awards and recognitions

Marsalis has been awarded the Grand Prix du Disque of France and the Edison Award of the Netherlands, and was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in Britain. He has received honarary doctorate degrees from Amherst College and Rutgers University in May 1997, in addition to various recognitions by Brandeis University, Brown University, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, the Manhattan School of Music Princeton, the University of Miami and Yale.

Marsalis has toured 30 countries on six continents, and has sold nearly five million recordings worldwide.

Pulitzer Prize for Music,
Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group 
Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with orchestra) 
Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo 
Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children 


2004: The Magic Hour Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

2003: Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio: In Full Swing

2002: All Rise - Classic Kathleen Battle: A Portrait

2001: Classical Hits

2000: The London Concert

1999: Reeltime - Listen to the Storyteller - Sweet Release and Ghost Story - At the Octoroon Balls - Franz Joseph Haydn

1998: Classic Wynton

1997: Liberty! - Jump Start and Jazz

1996: In Gabriel's Garden

1995: Why Toes Tap: Marsalis on Rhythm - Listening for Clues: Marsalis on Form - Tackling the Monster: Marsalis on Practice (VHS) - Sousa to Satchmo: Marsalis on the Jazz Band - Greatest Hits: Baroque

1994: Greatest Hits: Handel

1993: On the Twentieth Century…: Hindemith, Poulenc, Bernstein, Ravel

1992: Baroque Duet

1987: Carnaval



1988: Portrait of Wynton Marsalis - Baroque Music for Trumpets

1986: Tomasi, Jolivet: Trumpet Concertos; more

1984: Purcell, Handel, Torelli, more: Trumpet Concertos - Haydn: Three Favorite Concertos — Cello, Violin & Trumpet Concertos

1983: Haydn, L. Mozart, Hummel: Trumpet Concertos

1982: Fathers and Sons Columbia Records # FC 37972.

See also



External links


The Music of Black Americans: A History. Eileen Southern. W. W. Norton & Company; 3rd edition. ISBN 0393971414de:Wynton Marsalis


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