On Friday, October 13th, 2017, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) with virtuoso trumpeter/bandleader Wynton Marsalis opened the 24th “Symphony Center Presents Jazz” Series at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago. This concert, “All Jazz is Modern: Jelly Roll Morton to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra”, was the first of 2 as part of a 2-day residency which included a youth concert, “Who is Count Basie?” (Related article) and a Special Concert featuring Jon Batiste, both on Saturday, October 14th at Symphony Center. In addition, on Friday, October 13th, Jon Batiste and the JLCO musicians conducted workshops at 4 Chicago Public High Schools, Kelly, Kenwood Academy, Morgan Park and Whitney Young, as part of their commitment to enriching the lives of Chicago’s youth.
Ferdinand Joseph Le Menthe (aka Jelly Roll Morton) was an American ragtime pianist, bandleader and composer, widely acknowledged as Jazz music’s first arranger. He claimed, with much veracity, to have “invented jazz”. Clearly, his musical influence continues unabated in tributes and the work of musicians today.
The JLCO played 9 pieces, followed by a 4-member improvised encore. These include one Marsalis work dedicated to the late JLCO member, Scotch saxophonist Joe Temperley, a slow and dreamy piece featuring Paul Nedzela on baritone sax and a sparkling excerpt from Sonny Rollins’ 1958 “Freedom Suite”, arranged by saxophonist/clarinetist Walter Blanding. The 6 Jelly Roll Morton works were a mix of original Morton charts and new arrangements by JLCO members. The Morton music was upbeat, complex, sophisticated and witty, giving every JLCO member a chance to shine -and wail- in solo riffs, as indeed they did throughout the concert. Marsalis introduced the works in a paean to the genius and lasting relevance of the famous composer/pianist. They included:
-Alto saxophonist Sherman Irby’s version of “Sidewalk Blues,” which opened the concert; it began and ended with the brass section creating a simulacrum of traffic noises.
–“Mr. Joe”, a swing-era composition never performed or recorded by Morton, smooth, happy and strong.
–“Jelly Roll Blues”, the 1st published jazz composition; arranged for the JLCO by trombonist Chris Crenshaw. This early foxtrot is very typical of New Orleans jazz, with lead melody and counterpoint played by trumpet, clarinet and trombone while drums, bass and piano produce the rhythmic counterpoint. Here, the structure was expanded and varied with instrumental breaks and solos.
-A sassy version of “The Crave”, arranged by bassist Carlos Henriquez, that segued from Hispanic dance rhythms into a veritable salsa exposition of the “Spanish tinge”, the Latin-inspired bass line Marsalis told us Morton loved to use.
-“The Blackbottom Stomp”; originally entitled “Queen of Spades”, and first recorded in Chicago by Morton and his band, “Red Hot Peppers”, this rollicking piece contains alterations and suspensions of rhythm, complex melodic variations, and rich dynamics of volume and tone.
–“New Orleans Blues”, arranged by clarinetist/saxophonist Victor Goines, a sultry slow-drag sashaying tune that helped form the bedrock of jazz as we know it today; this version enlivened with solo performances of astonishing power and pace.
The JLCO produced consistent dynamic and melodic variations, a plethora of rhythmic variations, incorporated Latin sensibilities, and avoided clichéd sounds. With a wealth of creative juxtaposition, “old” music was given edge, bite, passion and wit.
“The orchestra is so dedicated to excellence and has performed for such a long time at an extremely high level on different styles of music and under all types of circumstances”, says Wynton Marsalis, JLCO Managing and Artistic Director. “If you consider that every position improvises, there are 10 arrangers, and we play an unprecedented variety of styles, there has never been anything like it in the history of our music”.
For information and tickets to all the great concerts and programs of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go the CSO website