Wynton Marsalis, born October 18th, 1961 in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a trumpet player, composer, band leader, and educator. He has served as the artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center since 1991. Marsalis’ father Ellis Marsalis Jr., a pianist and teacher himself, began Wynton’s musical education at age 6, after virtuoso Al Hirt gifted the boy his first trumpet.
Wynton began his music career in his teens, playing a range of styles from funk to classical. For a time, he was the only black musician in the New Orleans Civic Orchestra. At age 17, Marsalis moved to New York City to attend Juilliard School, where he is now faculty, while also entering into the jazz scene. By 1980 he joined Art Blakey’s storied band The Jazz Messengers, with whom he toured until 1982. Shortly thereafter, he began his solo career and formed a band with some of the most impressive young jazz musicians on the scene: his brother Branford Marsalis, pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Charnett Moffett, and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.
In 1991, Wynton Marsalis began his tenure as chair of the jazz program at Lincoln Center in New York City. Prior to his involvement, Lincoln Center was primarily focused on presenting and preserving European classical music. One of Marsalis’ primary goals throughout his career has been to present jazz as “America’s classical music.” Jazz at Lincoln Center put it best in their mission statement:
“The mission of Jazz at Lincoln Center is to entertain, enrich and expand a global community for jazz through performance, education, and advocacy. We believe jazz is a metaphor for Democracy. Because jazz is improvisational, it celebrates personal freedom and encourages individual expression. Because jazz is swinging, it dedicates that freedom to finding and maintaining common ground with others. Because jazz is rooted in the blues, it inspires us to face adversity with persistent optimism.”
Marsalis’ further accomplishments and awards are too numerous to list in full here. He has won multiple Grammy awards, a Pulitzer for his oratorio Blood on the Fields, the National Medal of Arts, and numerous honorary degrees, just to name a few.
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