Biography: Wynton Marsalis
Pulitzer Prize for Music
Wynton Marsalis Date of birth: October 18, 1961
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Wynton Marsalis was born in New Orleans, where his father, Ellis Marsalis, is a well-respected jazz pianist and teacher. His brothers Branford and Delfeo are also notable musicians. Wynton received his first trumpet at age six, and played in public at age seven, but did not begin to study seriously until he was 12. At 14, he made his debut with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Throughout high school, he played first trumpet with the New Orleans Civic Orchestra, while playing funk and jazz with other local groups. A straight-A student, he graduated from high school with honors, and at age 17, began his studies at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.
Still in his teens, the young trumpeter joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the great finishing school of many jazz musicians. Drummer Blakey was often called the Lion Tamer, because of his dedication to discovering and training the best young instrumentalists. By age 19, Marsalis had signed a recording contract with CBS Records. He made his recording debut as a leader in 1982, and over the next 17 years produced close to 40 jazz and classical recordings for Columbia Jazz and Sony Classical.
After leaving Blakey, Marsalis struggled for some years to hold his own group together. Many players found it more lucrative to play pop or rock music than to adhere to Marsalis' uncompromising vision. His criticism of rock and fusion music alienated some critics and listeners, but he persevered, taking time out on the road to visit schools and instruct young people all over America on the traditions of jazz and its place in American life.
In 1983 he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz Grammy Awards in the same year, a feat he immediately repeated. To date he has won six Grammy awards for his jazz recordings and two for recordings of classical music. He has received five Musician of the Year awards, and his recordings regularly sell hundreds of thousands of copies; one album stayed on the charts for 39 weeks.
His recordings include Black Codes (From the Underground) the series Standard Time which includes the albums The Resolution of Romance and Intimacy Calling, both of which feature his father on piano, and an epic meditation on the blues entitled Soul Gestures in Southern Blue. The three volumes of Soul Gestures are: Thick in the South, Uptown Ruler and Levee Low Moan. Marsalis' Sony Classical recordings include concert, chamber and solo music for trumpet from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th-century repertoires.
In 1987 Wynton Marsalis co-founded Jazz at Lincoln Center to sponsor jazz performance and educational programs at New York's premier performing arts center. Since 1992, Marsalis has served as the organization's Artistic Director, and as leader of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Marsalis has written numerous concert works for the orchestra, beginning in 1992 with In This House, On This Morning, an extended piece based on the form of a traditional gospel service.
Beginning in 1993, Marsalis has composed music for ballet and modern dance, creating works for the New York City Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in collaboration with choreographers such as Peter Martins, Judith Jamison, Garth Fagan and Twyla Tharp. In 1994, he published his first book, Sweet Swing Blues on the Road .
In 1997, Wynton Marsalis received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his oratorio Blood in the Fields. Marsalis was the first jazz musician ever to be so honored. The year 2000 saw the release of the eight-volume CD series Swinging Into the 21st. The series includes a seven-disc boxed set of live performances from the Village Vanguard and seven other volumes including works by Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonious Monk and Igor Stravinsky and new works by Marsalis himself, including At the Octoroon Balls: String Quartet No. 1, A Fiddler's Tale, Reel Time and Sweet Release and Ghost Story: Two More Ballets by Wynton Marsalis.
In addition to his busy schedule of composing and performing, Marsalis produces music education programs for public radio and television. His four-part, Peabody Award-winning TV series Marsalis on Music, introduces young viewers to the adventure of making music. The Peabody citation for Marsalis on Musicalso recognized his 26-part National Public Radio series, Making the Music, which was based on the Jazz for Young People concerts he leads at Lincoln Center. Most recently Marsalis served as a principal consultant and on-camera commentator for the 20-hour documentary series, Jazz, produced by Ken Burns, which appeared on public television in January, 2001.
In 2004, Marsalis presided over the long-awaited opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center's new home: Frederick P. Rose Hall, the world's first performing arts facility designed specifically for jazz education, performance and broadcast. Part of the enormous Time Warner Center on Manhattan's Columbus Circle, the facilities of Frederick P. Rose Hall include classrooms, studios, a theater, a nightclub and the architecturally ingenious Allen Room, a flexible performance space with a breathtaking view of Central Park. Under the leadership of Wynton Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center produces a year-round schedule of education, performance and broadcast events with the Jazz Orchestra, the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and a comprehensive array of guest artists. It is the world's largest not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to jazz.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated his native city in 2005, Marsalis swung into action, organizing benefit concerts in both New York and New Orleans to raise money for relief and reconstruction efforts. In the year following the catastrophe, he continued to write and speak out, in an effort to keep the country's attention focused on the many unfinished tasks of restoration and resettlement. For the first anniversary of the disaster, he prepared a massive three-day tribute to his hometown, including a national television broadcast of a live concert to benefit New Orleans charities. Beyond his achievements as an artist, Wynton Marsalis has matured into a public figure of courage and conviction.
This page last revised on Nov 11, 2013 15:01 EST