Wynton Marsalis played with the Lincoln Center Orchestra in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. JAS-member Ronald was there and reported back.
On February 20th 2018 I was lucky enough to see Wynton Marsalis play with the Lincoln Center Orchestra in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
After Wynton Marsalis and the rest of the band appeared through the door at the right-hand side of the stage, and walked to their positions on the stage, they took off and turned the Concertgebouw in the most swinging place on earth for a couple of hours.
They started with two pieces from the late 20-ies of last century and played two sets with compositions from various stages of Duke Ellington’s long and productive career. The encore consisted of Take The A-Train and a stunning version of Mood Indigo, featuring the trumpet, trombone and clarinet playing the theme grouped together on one side of the stage.
Wynton Marsalis was sitting next to the other trumpet players in that section and there was a lot of room for each musician to show their individual qualities in solo’s. The arrangements sounded very rich and the instruments blended very well together. The bandmembers looked like they too had a great evening .
Marsalis introduced every song and the players that were featured. Sometimes he told something about the background of a song, for example the trombone emulating the Islamic call for prayer in a composition from Ellington’s Far East Suite.
Some funny anecdotes were told by Marsalis in between the songs. For example about the time as a kid, his father asked him to join him to go to see a concert of Duke Ellington. Marsalis, who was listening to funk and pop mostly at that time, was unfamiliar with the music of Duke Ellington and replied “Who wants to go see that”? In the end he joined his dad and it would change his life.
He also told this story of Louis Armstrong handing over a bag with “medicinal herbs” to president Nixon when they coincidently met at an airport and walked through customs together.
Somewhere halfway the set they band played Jack the Bear, a composition that Ellington wrote especially to showcase the groundbreaking soloing skills of bassist Jimmy Blanton. He was the first bassplayer that played melodic, horn-like solo’s on the bass, using the entire range of the bass. Before, a bass solo was usually the moment where the band stopped playing and the bassist continued his walking bassline. Jimmy Blanton played with Ellington only for a couple of years, in 1939-1941. He died of tuberculosis in 1942, at age 23.
Marsalis introduced that song by telling that Duke Ellington was known for never firing a musician in his band. So when bassist Jimmy Blanton was added to the band, after Ben Webster saw him play in a club after a gig in St. Louis, the bassist that already had been playing in the band for a couple of years at that time, Billy Taylor, stayed and they played a couple of weeks with two bassists. Eventually Billy Taylor left the band, telling Ellington that he was no longer going to stand up there next to the young virtuoso and be embarrassed.
Blanton influenced many bassists that followed him playing with Duke Ellington, like Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus and Ray Brown. Ray Brown, who recorded duets with Duke Ellington in the early seventies on the record This One’s For Blanton. In the liner notes of that album Ray Brown staded that the two reasons he started playing the bass were Duke Ellington and Jimmy Blanton.
Here is a link to Pitter Panther Patter, a piano/bass duet by Ellington and Blanton: