I recently had the pleasure of catching a performance of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which is now touring, under the direction of Wynton Marsalis. They played at the Pepperdine University Performing Arts Center in Malibu, and really raised the roof. In New York City, my high school was immediately adjacent to the Lincoln Center site, and I watched those buildings being erected during my four high school years. At that time, I never thought that jazz would become a part of the permanent curriculum at Lincoln Center, but some forward-looking people finally got the idea that jazz should be included in Lincoln Center's calendar of events. It was a natural progression and has put jazz on the map in a very meaningful way.
The performance I attended was dedicated to the works of Duke Ellington. Wynton is a dedicated teacher and historian, in addition to being a virtuoso performer. His introductions to the various tunes are explained with eloquent and humorous asides that explain the context and historical framework of the music. In his hands, this great musical tradition will reach new generations of fans and maintain its status as “America’s classical music.” Lincoln Center has also responded to the needs of the music by building three rooms on Columbus Circle that will ensure performers have a venue where they can play. The rooms go from a club setting to a concert ballroom, and the acoustics are world-class. Lincoln Center has made sure that jazz has a home.
photo of Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra by John Marshall Mantel, AP