A jazz star’s note­wor­thy de­vo­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSIC - Catlin is a free­lance writer. BY ROGER CATLIN style@wash­post.com

Wyn­ton Marsalis is a su­per­star in the jazz world: He has won nine Gram­mys, was the first jazz com­poser to win a Pulitzer Prize and has even graced the cover of Time mag­a­zine.

Like many su­per­stars, he’s also di­vi­sive. Some crit­ics con­tend that he’s more en­ter­tainer, or pop­ulist, than artist.

Crit­ics, how­ever, have not stopped Marsalis, who at 53 still re­tains the aura of the boy-whiz trum­pet player and com­poser, from be­com­ing one of the most rec­og­nized jazz artists in the world — and a tire­less force for ed­u­ca­tion. Last week, the Castle­ton Fes­ti­val, in Rap­pa­han­nock County, Va., wel­comed the inau­gu­ral edi­tion of the Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter Sum­mer Jazz Academy at Castle­ton— the 13th ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram es­tab­lished by Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter, which Marsalis co­founded in 1987 and where he still serves as artis­tic di­rec­tor.

Last week, 43 ad­vanced stu­dents from North Amer­ica, drawn from more than twice as many ap­pli­cants, came to Castle­ton to em­bark on two weeks of in­ten­sive study drawn from tech­niques de­vel­oped in the ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams at Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter.

Be­fore this sum­mer, Marsalis had never been to the hills of Castle­ton, but he knew its founder, Lorin Maazel, for more than 30 years.

“It was the 1980s. I was 21 years old,” Marsalis re­called, speak­ing by phone ear­lier this month from Skokie, Ill., where his Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter Or­ches­tra was per­form­ing. “He was with the Pittsburgh Sym­phony, and ac­tu­ally I went on tour with him play­ing the Haydn Trum­pet Con­certo.”

At the time, Marsalis al­ready had jazz and clas­si­cal record­ing con­tracts with Columbia Records.

“I was play­ing clas­si­cal con­certs all around the coun­try with a lot of dif­fer­ent or­ches­tras,” he said. “But I didn’t tour with a lot of or­ches­tras.”

The two-week ex­pe­ri­ence with Maazel — one of the world’s lead­ing con­duc­tors — who would go on to con­duct the New York Phil­har­monic, was a very pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, Marsalis said.

“The ease with which he con­ducted — I would watch the or­ches­tra re­hearse when they played their half,” he said. “The soloist gen­er­ally played the first half, but I’d stay and lis­ten. ... I got along with him, re­spected him, loved him. He was very sup­port­ive of me, also.”

In re­cent years, the two be­gan work­ing to­ward bring­ing the Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter pro­gram to Maazel’s Castle­ton Fes­ti­val.

The mae­stro’s death a year ago at age 84 didn’t slow plans for the Sum­mer Jazz Academy, in part be­cause of the sup­port from Maazel’s widow, Di­etlinde Tur­ban Maazel, who has taken over as the fes­ti­val’s di­rec­tor.

“I think ev­ery­body was ded­i­cated to mak­ing it hap­pen,” Marsalis said. “It was just a mat­ter of hav­ing a will to do it. And he had the will to do it, and other peo­ple in the com­mu­nity felt they’d love to bring the feel­ing the mae­stro wanted.”

Both Marsalis and Maazel hoped to help Castle­ton take its place among “all of the great sum­mer camps” — In­ter­lochen, Mil­wau­kee, Aspen, Bre­vard, Tan­gle­wood.

“[Maazel] had a funny thing he used to say when he was teach­ing young peo­ple,” Marsalis said. “‘ We will not waste your time.’ ”

Marsalis’s stu­dent-camp ex­pe­ri­ence in­cluded the Eastern Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Greens­boro, N.C., as a ris­ing sopho­more and ju­nior, then the Bos­ton Univer­sity Tan­gle­wood In­sti­tute pro­gram as a se­nior, where he was the youngest mu­si­cian ad­mit­ted — at age 17 — and where he won the Har­vey Shapiro Award for out­stand­ing brass stu­dent.

“Those were great ex­pe­ri­ences for me as a mu­si­cian,” he said. It was Juil­liard from there, and be­fore long Marsalis had joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Mes­sen­gers.

At sum­mer mu­sic camps, in ad­di­tion to the in­ter­ac­tion with in­struc­tors and all the time spent prac­tic­ing and play­ing, “you meet other mu­si­cians from around the coun­try that are se­ri­ous,” Marsalis said. “And you learn as much from them as you do from the teach­ers, re­ally. The peo­ple you meet at mu­si­cal camp, you’ ll see for your en­tire life.”

Jazz, Marsalis said, “helps you fo­cus your in­di­vid­u­al­ity through im­pro­vi­sa­tion and helps you fig­ure out how you fit in with other peo­ple through the art of swing. That’s two of our ba­sic things: im­pro­vi­sa­tion and swing. One teaches you about your­self; the other teaches you how to fit into the con­text of oth­ers. All very im­por­tant skills for teenagers.”

Join­ing Marsalis as teach­ers at the sum­mer camp at Castle­ton are trum­peter Mar­cus Printup, sax­o­phon­ist Ted Nash, trom­bon­ist Vin­cent Gard­ner, pi­anist He­len Sung, gui­tarist James Chir­illo, bassist Rod­ney Whi­taker and drum­mer Ali Jack­son. The pro­gram cul­mi­nates with two “Academy All- Stars” per­for­mances with Marsalis on July 25 and 26; a week later, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter Or­ches­tra will play a pair of con­certs.

Castle­ton is Marsalis’s sec­ond Vir­ginia res­i­dency with young mu­si­cians this year. In Jan­uary, he worked with the Shenan­doah Con­ser­va­tory Sym­phony Or­ches­tra in Winch­ester on his re­vised “Blues Sym­phony,” which was per­formed at Strath­more in Fe­bru­ary. “Blues Sym­phony” con­tin­ues Marsalis’s cat­a­logue of quasi- clas­si­cal com­po­si­tions, which have not met with uni­ver­sal fa­vor, de­spite or per­haps be­cause of their scale and am­bi­tion. (“Blood on the Fields,” which won the Pulitzer Prize, is a 31/2- hour or­a­to­rio.)

But Marsalis has got­ten used to the crit­ics, and says: “It is what it is. I don’t fret over it.

“I think that you need that crit­i­cism. We’re all the same way as hu­man be­ings. We com­pare our­selves to each other, and we do things. Un­til we get on a much higher level as a species and un­til we evolve to a higher level, we’re go­ing to con­tinue to do that.”

He added, “I try to con­cen­trate on im­prov­ing and mak­ing peo­ple happy with mu­sic and bring­ing peo­ple to­gether and deal­ing with other higher lev­els of con­scious­ness through mu­sic.”

Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter Academy All-Stars with Wyn­ton Marsalis July 25 and 26 at the

Castle­ton Fes­ti­val. Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter

Or­ches­tra with Wyn­ton Marsalis Aug. 1 and 2 at the Castle­ton Fes­ti­val. Tick­ets for all shows: $35-$200. Call 866-974-0767 or visit

www.castle­ton­fes­ti­val.org. (Note: the Sum­mer Jazz Academy per­for­mances will stream live online at

www.livestream.com/castle­ton­fes­ti­val and the Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter Or­ches­tra per­for­mances at



Since he co-founded Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter in 1987 in New York City, ed­u­ca­tion has been cen­tral toWyn­ton Marsalis’s mis­sion, from the adult ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram dubbed “Swing Univer­sity” to out­reach geared to­ward youth. Marsalis led the first JALC Sum­mer Jazz Academy for bright stu­dents at the Castle­ton Fes­ti­val in Rap­pa­han­nock County, Va., in part to honor the mem­ory of trea­sured men­tor Lor­inMaazel.

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