When the world’s most renowned trumpet player brings the world’s most celebrated jazz orchestra to campus, that’s big. When the performers take the time to hear students play, give critiques, field questions and share their wealth of experience, that can be life-changing.
Composer, band leader and advocate for the arts Wynton Marsalis visited UNCG with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) last Thursday as part of the University Performing Arts Series. In the afternoon before the big performance, Marsalis held a public conversation with Interim Director of the UNCG Jazz Studies program Chad Eby in Taylor Theatre. Marsalis spoke about his life and music training, jazz history, what it takes to play the music of Duke Ellington and his general view of the world.
Prior to the talk, UNCG music students had the exclusive opportunity to work with members of the orchestra in clinics throughout the Music Building. Students formed jazz combos to play for the orchestra members, and the student musicians heard critiques and encouragement from some of the best jazz players in the world.
“Those cats can play, and they made me want to dance,” said freshman jazz studies major and piano player Sean Mason. “Dan Nimmer (JLCO pianist) was a cool guy, and so were the other members of the group. I think those are connections that I’ll keep for a lifetime.”
“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Mason’s combo-mate, music performance graduate student and vibraphone player Chris Thompson. “It’s always humbling to get a critique from those who are leading the way.”
The UNCG students also impressed the orchestra members.
“They were swinging, they had a good idea about the music, they knew their tunes, they were receptive,” said JLCO trumpet player Tatum Greenblatt. “I wish we had another 45 minutes with them.”
“Fabulous” was JLCO trumpet player Marcus Printup’s assessment of the UNCG student musicians. “I knew they’d be killing it, because Chad and Steve (Haines) and Brandon (Lee) are here,” he said, referring to several UNCG faculty who teach in the jazz program.
“I asked the students who they listened to. The piano player said Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans. The tenor player said John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins. They know the traditions.”
JLCO saxophone, flute and clarinet player Alexa Tarantino added, “I don’t often go to a school and have students give 110 percent right away. I could tell when they were playing they were just digging into it and giving their best, and there was no hesitation.”
Ariel Kopelov, a junior jazz studies major and tenor saxophone player, especially appreciated being able to work with Tarantino, a female jazz performer she has long admired.
Kopelov summed up the experience in one word: “mind-blowing.”
In the evening, the orchestra, led by Marsalis, gave a thrilling two-set performance to a packed house. They played original pieces by Victor Goines and Vincent Gardner, as well as tunes by Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. Throughout the performance, Marsalis, Goines and Gardner explained the historical contexts or the traditions that inspired each dynamic piece of music. UNCG faculty member Brandon Lee, who is a previous member of the JLCO, played with the band, giving solos on several of the tunes. After the performance, many of UNCG’s jazz students had the opportunity to spend more time with Marsalis and the rest of the orchestra.
The students who met Marsalis remarked on the way he took the time to speak with each student individually.
“It was definitely a life-changing experience,” said Thompson. “The entire day was a moment of reckoning. If nothing else, I know for sure there is one thing Thursday’s experience confirmed for me: I am heading to the practice room.”
Story by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Katie Loyd, University Communications