Still Stompin' at the Savoy

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Vocalist Milt Grayson, a sporadic singer with the LCJO since the early Nineties and a veteran of Duke Ellington's orchestra from 1960 to 1964, agrees with Marsalis. Speaking on the phone from the road, Grayson explains: "It goes back to the symphony orchestras playing Bach and Beethoven. What's the difference between the [LCJO] and that? Jazz is America's real classical music. You go back to Armstrong or Ellington and bring those things up to the people."

Judging by Marsalis's frequent sold-out concerts and relatively high record sales for a jazz artist, the public seems to like what he is offering, even if the critics don't. The LCJO recently embarked on a "For Dancers Only" tour, named after a jaunty 1937 instrumental by band leader Jimmie Lunceford. The show features the group (including Marsalis's enveloping, rich-toned trumpet) performing standards and new works by Marsalis and other orchestra members, basso profundo Grayson belting out a few ballads, and a cast of energetic swing dancers showing off their moves.

Blow, man, blow: Wynton Marsalis leads his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra into town
Blow, man, blow: Wynton Marsalis leads his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra into town

It may sound like a throwback to the ballrooms of the Thirties and Forties, such as Harlem's Savoy (or maybe just another Gap commercial), but in Marsalis's view, performing and interpreting the old tunes is precisely what keeps them lively, relevant, and spiritually enriching. Something he once told Life magazine many years ago could well apply to all the arguments that rage against him now: "Art isn't an automobile. It doesn't get outmoded. It deals with the human soul."

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