He played the archetypal bandleader in the film Tune In Tomorrow. Clean-living, occupied with his profession, and a hard-working artist, Wynton Marsalis managed his acting role in much the same way he manages his career. There are mixed opinions of his celebrity status. A spokesman for jazz long before the Ken Burns documentary, this prolific trumpeter has made a lasting impression.
Columbia's "best of" collection, at 76 minutes, covers a lot of territory. The trumpeter is expressive and unique. Hard work has always enabled Marsalis to produce favorable results. His "Cherokee" surges forcefully with an athlete's mindset. "Black Codes" may be his best work to date. On it, a 23-year-old Marsalis found his groove with a sturdy hard bop quintet and modern mainstream jazz in his heart. Expectations were high that his career would follow that theme. He's turned, instead, toward a team-oriented approach that eschews innovation in favor of re-creating sounds from the distant past. Moreover, the trumpeter's solo voice simply doesn't get enough exposure these days.
"Sunflowers," from The Marciac Suite, represents one of Marsalis' more recent works. The pianist takes a solo and the trumpeter trades fours with alto saxophone, soprano saxophone & trombone. However, the spirit of the session hasn't changed much from his Tune In Tomorrow days. What's missing is that man with a horn. In quartet format, Marsalis was quite expressive. His soulful voice stood out. "The End of a Love Affair" was recorded in the late '80s. On it, the trumpeter reveals the pure ballad artistry of a classical artist. When the music is from the heart, swinging, and superb in musicianship, you've got most of the essential ingredients.
Whether you view this celebrity as controversial or not depends on your focus. Are we to consider his trumpet artistry, or his ensemble leadership? Has the composer developed historically significant material? Like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, Marsalis has "played the game" better than most. Like Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, the things he's said have had a significant impact. At 39, he's in a position to do much more with his career than spark controversy over retro musical arrangements and racial or age discrimination. Gifted and talented since childhood, the second son of a professional jazz pianist & educator, and a woodshedder on his instrument, Wynton Marsalis has the required skills. The trumpeter is soulful, too, when he wants to be. Now, it's up to him. Does he want to help lead jazz along its next growth path, or simply rest on his laurels?
Track Listing: Jig's Jig; Root Groove; I Got Lost in Her Arms; Where or When; Cherokee; Black Codes; Double Rondo on the River (Pedro's Getaway); Down Home with Homey; Sunflowers; Invitation; The End of a Love Affair; Soon All Will Know.
Personnel: Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Printup, Harry "Sweets" Edison- trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, Ronald Westray- trombone; Kent Jordan- flute; Alvin Batiste, Michael White- clarinet; Branford Marsalis- soprano saxophone; Wessell Anderson, Harvey Estrin- alto saxophone; Victor Goines, Ted Nash- soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Todd Williams- clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Herbert Harris- tenor saxophone; Joe Temperley- baritone saxophone; Kenneth Gordon, Narcisco Figueroa, Israel Chorberg, Matthew Raimondi, Paul Peabody, Martin Stoner, Richard Ingraham, Krista Bennion Feeney, John Pintavalle, Sandra Park, Suzanne Ornstein, Ron Oakland, Nancy McAlhany, Lisa Steinberg, Donna Tecco, Richard Sortomme, Laura Seaton, Ann Leathers, Regis Iandiorio, Richard Henrickson, Winterton Garvey, Barry Finclair, Robert Chausow, Belinda Whitney-Barratt, Abe Appleman- violin; Lenny Davis, Maxine Roach, Sue Pray, Carol Landon, Mary Helen Ewing, Karen Dreyfus, Julien Barber, Lamar Alsop- viola; Mark Orrin Schuman, Frederick Zlotkin, Clay Ruede, Eugene J. Moye, Richard Locker, Erik Friedlander- cello; Warren Bernhardt, Lucky Peterson- organ; Marcus Roberts, Eric Reed, Eric Lewis, Cyrus Chestnut, Kenny Kirkland, Ellis Marsalis- piano; Reginald Veal, Rodney Whitaker, Marthaniel Roberts, Charnett Moffett, Ron Carter, Robert Hurst III, Lawrence Glazener, Paul Harris, John Beal, Ben Wolfe- bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts, Herlin Riley, Lewis Nash- drums.