Jelly Roll Morton Front and (Lincoln) Center

Nick Catalano By

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With a three-night gala celebrating the music of Jelly Roll Morton, the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra marked its 30th season at Rose Hall. Focusing on Morton's pioneer arranging achievements with amplifications of them from Jazz at Lincoln Center performers, the evening offered a penetrating exploration of the Creole legend's multifarious compositional musings and featured a quintet of sparkling piano soloists who recalled his keyboard wizardry.

The full breadth and scope of Morton's talents—his multiple syncopations, latin-textured musical voyaging, innovative instrumental voicings, and original stride pianism—have rarely received all-inclusive treatment but the JALC spectacular came close. And Morton's many times ridiculed ego has often resulted in wasteful pejorative commentary but Wynton Marsalis quickly got past that controversy by underscoring Morton's intellectual and creative singularity.

At the September 15th show regular JALC orchestra pianist Dan Nimmer began matters by introducing guest ivory virtuosi Aaron Diehl, Sullivan Fortner, Micah Thomas, and Joel Wenhardt each of whom recalled Morton's keyboard genius with improvisational excursions that had the audience shaking their heads in wonder. Rarely heard Morton tunes such as "Mr. Joe," "Ganjam," "Grandpa's Spells," and "The Pearls" were juxtaposed with standard Jelly Roll triumphs—"Black Bottom Stomp," "Sidewalk Blues," "King Porter Stomp," and "Jelly Roll Blues" (often cited as the first published jazz composition in 1905) -adding to the intrigue of Morton's far-reaching pen. An evening highlight was "Burnin' the Iceberg" arranged by a contemporary New Orleans Creole Victor Goines which featured playful trades from Marsalis and baritone saxophonist Paul Nedzela.

The ensemble muscianship and improvisational soloing of the JALC band has never been better. All of the usual suspects contributed—Marcus Printup, Ted Nash, (whose arrangement of "Black Bottom Stomp" was symphonic in scope) Carlos Henriquez, Sherman Irby, Vincent Gardner, Marion Felder, Walter Blanding—all parading their prescient ideas. And it is always gratifying to see the old master Marsalis sitting in the rear of the band preferring that attention be given to his sidemen up front. He has been JALC artistic director since its inception and his leadership has been formidable.

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