Wynton Marsalis — Wynton Learson Marsalis on born October 18, 1961 to Dolores and Ellis Marsalis, Jr., a New Orleans-based music teacher and pianist. He is the second of six sons. He is an American jazz and Western classical virtuoso trumpeter and composer. He is Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He has promoted the appreciation of Classical and Jazz music, often focusing on young audiences.
As a Jazz performer and composer he has made display of his extensive knowledge about jazz and jazz history and for being a classical virtuoso. As of 2006, he has made sixteen classical and more than thirty jazz recordings, has been awarded nine Grammys in both genres, and was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Music for a jazz recording.
Marsalis demonstrated an aptitude and interest for music as a youth. Al Hirt gave a six-year-old Marsalis his first trumpet. At age eight he performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band led by banjoist, Danny Barker. At fourteen he was invited to perform with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Marsalis moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School of Music in 1978. Two years later in 1980, he joined the Jazz Messengers to study under drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey, during which time Marsalis learned from Blakey how to lead a band and how to perform with intensity and consistency. Marsalis assembled bands and performed over 120 concerts for ten consecutive years. But as audiences for Jazz concerts aged and shrank, Marsalis has given lectures and music workshops.
Marsalis has been commissioned to compose for dance companies including Garth Fagan Dance, Peter Martins at the New York City Ballet, Twyla Tharp for the American Ballet Theatre, and also for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Marsalis collaborated with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1995 to compose the string quartet, At The Octoroon Balls, and again in 1998 to create a response to the Stravinsky: A Soldier’s Tale with his composition, A Fiddler’s Tale.
In 1997 his epic oratorio on slavery, Blood on the Fields, became the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize in music.
In 2006, Marsalis’s US$833,686 annual salary as Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center drew negative attention in an article published by Reader’s Digest magazine regarding overspending by non-profit organizations. Marsalis is a bachelor with sons by Candace Stanley and another son with actress Victoria Rowell.
Marsalis has been criticized by some jazz musicians and writers as a minor and limited trumpeter who pontificates on jazz, as he did in his 1988 opinion piece in the New York Times “What Jazz Is – and Isn’t”. Marsalis was criticized for pressing his neo-classicist opinions of jazz as producer and on-screen commentator in the Ken Burns documentary Jazz (2001). The documentary focused primarily on Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong among others, while ignoring other jazz artists. David Adler said that “Wynton’s coronation in the film is not merely biased. It is not just aesthetically grating. It is unethical, given his integral role in the making of the very film that is praising him to the heavens.”
Marsalis emerged as a New Orleans booster in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by making public speeches and television ads to increase public awareness of the importance of rebuilding New Orleans, and also to encourage tourism of Louisiana. Marsalis also organized a large benefit at Jazz at Lincoln Center for musicians and other New Orleanians affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Wynton sits on the Advisory Committee of the Board of Directors of The Jazz Foundation of America. Wynton has continued to work with the Jazz Foundation to save the homes and the lives of America’s elderly jazz and blues musicians including musicians that survived Hurricane Katrina. His organization Jazz at Lincoln Center has raised funding through “High Ground Campaign” to assist the Jazz Foundation of America in aiding musicians affected by Katrina.
Marsalis has helped raise awareness of Aung San Suu Kyi and human rights violations in Burma, also known as Myanmar, through concerts working with the Freedom Campaign and the US Campaign for Burma. Past music events have also included R.E.M., Damien Rice, and the Black Eyed Peas.
Marsalis has been awarded the 2005 National Medal of Arts of the United States, the Grand Prix du Disque of the Charles Cros Academy and the Edison Award of the Netherlands, and was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in Britain. He has received several honorary doctoral degrees, and a variety of other recognitions from Brandeis University, Brown University, Columbia University, Denison University, Harvard University, Haverford College, Johns Hopkins University, the Manhattan School of Music, New York University, Northwestern University, Princeton University, the University of Miami, Southern Methodist University(SMU) and Yale University.
Marsalis, with his father and brothers, are group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.
Marsalis has toured 30 countries on every continent except Antarctica, and nearly five million copies of his recordings have been sold worldwide.