Performing Arts: Wynton Marsalis Returns

by patrickmccoy

The jazz trumpeter celebrated 30 years with WPAS with a dynamic performance at the Ken Cen. 

Wynton Marsalis shares a moment with the students of the WPAS Capitol Jazz Project. (Photo by Chris Burch)

Thirty years ago, the Washington Performing Arts Society had the good fortune of presenting jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in one of his early Washington, D. C. concerts. This time around, Marsalis was joined by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, while WPAS board chairman Reginald Van Lee made opening remarks, first expressing appreciation to corporate sponsors Versar and Pepco for their generous support, and then to President Emeritus Douglas Wheeler. Bringing the opening remarks to a close was the formal announcement of Jenny Bilfield as new president of the venerable arts presenter.

The energy in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall was magnetic, with the usual constrained decorum of the classical music center almost no where in sight. Feet tapping on the floor, voices humming along softly and vigorous applause all expressed appreciation for the presence of jazz royalty.

New WPAS President Jenny Bilfield greets Marsalis and board chair Reginald Van Lee. (Photo by Chris Burch)

This appearance by Marsalis with his colleagues truly showed his growth as musician. Many people often classify him as a soloist, whether it be in jazz or classical repertory, but the whole evening allowed the listener to not only hear Marsalis as a soloist, but showcased his ability to also be a member of the ensemble. There were many jazz standards that delighted the audience, but it was the gems of Washington native Duke Ellington that seemed to resonate with the packed audience. “Braggin in Brass” was a tour de force, showing the members of the section’s ability to play with great control.

New compositions were among the music performed, which included band member Christopher Crenshaw’s musically evoking take on “God’s Trombones” by James Weldon Johnson and Sherman Irby’s “Insatiable Hunger” based on “Dante’s Inferno.” Both new contributions to the jazz canon were widely received by the appreciative crowd.

Whether the musicians were playing collectively as ensemble or as individual soloists, there was a strong sense of rapport on the stage. Bassist Carlos Henriquez, pianist Dan Nimmer and drummer Ali Jackson provided a solid, well-nuanced rhythmic core throughout.  Saxophonists Victor Goines, Ted Nash and trumpeter Ryan Kisor were among the solo standouts. Young students from the WPAS’ Capitol Jazz Project, which brings teaching artists into D.C. public schools, had the opportunity to meet Marsalis at the intermission.

It is often said that there is nothing like jazz in New York City. For those who do not get to have that experience as often, Kennedy Center was a close substitute thanks to Marsalis and his stellar band.

Recently named among the Forty Under 40 for his contributions to arts and humanities, Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va.  He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price.  McCoy  has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our  time, including Renée FlemingDenyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence  Brownlee.   Listen to these interviews and others  at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

Related Articles