Big Band Holidays Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis was a great performance including a variety of festive classics, and it allowed me to escape, if only for an hour and twenty minutes, the stress of end-of-semester reality.
From the very first tune, which was “Jingle Bells,” the ensemble established a high standard. Various members soloed during that first piece, and audience members applauded and cheered after each, as is traditional for jazz. One of the first soloists was Wynton Marsalis, and I have to say that his prowess on trumpet is clear in even just a few measures of improvisation. At one point during the concert, he played for an extended period in a range so high that I was sure he could break glass with his trumpet. And yet, for the majority of the concert, he was the modest MC of the night, announcing the program and various humorous anecdotes from the stage, playing trumpet in the back row, and applauding his colleagues.
Also impressive was the range of talent possessed by each and every member of the ensemble. Most of the woodwind players played as many as three instruments over the course of the evening. For example, one soloed on E flat clarinet, saxophone, and bass clarinet. The brass players had at least five different types of mutes each. Furthermore, the band’s performance of “What Child is This” began with a small group singing a capella alongside vocalist Vuyo Sotashe, and it was clear that those musicians could sing as well as excel on their instrument! Virtually all of the sets played were arranged by members of the ensemble, and each was innovative with its own personality. The closing song of Big Band Holidays was a jazzy version of “Silent Night,” which was intriguing and enjoyable for its contrast to how the song is traditionally interpreted, albeit it was amped a little too loudly for my own taste and eardrums. Another entertaining tune was “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” featuring baritone saxophone and bass clarinet playing the almost humorous melody. Some of my other favorites included “The Christmas Song” (which I learned from Wynton Marsalis’s introduction was ironically written in the middle of a July heatwave), “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel”, and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”
My favorite song of the entire night, however, was Jazz at Lincoln Center’s incredible rendition of “Christmas Time is Here.” Joined by exceptional vocalist Veronica Swift, it was cool and quiet, in contrast to most of the other pieces performed, and it seemed to capture the mood of this time of year. Ms. Swift’s voice was smooth and warm and for the duration of the song, it drew me in and transported me to a place of holiday cheer and happy memories. The tune conjured simultaneous images of Snoopy skating among the snowflakes, cozy nights spent in the glow of a Christmas tree, and cheerful times with family and friends. I did not want the song to ever end!
The only letdown of the entire night was the fact that the audience did not call for an encore. I was surprised when the audience, which had been enthusiastic and engaged for the span of the concert, collectively got up, put their coats on, and left at the conclusion of the final piece. I, for one, certainly would have loved to have the privilege of hearing another song performed by Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis!