One of the best parts of living in Ann Arbor is its many performance venues, which draw performers and artists from around the world. I’ve been a fan of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since high school when I myself played in jazz bands, and it’s been a treat to be a student with such easy access to concerts such as JLCO’s nearly annual appearances. This Sunday, I took my seat in the packed Hill Auditorium and waited with anticipation for this year’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra experience.
Holiday music, at least the popularized songs I always heard on the radio as a kid, are rooted in the big band and swing style, evoking a certain kind of nostalgia when hearing familiar tunes. But that’s exactly what jazz happens to be, a musical oral history passed down from those who came before. Trumpet player and co-director Wynton Marsalis embodied this with his in-between-song banter, telling stories of the legendary jazz musicians and the rich histories of the popular songs we often take for granted.
JLCO was joined by jazz vocalist Alita Moses, who dazzled the audience with her smooth, warm vocals and joyful stage presence. Moses led the band in the spiritual “Mary Had a Baby,” showcasing her beautiful, crystal-clear voice and also giving the band a chance to sing some, too. I thoroughly enjoyed a Coltrane-inspired arrangement of “My Favorite Things,” where a saxophone section completely comprised of soprano saxes each took a whirl at solos, and a killer piano solo had me laughing in my seat. Near the end of the performance, a more emotional moment came when the band debuted a new piece composed by co-director Marcus Printup titled “I’m Still Here This Christmas,” written in memory of those we have lost in the past few years in the pandemic.
With true Michigan spirit, Wynton Marsalis opened the performance with talking about the OSU game, and ended it by quoting “The Victors” in a solo during an arrangement of “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” One of the things I love most about jazz is the beautiful spontaneity of it, creating moments like that which carry and twist lines of music like a private joke.
I left feeling happy, warm, and in the holiday spirit, cheered by the energetic, danceable swing of their Big Band Holidays music.