Wynton Marsalis Teaching Unity Through Jazz

Thursday, September 15, 2016.

Check out Wynton Marsalis’ tour schedule, and you will find he’s up to more than just jazz performances.

In between concerts, the musical icon is immersed in lectures, workshops and presentations he gives to schools and organizations across the nation – from high schools such as the Boston Arts Academy to top universities like Harvard – discussing jazz and how it plays into American culture.

His goal: To build a widespread appreciation for jazz and its power to unite cultures.

While Marsalis has built an international career as composer, trumpet player and artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, his chief mission remains the promotion of cultural literacy.

“I strive to inspire belief, to elevate consciousness by encouraging empathetic reasoning with others, and to create new pathways for a richer communication by discovering and revealing a common musical language,” he wrote in a recent blog post on his website.

Describing himself as a child of the civil rights movements, key topics Marsalis often discusses include how jazz has promoted racial integration.

In a recent CNN interview, Marsalis pointed out how the democratic nature of music and jazz has played a significant role in addressing racial tensions in the U.S.

“Jazz, it's the only thing that was integrated in the 1920s, '30s, '40s of America. And we have great figures of all races, Benny Goodman, we have Dave Brubeck,” he stated of notable white jazz figures. “With jazz, it was always in the forefront of a kind of freedom movement.”

This remains an important subject for Marsalis, the first jazz artist to receive a Pulitzer Prize for his composition “Blood on the Fields,” portraying the tragedies of slavery.

Education is also inherent for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

In addition to giving thousands of performances year-round across the globe, the group of renowned musicians provides ongoing educational initiatives worldwide.

This recently included orchestra members working with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Great Britain and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra Big Band Academy during the group’s 2016 Blue Engine International Tour.

The orchestra also provided education programs for kids in its first residency in Cuba in 2010.

On top of this, the group regularly hosts customized workshops in New York City with visiting middle school, high school and college jazz ensembles.

The group’s dedication to promoting jazz across the globe is “deeper than a blessing,” Marsalis said in his recent CNN interview.

“For me, it is truly something I could not have imagined,” said Marsalis, who still plays trumpet in the back row of the orchestra. “I'm deeply, deeply grateful and blessed by it.”

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