More than 1,300 middle school, high school and college students from throughout the area watched a free concert in Springfield on Thursday by Wynton Marsalis, one of the most accomplished trumpeters in music history.
All it took to arrange the extraordinary music education event: an unplanned day off from a world tour, a longtime friendship between Marsalis and a Springfield native, plus some quick planning by local music groups.
>> PHOTOS: Wynton Marsalis performs in Springfield for local students
Marsalis, a multiple Grammy Award winner and Pulitzer Prize for Music recipient, performed with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for an estimated crowd of 1,360 students from as far as Columbus and Cincinnati at the Clark State Performing Arts Center (PAC). The show was presented by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO).
A composer, teacher and the artistic director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis has been on the road for the domestic leg of a world tour. Springfield native Todd Stoll, who works for Marsalis in the education division of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City and heads up the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra, saw an opportunity with the day off to share musical insights with budding area musicians.
Credit: Bill Lackey
Credit: Bill Lackey
Rather than an instructional show, Marsalis chose a straight concert format with a variety of numbers composed by Duke Ellington that highlighted various instruments and styles including a jazz and waltz combo, a waltz and march combo and a piece inspired by William Shakespeare.
Tunes included “Royal Ancestry,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Apes and Peacocks (The Queen’s Suite)” and concluded with “Big Fat Alice’s Blues,” which drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
After the show, Marsalis credited the numerous employees of Jazz at Lincoln Center for making events like this happen and the influences that shaped his career and giving back.
“I wanted the students to just listen, today,” he said. “I was a kid who started in music, my dad was an educator. Music education is important for our country.”
Local schools that attended included Springfield High, Clark-Shawnee High School and Middle School, Roosevelt Middle School, Hayward Middle School, Schaefer Middle School, Cliff Park High School and Clark State Community College.
Although Clark State doesn’t offer a music program, 50 students of the school attended.
Some of the youngest attendees appreciated the opportunity on different levels. For Schaefer Middle School seventh-grader Mauii Stafford, it was her first visit to the PAC, and she found herself taking in the scale of the Kuss Auditorium in addition to the music.
“It feels relaxing,” she said preconcert. Stafford plays violin and guitar and can imagine herself on that stage someday.
Having been released from the hospital on Monday and with crutches below his seat from a sprained MCL, Stafford’s fellow Schaefer student Edward Strayer rescheduled a doctor’s appointment to make the concert. He loves jazz and knows Marsalis, making the opportunity more exciting.
“I want to learn and see the different ways of playing,” said Strayer, who plays double bass in his school program.
It was the third time Marsalis has performed in Springfield. When informed of his availability on that open date, SSO executive director Lou Ross and staff looked at options, including a ticketed concert, but with two other big events in February, didn’t want to distract from those and turned to the educational aspect.
The SSO often does a free winter show for students because education is a component of what the organization does, and with education also part of what Jazz at Lincoln Center presents, the match was ideal.
“This was the next best thing,” said Ross. “Wynton brings name value to this.”
It wasn’t until the second week in January the opportunity arose, so Ross, music director Peter Stafford Wilson and staff scrambled to make it happen, sending out word to various music programs that were enthused to accept the invitation.
“We’ve all pulled together to offer this service for area students,” Ross said. “Clark State was helpful in cutting costs to let us present it here.”
Several SSO supporters also attended the show. Richard Carey has fond memories of Marsalis as his music was playing on an early date with his future wife.
Marsalis and Stoll have been associated since their mid-20s and said they will continue to make sure this generation and future generations have opportunities for music education.
Jazz music has gained popularity in the area in recent years. The Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra will have its final concert of the season on March 18 at the John Legend Theater and the second Springfield Jazz and Blues Festival will return in August.
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