Wash Away the Dust of Everyday Life

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs at Richmond’s Altria Theater. 

The late great drummer Art Blakey once appropriately said that jazz washes away the dust of everyday life. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, 56, whose youthful stint in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early 1980s was the first chapter of a career that eventually propelled him to stardom, has taken this memo to heart.

This Thursday, Nov. 30, more than a dozen soloists, ensemble players and arrangers in the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra under Marsalis’ direction will return to Richmond for a special concert of holiday jazz standards at the Altria Theater. One can surely expect at least a couple of hours of tunes filled with the sonic cleansing powers found in America’s most original art form.

Jazz, Marsalis says, is part of the nation’s fabric.

“The way we speak our language, the way we interact with each other, the tensions and dynamics that make our country what it is, the basic forms and things that we use to comport ourselves, all of that is in jazz,” Marsalis says on his website.

You can hear it in songs like Duke Ellington’s “Birmingham Breakdown,” “East St. Louis Toodle-oo,” and “Sidewalks of New York,” but jazz further shows the influence of the Broadway show tune, which is an American tradition.

Says Marsalis, “There’s also the idea of improvisation, which was developed in America. There’s a whole relationship between the history of the music and race relations in our country. Jazz just deals with a lot of different aspects of our way of life.”

A concert by Marsalis, a nine-time Grammy award and one-time Pulitzer Prize for Music winner, and the world famous orchestra that he directs is almost always an exercise in nostalgia.

When other musicians of his generation, including his older brother Branford, have pushed the boundaries of jazz, infusing it with more contemporary musical styles including hip hop and funk, Marsalis has remained grounded in the swing and bop traditions of jazz, drawing fire from some critics and fellow musicians for his neo-traditionalism.

This is particularly true for his orchestra, which started three decades ago as a series of concerts that Marsalis spearheaded at Lincoln Center in New York and has since evolved into the America’s foremost institution dedicated to championing, performing and educating America about jazz.

The orchestra’s songbook includes some of the most technically demanding repertoire ever written, many of them original compositions and commission works by notable writers and arrangers including Benny Golson, Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis.

Thursday’s concert at the Altria Theater begins at 7:30 p.m. and is presented by the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts. Tickets start at $27. AltriaTheater.com

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