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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ambassador of Jazz Swings Into Moscow




Standing in the stairwell of the Moscow Conservatory's Rakhmaninov Hall on Tuesday amid a throng of aggressive autograph-seekers, his voice hoarse from the four-hour workshop he had just led, Wynton Marsalis had this to say about his upcoming project with the Russian National Orchestra:


"We're just going to play."


Though modestly reticent about his own projects, Marsalis, one of the world's most celebrated jazz musicians, found plenty of words to say about jazz during the workshop, which was attended by music students and teachers, journalists and professional musicians, many of whom sat on window sills and in the aisle to hear Marsalis play and speak.


Marsalis and the 16-member Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra arrived in Moscow on Tuesday morning to begin their 33-city world tour. The main event of the band's stay in Moscow is a performance Wednesday night at the Rossia Concert Hall. After the concert, Marsalis and the band members will play at a jam session with Russian jazz musicians in the Red Square Jazz Bar.


The band also played a charity jam session Tuesday night at the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel to raise money for the Moscow Conservatory.


During the workshop, Marsalis, who is also an acclaimed classical musician, critiqued the playing of five young classical musicians, and, along with six members of the Lincoln Center band, gave a demonstration-cum-lecture on the fundamentals of jazz.


"Blues is the soul of music, and jazz must always be played with soul. The other main part of jazz is swing, and swing is the sound of people working together," he instructed.


The role of the pedagogue is nothing new to Marsalis. He and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are the key components of Jazz at Lincoln Center, or J@LC, a nonprofit organization that aims to further the appreciation of jazz throughout the world. To this end, Marsalis has participated in scores of lectures, workshops, radio programs and educational videos.


In his role as "jazz ambassador," Marsalis emphasized that jazz is still very much alive in its homeland. Pointing to the youngest members of his band, Carlos Henriquez, 19, and Eric Lewis, 25, he said there were still many young musicians more interested in music than fame and fortune.


"They want to swing. They don't want to wear gold chains," he said. "They're not going to be exported as representatives of American culture. So many times, people around the world get the wrong impression of America."


Marsalis encouraged up-and-coming Russian talent as well when he gave the five students pointers on their playing.


As Katya Berezina, a second-year student at the Conservatory, played Alexander Gedike's Concerto for Trumpet, Marsalis kept his eyebrows raised in bemused amazement.


"Where does all that sound come from?" he asked the slight Berezina through an interpreter. "I want you to work on playing softly."


Then, as Berezina played a passage again, he stood in front of her saying "Shhh," and motioning with his hand to keep the volume down.


After his brief lecture on the fundamentals of jazz, which included lively demonstrations of improvisation on the theme of "Happy Birthday," Marsalis led the six band members f Lewis on piano, Henriquez on bass violin, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Herlin Riley on drums, Victor Goines on saxophone and clarinet and Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson on saxophone f in a miniconcert.


Marsalis was treated to audience adoration Russian-style, as the spectators applauded in rhythm at the end. One of them handed him a red rose in between numbers.


After the performance, Marsalis, a virtuoso trumpet player, answered questions about where he gets his inspiration (his father ), why he doesn't perform with his saxophonist brother Branford (Branford is more interested in rock than jazz) and his opinion of Moscow (he doesn't know, he just got here).


Judging by the fervent applause and relentless autograph seekers, the audience was thrilled with Marsalis' performance and lecture.


"He is great. He is the best," said Vadim Eilenkrig, a jazz trumpeter who was in the audience. "You see, that's why I didn't have any questions for him at first. His music f it describes everything."


The band heads off this week to Prague, the next stop in its tour, but Marsalis and the other musicians will be back next year, when they will perform with the Russian National Orchestra in honor of Duke Ellington's centennial.