When Wynton Marsalis first burst on to the scene, his arrival was applauded for a number of reasons. There was his youth, his virtuosity, his belief in tradition and adherence to classic jazz forms. It was obvious even then that he was going to be an influential stylist on trumpet, and an important figure in jazz.
But the one thing no one could have guessed was that Marsalis would become a brilliant young bluesman, to boot.
It's not hard to understand why. Most listeners think of the blues as being just an adjunct to jazz; a root element, to be sure, but hardly the stuff of great improvisations. Trouble is, that's dead wrong. As Marsalis and his septet demonstrated at the Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall last night, the blues are the essence of jazz, the stuff that makes this music most vital.
Needless to say, there are quite a few ways this can be demonstrated, and the Marsalis band used them all. They played hard bop with Sonny Rollins' "Blue and Boogie," a performance which featured an elegantly paced solo by Marsalis, and a cool, cerebral tenor solo from Todd Williams. They offered a self-explanatory "Blues from New Orleans," which sandwiched some rough-and-tumble group improvisation between brash, vocalized solos by the bandleader. They even made a foray into dodecaphonics with a tone-row blues called "Down Home with Homey."