Wynton Marsalis

United States

Last updated: June 15, 2022

Wynton Marsalis is a world-renowned trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and a leading advocate of American culture. He presently serves as Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and Director of Jazz Studies at The Juilliard School.  Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1961, Wynton started playing trumpet at 6 on an instrument gifted to him by New Orleans legend Al Hirt. By 9, he played in the Fairview Baptist Church Marching band, and he began formal studies at age 12; at 15, he played the Haydn Trumpet Concerto with the New Orleans Philharmonic and entered The Juilliard School at 17, soon thereafter joining the legendary Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.

In 1981, Wynton assembled his own band and hit the road, performing all over the world. To date, he has performed 4,777 concerts in 849 distinct cities and 64 countries across the globe. Through a diversity of performances and music workshops, Marsalis has rekindled and animated widespread interest in jazz both at home and internationally. The range and quality of the music that his soulful, swinging, and sophisticated bands create have deeply inspired audiences. Today, Marsalis is continuing the renaissance that he first sparked in the early 1980s, attracting new generations of young talent to jazz while also maintaining the mythic meanings in the jazz tradition.

Marsalis has been called the ‘pied piper’ of jazz and the “Doctor of Swing.” Since his recording debut in 1982, he has released 110 jazz and classical recordings and won many awards—both significant and trivial. He regularly performs in the most prestigious concert halls and loves also to play and jam in the most inconspicuous local clubs. Over the course of his tenured career, he has mentored and taught too many artists to name.

Marsalis is a prolific and inventive composer, with a body of work that includes 573 songs, 11 ballets, four symphonies, eight suites, two chamber pieces, a string quartet, two masses, and concertos for violin and tuba. He is the first musician to perform and compose across the full jazz spectrum from its New Orleans roots to bebop, to modern jazz.  His knowledge of the interconnected roots of American vernacular music inspires him to experiment in an ever-widening palette of forms and concepts that present some of the most advanced thinking in modern jazz.

Wynton has received such accolades as The Louis Armstrong Memorial Medal, The French Grand Prix du Disque, and The Frederick Douglass Medallion. He was appointed Messenger of Peace by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2001), awarded The National Medal of Arts (2005), and The National Medal of Humanities (2016). Britain’s Royal Academy of Music has granted Marsalis Honorary Membership; in the fall of 2009, he received France’s highest distinction, the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. He has received honorary doctorates from 39 of America’s top academic institutions including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Tulane University in his hometown of New Orleans.

Wynton is the music’s chief advocate, philosopher and performer who is called upon at ceremonial occasions to place events in their proper historical context. To that end, his is a principal speaker in several vital documentaries on jazz and American culture and has written many relevant essays on jazz-related topics. Between 2011 and 2014, he delivered six groundbreaking and definitive lectures entitled Hidden in Plain View: Meanings in American Music at Harvard University. Marsalis is the author of seven books, including two children’s books.

Marsalis’ vision and passionate leadership were essential to the effort to construct Jazz at Lincoln Center’s home— Frederick P. Rose Hall—the world’s first education, performance, and broadcast facility devoted to jazz, which opened its doors in October 2004.

Wynton Marsalis’ core beliefs for living are based on the principles of jazz: individual creativity (improvisation), collective cooperation (swing), gratitude and good manners (sophistication), and stubborn optimism (the blues). Wynton believes that music possesses the power to elevate the quality of human engagement for individuals, social networks and cultural institutions throughout the world. 

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