It’s rare to see the words “Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra” without also reading “world-famous” or “greatest large jazz ensemble working today.” The centerpiece of jazz performance at New York’s Lincoln Center, the big band led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is a serious organization — star-studded, schooled and versatile.
JLCO spends about six months each year touring. Last January they brought “Love Songs of Duke Ellington” to Orchestra Hall during a snowstorm. It was sublime. They return Friday and Saturday (March 6 and 7) with “The Music of Thelonious Monk” and “We Are the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.”
What is it like to be part of what is arguably America’s leading jazz ensemble? MinnPost asked Walter Blanding, who has played tenor and soprano saxophones and clarinet with JLCO since 1998.
Walter Blanding: It’s been a blast. Wynton has done a great job of choosing each one of us for this band. …We have a strong sense of family and love for each other and respect for each other as human beings. That comes through in our art.
MinnPost: Wynton picks the band members? There are no auditions?
WB: He’s the boss, but because of the nature of the music — which is based on individuality, freedom of expression and improvisation — he often relies on us for our input and suggestions. I think that’s what makes everything work so well. We feel like it’s our band. Each of us is responsible.
MP: What are the responsibilities of being in JLCO?
WB: We all have a lot of responsibility. It’s not easy. … You have to be able to get along, be an expert at what you do, read music well, write music, stay in shape — it’s hard to travel and move around so much. We’re trying to represent America all over the world. When people see us, it’s not just Walter or Wynton or [saxophonist/clarinetist] Victor [Goines]; we represent America — we represent jazz.
MP: How has being with JLCO shaped you as a musician?
WB: I’ve grown. I would have grown anyway — I’m a jazz musician, my parents are jazz musicians, it’s in my blood. With that in mind, I think I’ve grown with the other guys in the band. We spend a lot of time together. My writing has developed. I’m still learning about writing, trying to arrange music for orchestra.
Tip: If you’re in the house on Friday, listen for Monk’s tune “Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are.” That’s Blanding’s arrangement.
Here’s JLCO playing Stuttgart in 2007.
Friday, March 6, 8 p.m.: “The Music of Thelonious Monk.” Saturday, March 7, 8 p.m.: “We Are the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.” Both at Orchestra Hall. Each $35-$59; $77 VIP. Call 612-371-5656 or order online.