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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Columbia Tribune> Marsalis’ tutelage hones new talent

Marsalis’ tutelage hones new talent: Marsalis’ tutelage hones new talent

By LIZ HEITZMAN of the Tribune’s staff
Published Thursday, March 17, 2005

In some ways, it seems as if Wynton Marsalis was destined to have an exemplary career in music.

Jenna Isaacson photo
Wynton Marsalis, left, plays with bassist Reginald Veal at a 2002 appearance in Columbia. Marsalis returns to Columbia with a new band today.
He was born to a musical family that encouraged his first performance at age 8 at a Baptist church; parents who encouraged his brothers, including former "Tonight Show" bandleader Branford, to find their niches in music; and parents who would send young Wynton off to Juilliard in New York.

And yet Wynton Marsalis’ first big break into the jazz scene occurred when another musician saw potential in him. At age 19, while at Juilliard, he was tapped by the legendary bandleader Art Blakely to join the Jazz Messengers.

The gift of mentorship doesn’t seem to be lost on Marsalis, who is now 43. The nine-time Grammy winner has spent much of his career creating musical opportunities for young musicians through the jazz program he co-founded at Lincoln Center.

Fittingly, when Marsalis takes the stage tonight at The Blue Note, he will be joined by four up-and-coming musicians who range in age from 22 to 34.

"It’s a really beautiful thing to be a part of," said Dan Nimmer, Marsalis’ 22-year-old pianist. "Being able to learn from someone who knows all about the music - you’re getting experience with the best of the best. You can’t ask for anything more than that."

Nimmer, who grew up in Milwaukee, first met Marsalis while attending Northern Illinois University. The trumpeter was doing a clinic with the university’s band.

They would connect again a couple of years later when Nimmer moved to New York. Nimmer met saxophonist Wes Anderson, who worked with Marsalis at Lincoln Center.

Around New Year’s, Nimmer got a call from Marsalis’ office: Would he come to Wynton’s apartment and jam for a while?

It was the most important audition he had ever had.

Nimmer said they played some blues pieces and a couple of jazz standards. Soon, he heard that he had been selected for Marsalis’ quintet.

Since last Thursday, Nimmer has been touring the United States with Marsalis. He said they cruise the country in a luxury bus outfitted with bunks, a PlayStation and a DVD player.

After a performance, they often listen to a recording of the night’s show and scrutinize what was good and what could have been done better.

"I’m learning a lot about playing with Wynton and all the great musicians in the band," he said.

Saxophonist Walter Blanding, 34, has been playing with Marsalis the longest and has recorded with the Wynton Marsalis Septet.

Blanding first met Marsalis while attending LaGuardia High School for Music & Art in New York. Marsalis was putting together a young group of musicians to play music by Duke Ellington, and Blanding was selected.

Blanding said that as a bandleader, Marsalis is tough but also down-to-earth.

"When you play with someone of his caliber, you can’t help but be influenced by that," he said.

Blanding said the show tonight will likely feature a blend of original music from Marsalis’ current album, "The Magic Hour," and some bluesy numbers. The quintet also features drummer Ali Jackson and bassist Carlos Henriquez.

"Communication is what it’s all about," Blanding said. "Communication between Wynton and the band and the audience."

Nimmer agrees.

"You’ve got to touch them in some way," he said. "When you go to a concert and you’re up there onstage, if you’re not playing for the people, you might as well not be there."

Reach Liz Heitzman at (573) 815-1715 or

Wynton Marsalis Quintet

When: 8 p.m. today

Where: The Blue Note, 17 N. Ninth St.

How much: $28; standing room only

Contact: 449-3001

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