One expects a great performance from a jazz and classical great such as Wynton Marsalis. Friday’s sold-out performance at Symphony Hall featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra left jazz lovers immersed in trumpets, trombones and saxophones and the diversity of jazz with music from Vaudeville to New Orleans Second Line.
As a spotlight event of the 2014 National Black Arts Festival, Marsalis, performed a nearly two-hour set that was as much of a live music history class as it was concert, entertaining the audience with toe-tapping, eyes closed and head-nodding music but also engaging them in the broader context for the compositions. DJ-style, Marsalis would give the release dates and record label for each number in case audience members wanted to run to their used record store or just download from their ubiquitous smartphones.
The set included repertoire from many jazz greats, including Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington. Marsalis discussed what he learned from Broadway composer Steven Sondheim and New Orleans great Victor Goines, along with insider details such as chord progressions, key changes and which artists wrote the most difficult music.
Marsalis also told stories about his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis, and his relationships with other artists and mentors. “If I ever needed Dizzy (Gillespie) to be serious I’d just say ‘Thelonious Monk,’ ” he said.
While Marsalis is the draw, he largely remained seated with the orchestra, whose with standout performances included “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “Señor Blues” and a luminous rendition of “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” arranged by drummer Ali Jackson.