Marsalis, Wynton

Marsalis, Wynton

(märsăl`ĭs), 1961–, American trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, b. New Orleans. Born into a distinguished jazz family, he studied classical music at Juilliard. He joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at 18 and rapidly acquired a reputation for brilliant technique and outstanding improvisational talent. In 1982 he formed his own quintet, which included his brother Branford; it became a septet in 1988 and disbanded in 1994. Marsalis also became known for his classical performances, winning Grammies in both categories.

Articulate and outspoken, Wynton Marsalis emerged as a leading spokesman for jazz as well as one of the leading jazz musicians of the 1980s and 90s. When the jazz program at New York's Lincoln Center was initiated in 1991, he was appointed artistic director, a post he has held since. Also an active music educator, he wrote, hosted, and performed in a Public Broadcasting series (1995) on the essentials of classical music and jazz. Marsalis won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for music for his jazz oratorio Blood on the Fields; he was the first jazz musician to receive the award. He has also written a monumental orchestral and choral piece with numerous jazz elements entitled All Rise (2000) and a jazz mass, Abyssinian 200 (2008), which incorporates orchestral music, gospel anthems, prayers, and a sermon.


See biography by L. Gourse (1999).

His older brother, Branford Marsalis, 1960–, b. New Orleans, is a brilliant jazz, rock, pop, and classical saxophonist, a bandleader, and a composer. He attended Boston's Berklee College of Music. Like his brother, he played with the Jazz Messengers and is known for his superb technique and especially for his improvisations. Also noted for his versatility, Branford played with the rock musician Sting during the 1980s and was the music director (1992–94) of television's Tonight Show.

Their younger brother Delfeayo Marsalis, 1965–, b. New Orleans, is a skilled trombonist but has become better known as a producer of jazz recordings. A fourth brother, Jason Marsalis, 1977–, b. New Orleans, is a jazz drummer. Their father, Ellis Marsalis, 1934–2020, b. New Orleans, was a noted jazz pianist, composer, and educator who taught all his sons. Together, the Marsalis family played a pivotal role in the jazz renaissance of the last two decades of the 20th cent.

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Marsalis, Wynton

(1961–  ) jazz musician; born in New Orleans. Raised in a musical family (including his brother Branford Marsalis), he became a trumpeter who mastered both jazz and classical music; in 1984 he won Grammy Awards for recordings in both fields. He joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1980, where he was first heralded for his commitment to pure acoustic jazz styles, and left in 1982 to form the first in a succession of small ensembles. In the following years he became one of the most visible American musicians, maintaining a constant touring schedule and conducting numerous clinics through which he sought to expose public school students to jazz and encourage their pursuit of it as a livelihood. The makeup of his own bands reflected his success in this area, as he brought an impressive number of young musicians to the fore throughout the 1980s. He also turned increasingly to composition, writing short and extended pieces that showed the influence of Duke Ellington and reflected his interest in early jazz styles.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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The second of six sons born to Ellis and Dolores Marsalis, Wynton has been exposed to music all of his life.
(4.) Marsalis, Wynton, "Talking With David Frost," PBS, Feb.