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Thelonious Monk Concert at
Symphony Center

Wynton Marsalis and the
Lincoln Center Orchestra

Symphony Center
Chicago, IL
Feb. 27, 2009
Wynton Marsalis Wynton Marsalis

Story by Mary Lou Wade
File photos by Phil Bonyata

With a crowd overflowing to seats behind the stage on upper level and chairs placed immediately behind the musicians, Wynton Marsalas' first comment to the wildly enthusiastic audience was; "I feel that I'm in my own living room!" The fifteen-piece orchestra was rowdily applauded as they took their seats, wearing their Brooks Brothers suits and preppy ties, and I wondered why our Chicago Jazz Bands don't seek a haberdashery to clad them in stylish attire. In the fashion, though certainly not the musical, world it appears New York has us beat!

The whole evening was a tribute to Monk and Wynton narrated a script written by Jeff Ward, Jazz Historian. It was an educational and informative endeavor and Wynton's voice lent itself to an engaging story of the eccentric musician. Wynton remained in his first trumpet position almost the whole night and read from his notes in a most entertaining and casual fashion, taking a stroll on the stage for only one solo.

Born in October of 1917, we learned Monk lived in NYC most of his life and taught himself to play the piano in the kitchen of the family apartment on West 63rd Avenue. His mother recognized his talent early and encouraged him, releasing him from chores so that he could practice. By the age of fourteen he was already playing at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. Monk even spent time in Texas with an Evangelical Church, increasing his knowledge.

The opening number was "We See" and from that we were introduced to Milwaukee born Pianist Don Immer, "an old soul in a very young body" as pointed out in the program. All the musicians are incredibly capable and many are responsible for arranging Monk's tunes. A fine example was an arrangement by bassist Carlos Henriquez who hails from the Bronx and became a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in 2005.

Second half of the concert began with Wynton's comment, "Nice hat!" to a woman in the audience. He continued with his narration between numbers, telling us of Monk's contract at Riverside records in 1956, where for the next fifteen years he participated in making thirty albums. "Chris Cross" and "Ugly Beauty" were introduced. We learned that Monk died in 1982 at the age of 64, but he had all but disappeared from the jazz scene in the seventies. An evening of all Monk music would not have been as enjoyable without the insertion of Wynton's educational stories. Marsalis, as the musical director make his first recording debut in 1982 and, since that time, has recorded more than 30 recordings, winning nine Grammy awards. He also was the first jazz artist to win a Pulitzer Prize in music for his oratorio "Blood on the Fields."

"Four in One" was the concluding number, following by tremendous applause by the huge audience, hoping for an encore, but at 10:30 PM we had heard the last note from the Lincoln Center Orchestra. It was quite a concert!

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Wynton Marsalis

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