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Wynton Marsalis at SPAC & Double H; what it means to our writer Pat

By Patrick Daley, Chronicle Staff Writer

When I was nine years old, Santa Claus brought me Joe Cool’s Blues, the album of Vince Guiraldi music recorded by trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis and his pianist father, Ellis. The opening track is “Linus and Lucy,” a wild, soulful, dynamic version by Wynton’s septet. “Oh, Good Grief,” a track by Ellis’s trio, is one of the first melodies I learned on piano, sometime around age 5. Joe Cool’s Blues truly changed my life. “Oh, Good Grief” illuminated the structure and methods of jazz, since I already had the song ingrained in my brain. Now I play jazz piano gigs two or three times a week, and it gives me as much joy as anything in my life. Thus, Wynton and Ellis are canonized in the Daley household.

At Double-H, Wynton Marsalis (with microphone) led his Jazz at Lincoln Center combo featuring (from left), Dan Nimmer, Carlos Henriquez, Jason Marsalis, Victor Goines and Chris Crenshaw. Chronicle photo/Patrick Daley

Wynton brought his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (you’ve probably seen them on public television) to perform his Swing Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC last week. I went, and it was great, but what I want to bring up is the media event that I attended at Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne, presented with SPAC the day before the orchestra.

Wynton brought his quintet — clarinetist Victor Goines, trombonist and vocalist Chris Crenshaw, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer Jason Marsalis (Wynton’s brother) — to show the Double H campers how they make their music, demonstrating concepts like the “Big Four” (4th beat), “Swing Groove,” “Call and Response” and other foundations of jazz.

The event was so electric (feeling-wise; the instruments are acoustic) that Wynton was further elevated in my mind. But it was the short group media interview afterwards that inspired me more. Because Wynton said that writing the Swing Symphony was really hard. He said that he didn’t want to play jazz as a child; Ellis made him. He said that his dad is sick right now. He said that his jump shot is not what it used to be. He said that Jason is the best musician in the Marsalis family, not he. So, Wynton is mortal.

At SPAC on Thursday, the orchestras encored with “Duke’s Place,” and the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians took turns improvising, something classical musicians aren’t expected to do. And while some of them were good, some of them were not. The best classical musicians in the world are just humans like the rest of us. It turns out that you don’t have to be born a genius to produce beautiful art. You don’t have to be blessed to change someone’s life. You just have to try.

My god, Wynton Marsalis, is mortal. Our idols walk this Earth like the rest of us. There are no immortals among us humans. That is an empowering realization.

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