Prom 12: Stompin’ at the Proms

“United in Swing”

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
Wynton Marsalis (trumpet/director)

Wes ’Warmdaddy’ Anderson (alto/sopranino saxophones)
Walter Blanding, Jr (tenor saxophone)
Victor Goines (tenor/soprano saxophones, clarinets)
Ted Nash (alto/soprano saxophones, flute)
Joe Temperley (saxophones)
Vincent R Gardner (trombone)
Andre Hayward (trombone)
Ron Westray (trombone)
Seneca Black (trumpet)
Marcus Printup (trumpet)
Ryan Kisor (trumpet)
Richard Johnson (piano)
Herlin Riley (drums)
Rodney Whitaker (bass)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 27 July, 2002
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Wynton Marsalis appeared at a late-night Prom in 1993 with his sextet (also including Wes ’Warmdaddy’ Anderson, Walter Blanding, Jr and Herlin Riley) and – at long last – he returned with his big band, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, with all the other members making their Prom debuts.

With saxophones and trombones arrayed right to left (looking at the stage), the ’continuo’ group of piano, bass and drums behind the saxophones and Marsalis himself with his co-trumpeters raised behind the trombones (the stage crew had been quick again in raising platforms after clearing the stage from the earlier performance of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater), we were promised a night that would bring the world of the American High School Prom to the Royal Albert Hall Proms.

In fact, despite a list of swing classics listed in the programme, we only got two of them. I was more impressed with the new works originated by Marsalis himself, or others (including the bassist, Rodney Whitaker). We started rousingly with Stompin’ at the Savoy (that’s the Harlem Savoy, not the hotel on the Strand!), and along the way we were treated to such classics as Benny Carter’s Symphony of Riffs, Duke Ellington’s tribute to ’Satchmo’ in A Portrait of Louis Armstrong from his New Orleans Suite, with Marsalis on top form, and the Duke’s Sophisticated Lady (a baritone-sax solo as the first encore for Scottish-born Joe Temperley), Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A Train and more-mellow Isfahan, as well as Frank Foster’s Shiny Stockings.

Equally we had nearly as many more recent works written for the LCJO. Jump was from Marsalis’s ballet of that name, while Back to Basics comes from his Pulitzer Prize-wining jazz oratorio, Blood on the Fields. The drummer Herlin Riley introduced Dreaming on the Washboard with a stupendous display of controlled percussionism that could not have been bettered by our own Evelyn Glennie for subtlety, imagination and execution, while the whole orchestra used a distinctive shoe-shuffle to imitate rolling stock on Big Train. Called back twice, the concert ended – around midnight – with a stunning display of Marsalis’s trumpet pyrotechnics.

So packed was the Arena that an American Prom spirit, with dancing, was almost impossible to emulate, although two young couples (quickly moving to the back for more space) made the most of the evening to dance in a way Marsalis would have been proud (if only he could have seen them).

Let’s hope it’s not another nine years before we are treated to some of the Marsalis magic.

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