Wynton Marsalis Gears Up For Louis Armstrong Celebration

Fourth of July show with Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra to mark 100th anniversary of Satchmo's birth.

To celebrate Independence Day and the 100th anniversary of the birth of jazz icon Louis Armstrong, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, will perform a free concert, titled "Hotter Than That," at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J.

"Armstrong was the ultimate example of soul, swing and sophistication," said Marsalis, who is artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series. "And we are coming to this gig like we come everywhere — to swing. Hard."

The show, which will be broadcast live on National Public Radio from 7–10 p.m. EDT..., will include guest trumpeter Clark Terry and vocalist Dianne Reeves.

Though legend has it that the trumpeter gave himself a July 4, 1900, birth date, Armstrong's actual date of birth is listed as Aug. 4, 1901.

"Even though we know the Fourth isn't his real birthday, we treat it like it is," Marsalis said.

Celebrating Satchmo

"This gig is just the first part of our celebration of Pops' centennial, so we'll be playing a whole range of his music," Marsalis added. "Clark [Terry] is gonna join us for 'Struttin' With Some Bar-B-Que' (RealAudio excerpt) and 'Sleepy Time Down South.' Diane Reeves will be with us also, but I don't know what we're going to do. We'll play tunes like 'Wolverine' (RealAudio excerpt), a big-band chart, and we'll also break down into smaller groups to play some of Hot Five's or Hot Seven's tunes, such as 'Basin Street Blues.' " (


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Marsalis explained that playing both Armstrong's big-band and small-group music presents the same type of challenge. "Most guys like to play the small-group stuff," he explained. "Mainly because they can take longer solos. To me, it's all the same, doesn't make a difference. I just play the same way I've been playing for the past 15 years. I'm not trying to be Pops or anything like that. I just play."

Named for a 1927 recording by Armstrong, "Hotter Than That" is the official kickoff of the Jazz at Lincoln Center celebration of "100 Years of Armstrong," though its entire 2000–2001 season is dedicated to Satchmo. It will feature concerts, lectures, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra national and international tours, and other events.

Playing Pops' Music

When asked whether he tires of playing other people's music rather than focusing entirely on his own works, Marsalis, whose Blood on the Fields won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997, answered, "Playing exclusively my own music? No, I would never do that. That's an ancient thing. There's so much great music out there that I want to play. I just like great music. It doesn't have to be mine. How can you not want to play Pops' music?

"Sometimes I want to hear [Thelonious] Monk," Marsalis continued. "I would have liked for Monk to play other people's music more often. His album of playing Ellington [Plays Duke Ellington] is a great one. ... Some of the greatest jazz records ever made were guys playing other people's music, like [John] Coltrane's Ballads."

For the first half of the July Fourth concert, the jazz orchestra will perform a set of compositions associated with Armstrong.

The second half will be a set consisting of Marsalis' original works and classics from Count Basie, Ellington and other jazz legends.

"We will be playing a set designed for dancing. We had so much fun on the For Dancers Only tour, so why not?" Marsalis said. Compositions from such Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra bandmembers as bassist Rodney Whitaker and trombonist Ron Westray, along with Ellington's "Rockin' N' Rhythm" and Basie's "Shiny Stockings," have been staples on the dance-focused tour.

It will be hot playing outside in the summer sun, even at night. But Marsalis won't break from tradition: He and the band will still wear tuxedos. "You must always come clean or else people will think you're a rock band."

Information about travel to Liberty State Park is available at (201)-200-2622.