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The Gospel According to Wynton Marsalis

The JALC Orchestra mounts an ambitious spectacle of spirit

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau at the Rose Theater in October 2013

If you’ve ever been privy to closed-door conversations between jazz concert producers, musicians and others involved in facilitating live improvisational art, you know how dishearteningly unromantic that dialogue can be. The music business is a business, after all, and when it comes to touring, the tighter the reins the better. To say it another way: The reason you might be seeing a trio instead of a quintet has more to do with room rates than with philosophies about open harmonic space.

Unless, of course, you’re Wynton Marsalis, the trumpeter, composer, arranger and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. In October, Marsalis and his JALC Orchestra, along with the 70-person gospel choir Chorale Le Chateau, completed a 16-city tour performing the trumpeter’s Abyssinian Mass-an actual American tour, as in one that slogs through the South and Midwest, as opposed to a jazz tour, which means playing a handful of dates on the East Coast before flying to California to play a few more. In a post on a New York Times blog, a JALC source projected the cost of the tour to be at least $2 million, an estimate that seems low well before you start crunching numbers in your head. The tour wrapped with a three-night run at the orchestra’s New York City home base. As witnessed on the program’s final night, Oct. 26, Abyssinian‘s ambition and scale would have impressed even if it were a one-off.

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