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All That Jazz

Marsalis' 'All Rise': An Effort to Reach Out and Embrace

A year after its West Coast premiere, the composer- trumpeter's massive, 12-movement work seems even more timely on CD.

September 13, 2002|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A year ago, shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, I reflected upon the possibility that the horrific nature of the events might have a sobering impact upon the music world. When World War II began for Americans with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, songwriters and musicians reacted with material that reflected both the urgency of the situation and the sense of separation and loss encountered by so many families.

In the year that has passed since Sept. 11, 2001, however--despite some important efforts in pop music--jazz artists seem to have had little to say about the way in which the world has changed. Part of that scarcity of effort may have something to do with the fact that those changes--thus far, at least--have had more to do with political bluster and posturing than with any sense that the so-called war on terror can legitimately be compared to anything resembling World War II. The war on Communism, in fact, might make a better analogy.

Nonetheless, there have been some exceptional jazz moments, most of them taking place shortly after Sept. 11. For a while, it seemed as though no concert or club date could be complete without a heartfelt rendering of "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful."

But several specific events were particularly memorable. The first was the jazz concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 12, 2001, one short day after the attacks. The turnout was understandably meager, and those who came for a program featuring the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and trumpeter Wallace Roney were greeted for the first time by security staff closely checking picnic baskets, coolers and packages; it's a practice that continued throughout the 2002 season.

The atmosphere inside the Bowl was intense, with strangers conversing freely, opinions--often conflicting--being exchanged as people struggled to make sense out of the attacks on an evening many had anticipated as a pleasant climax to the summer season. The program, planned as a depiction of jazz film scores, with the jazz orchestra performing live in sync with film projections, had to be adjusted to eliminate a climactic explosion in a clip from "Bullitt."

But despite the efforts to essentially go ahead with business as usual, the single most affecting passage of the evening took place when orchestra co-leader John Clayton led his ensemble in "Heart and Soul" as a tribute to the thousands who had perished the day before.

A few weeks later, there was another unexpectedly touching event. Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra arrived in town to perform at the Wilshire Theatre as part of the debuting Verizon Music Festival. In startlingly serendipitous fashion, the appearance was part of a tour titled "United in Swing"--a strikingly appropriate description of the sort of togetherness through music that took place during the war years of the '40s.

That togetherness through music was perfectly defined during a program-closing rendering of "The Stars and Stripes Forever," in which the familiar strains of the Sousa march were transformed into a rich musical cornucopia, overflowing with colorful fragments of jazz, swing, improvisation and sheer musical Americana.

Once past those opening weeks, it was the rare jazz artist who chose to make patriotic references during their programs. A few--very few--albums arrived that were either dedicated to the victims of Sept. 11 or that included one or another tribute in their honor. But jazz produced nothing that was equivalent to, say, Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising."

Interestingly, however, Marsalis was involved in another project during the fateful month of September 2001, one that brings this whole discussion full circle into the present. The project was the West Coast debut of his massive composition "All Rise," which was performed at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 13, by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under Esa-Pekka Salonen; and a full choir.

Once again, the title of the work had an unanticipated metaphoric resonance. "All Rise," at a time when the nation was coming together in unity after a dastardly attack; "All Rise" as a symbol of the togetherness that would be vital to American life in the post-Sept. 11 period; "All Rise" as an image of the phoenix rising from the ashes of the World Trade Center.

And now, a year later, the recording of "All Rise"--performed by the same forces--has been released on Sony. And what becomes clear now, even more so than in the performance, is the extent to which Marsalis was dipping into the core of American culture. The piece, whose 12 movements echo the 12 bars of the blues, also includes metaphoric parallels to the life cycle, from birth through play through love and self-awareness. It simmers and surges with propulsive jazz rhythms, free-soaring improvised solos and clashing, jazz-tinged harmonies.

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