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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Jazz wunderkind turns 40
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
Marsalis co-founded the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

One of the world's greatest jazz stars, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, has turned 40.

Marsalis's rise to stardom is one of the biggest stories in jazz in the last 30 years, and his example encourage many talented young musicians to return to jazz after a period of near-obscurity and neglect.

The trumpeter has become a paragon of technically perfect musicianship - and is one of the few jazz musicians to have distinguished himself playing the classical repertoire.

I don't know anyone who plays the trumpet better

Lew Soloff, trumpeter
But the trumpeter is not without his critics, who say that he is loud-mouthed and artistically conservative.

Marsalis comes from a musical family in New Orleans - the birthplace of jazz.

His father Ellis was an excellent jazz pianist and educator, and his brothers Branford and Delfeayo have also established themselves as important jazz names.


He studied trumpet from the age of six and attended Juilliard college of music in New York, going on to join one of the world's great jazz groups, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, at 18.

Art Blakey
Blakey brought Marsalis to the world's attention
Touring with the Jazz Messengers brought him quickly to the attention of critics and audiences, who could barely believe the maturity and technical fluency they heard at such a tender age.

British jazz trumpeter Guy Barker recalls hearing Marsalis on his first UK tour with the Jazz Messengers.

"What struck me was that his technique was unbelievable," he told BBC News Online.

"His playing was so clean - it seemed he could do whatever he wanted."

Marsalis was bright, talented, sharply dressed and an unapologetic proselytiser for jazz, and by the age of 20 he was recording for Columbia records under his own name.


"Later, I met him and we talked about music all night," remembers Guy Barker.

Duke Ellington
Ellington has been a major influence
"I realised how intense he was about it - that was very inspiring."

Marsalis went on to lead larger groups and to compose more ambitious pieces, which showed his understanding of jazz history - particularly Duke Ellington.

But this change, from a young musician originally associated with modernity, led to criticism.

"He has a mission - and that is to uphold the tradition of the music, " says Barker.

He composed pieces for ballet and a three-hour oratorio about slavery, Blood On The Fields, and co-founded New York's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

Marsalis has 30 albums, nine Grammy awards and one Pulitzer Prize under his belt.

Guy Barker recalls, "I remember one of the world's great trumpet payers, Lew Soloff, telling me - 'I don't know anyone who plays the trumpet better'."

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