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[whitespace] The Spirit of Swing

The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra takes a sophisticated look at big-band classics

By Jenny Austin

PIANO NOTES RISE, hover and coalesce with the translucent sounds of Marcus Printup's trumpet, and I am rapt, phone to my ear, another part of me aloft in the evening air of his New York City apartment. He plays for me, his left fingers spilling over the keys and his right fingers hopping on the trumpet valves, and he wins me over with his passion and his ambidextrous serenade. I love this interview.

Our talk, an interview about the current tour of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (for which Printup plays in the trumpet section), is as spunky and eloquent as the orchestra itself. (Led by Wynton Marsalis, the orchestra ranks as the nation's premier jazz big band.) The orchestra's spring 2000 tour takes the group around the country in the traditional style of the pre-World War II ballroom. On April 14, the orchestra will be the centerpiece of Stanford Lively Arts' 30th anniversary gala concert and swing dance.

While this performance is not simply a swing revival, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is devoted to honoring the history of jazz and its musicians. But that doesn't mean that the orchestra ignores half a century of jazz innovation since then. "The orchestra doesn't have to sound exactly like Ellington, even though we are playing his compositions," Printup says. "Listen to 'Take the A Train.' It was recorded in the '50s, '70s--it has the same chord changes, but the sound has to evolve. It's a different band, a different time."

Missing from much of the latter-day swing revival is attention to the cultural and racial relationships of the musicians during the swing era. They were complicated--and they have been ever since. Big bands often meant that color lines were crossed and black and white musicians moved into a musical shared world, but there were economic and artistic disparities between white and black musicians.

"With anything, you need to look at the era," Printup says. "It was the 1930s and '40s, women had only recently attained suffrage and there were a lot of oppressive factors in society during the beginning of the century. As Ellington said, it's not only music for black people to enjoy--it is universal, for everyone to listen to, to gain something from. It's good to mix our respective perspectives together, experience a bicultural interchange--we are all equal. We should share philosophies and creativities and be a melting pot. Isn't that what we're supposed to be in the U.S.?"

That attitude informs the musical mood of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The sound is playful and graceful, the technique beautifully crafted. As in Ellington's band, each musician lends a distinctive integrity to the ensemble, and the cohesion of the players is like a taut exchange between masterful swing dancers.

"The members of the LCJO have been playing together as a group along with Wynton Marsalis for years," Printup says. "We often see each other more than our own families. Most of the time after performances, we'll go to a club for a jam session and interact with local players. After the traditional big band setting, we can go hang out together, be more casual; It is part of the way that we bond ... you know, do what boys do."

The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra plays April 14 at 8pm at the Stanford Lively Arts Gala Pavilion, Galvez and Campus Drive, Stanford. Swing dance lessons precede the concert at 6:30pm. Tickets are $225 table seating/$95 reserved seating/$45 general admission. Call 650.725.ARTS for more information.

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From the April 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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