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Week one of SummerFest has come and gone — and, oh, what a week it was! Check out this backstage snap from last week’s Jazz at Lincoln Center concert. Band leader Wynton Marsalis (center) hangs out with student musicians from Graham-Kapowsin High School. Their jazz ensemble were runners up in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s nationwide Essentially Ellington high school jazz band competition.

Up this week! The Blue Planet Live!, Mark O’Connor and Maya Beiser: For the Heroes, Cirque de la Symphonie, and Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends.


You’ve read all about Wynton Marsalis — now, rev up for his performance with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on July 1 — and learn a little bit about the process of making jazz come alive — with this video from’s SundayArts profile:

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As Marsalis himself says: “We are really about the spirit of jazz music — bringing people into the feeling of it,…bringing things together. We’re going in that direction. And there’s a lot of fruit up in those trees.”

Don’t miss it.

Mark O'ConnorWynton Marsalis and I are the same age (46 at the time of this writing) and we both came to national attention on recordings in the early ’80s, so I had known of Wynton and his music all of my adult life.

I did not meet Wynton until 1996, on a very interesting and auspicious occasion. The setting was the 100th Olympiad, at the rehearsal for the Closing Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, in which both Wynton and I had starring roles. I came to the first rehearsal for the finale, featuring everyone involved on stage at once. I took my position at stage right. Wynton was clear on the other side of the big stage when we made eye contact and smiled. While I stayed in my place, Wynton came all the way over to my side of the stage to greet me, and he hugged me. I was blown away by his affection and sense of camaraderie.

During the two full days of Closing Ceremony rehearsals, much of it taking place on Olympic stadium field, Wynton and I would play our instruments towards one another in a kind of conversation and interaction, getting to know each other with our phrases and sound. Calls and responses again and again, just passing each other in the hallways out on the field while we were in each of our parade floats, standing atop of them and playing our acoustic instruments while the P.A. was off. All of the electric keyboards and electric guitars were silent and suspended many times during the day while folks on the gigantic stadium field listened to Wynton and me play our phrases back and forth as our floats passed each other by.

The next time I met up with Wynton was in 1997. I was working on an album called Liberty!, which also served as much of the soundtrack to the documentary series on PBS about the Revolutionary War. I had incorporated beautiful duets I’d arranged for James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma for the project. I had a third duet idea, one with trumpet and violin. Of course, I had Wynton in mind for the trumpet part. My executive producer was not so hot on the idea, and said that I did not need it for the project. I said phooey and flew to NYC to meet Wynton for lunch at a sushi restaurant.

While eating, I pulled out a five-page part at the table, consisting of a duet I had just written based on an old theme from the 1700’s, called “Brave Wolfe.” He looked at it and suggested that we try it out.

“Where?” I said. But Wynton simply got out his trumpet in the middle of the restaurant to play some of the passages.

“Do you have a rehearsal studio?” I asked.

“It’s fine here,” Wynton said. So we played through the music — and got some free sushi out of the deal — right there in midtown Manhattan!

Wynton liked the music. He commented that the only problem was when to record it, timing being a little tricky, as he was booked to the hilt. Similarly, I was not able to pre-plan any session for this either. He suggested that I come over to the studio where he was working and, after his own album session had concluded, we could tack on another hour for this duet.

I said, “Great. When?” His response: TONIGHT!

So, under the cover of night, we recorded our first performance together. The next morning I dropped off the master at Sony Records, and said that this is a new track for the Liberty! album. The rest is history.

Mark O’Connor

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra take the stage on July 1 at 7:30pm as part of SummerFest 2008. Get set for jazz at its finest!

Tom PhilionHello, everyone! I’m Tom Philion, Seattle Symphony’s Executive Director, and I’d like to welcome you to Seattle Symphony’s new SummerFest 2008 blog, where you can get an inside look at the Symphony’s new summer festival. Encompassing some 14 concerts between June 26 and July 14, SummerFest 2008 features an eclectic mix of artists, musical styles and programming, under the collaborative guidance of Grammy-winning American composer and performer Mark O’Connor.

Many know Mark best for his incredible genius as a performer — from old-time fiddle tunes to jazz — through such collaborative projects as Appalachia Waltz with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and appearances on countless recordings with the world’s top artists. But he is also known for his brilliant composition work: from television and film to the concert hall, O’Connor has made incredible contributions to the world of symphonic music, including his double concerto, For the Heroes, which celebrates the heroic efforts of so many following the tragic events of 9/11, and which will feature cellist Maya Beiser and O’Connor himself at SummerFest 2008.

For jazz lovers, Wynton Marsalis and his remarkable musicians from Jazz at Lincoln Center perform on July 1, while Mark O’Connor’s own Hot Swing group appears on July 2 with special guest vocalist Sophie Milman and an opening act, the much-heralded Punch Brothers, featuring Chris Thile.

We have the BBC’s Blue Planet Live!, which will include the series’ brilliant footage with full orchestra accompaniment conducted by the film composer George Fenton, along with narration by local actor and the voice of KPLU’s BirdNote, Frank Corrado.

Cirque de la Symphonie, a new touring program making waves across the nation, stars extraordinary cirque artists performing jaw-dropping feats to the classics of the symphonic repertoire. Our festival concludes with banjo icon Earl Scruggs, joined by Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet, featuring Béla Fleck with Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee.

We hope you’ll agree that the festival lineup is fantastic. We’ll see you at SummerFest!