Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performs social activism songs for Penn State | Way of life



During the rainy Thursday night, the Center for Performing Arts at Penn State hosted a packed show with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis at the Eisenhower Auditorium.

The orchestra consisted of 15 members who played instruments such as trombone, trumpet, piano, drums, bass, clarinet and flute. Some of the members switched between multiple instruments throughout the performance.

The show was called “Charles Mingus Centennial Celebration” to celebrate the work of Charles Mingus, a 20th century jazz musician and composer.

After greeting the donors and music students present, the lights went out and the orchestra entered. Wynton Marsalis opened the performance by talking about how Mingus was a “master of organization and chaos”.

He then introduced the show’s director, Vincent Gardner. Gardner walked through the performance introducing the songs and acknowledging some of the musicians after the songs ended.

The first song of the night had to do with Mingus’ affinity for European styles, Gardner said. The song titled “E’s Flat and Ah’s Flat Too” was upbeat, with some solos from a saxophonist and the drummer. At one point, the audience joined in applause.

Jordin Mertz said the song “set the stage for the rest of the performance”.

The next stop was “Tijuana Gift Shop”, inspired by Mexican culture. This song started with applause before the instruments joined in.

Introducing “Fables of Faubus”, Gardner said the song was “one of [Mingus’] the most controversial yet honest articles on social construction. The song is about the Governor of Arkansas during the Little Rock crisis.

Gardner went on to say Mingus was an “emotional person.”

“If anyone stepped on Mingus’s foot, he [would write] a song about it,” Gardner joked.

It was one of the few performances of the evening with songs. Some of the lyrics included “Oh Lord, don’t let them shoot us” and “Why are they so sick?”

Another song about the injustice of African Americans in the country was called “Freedom”. The song is specifically geared towards the treatment they faced in the 50s and 60s.

“Hobo Ho” is a song about a homeless person taking a train, which Gardner says was a common theme among songwriters. Although it was Mingus’ only song on a train, it was a “different perspective” from the others because the focus was on those affected by the system.

Adam Birnbaum, the pianist, performed a solo song called “Meditations for Moses”. The song is about someone coming to lift African Americans out of suffering, just like Moses did for the Israelites in the Bible, Gardner said.

“Bird Calls” was a song that had the audience laughing, as the last trombone move picked up the low-pitched concluding tunes of the song.

This song was written for Charlie Parker, saxophonist and mentor of Mingus. Gardner said it was a “difficult play”.

The last song of the evening was “Better Get Hit In Your Soul”. The upbeat beat got the audience involved in the performance by clapping while shaking their heads in time to the music.

Penn State faculty member Elissa McPherson said “the last one was my favorite because I like songs out of three, and that one was out of three.”

McPherson and her husband, Dan McPherson, have said they enjoy jazz music because of their fondness for swing music, which is “jazz-based”.

Dan said all of the performances were “really good”, but the first song was his favorite.

Mertz (senior political science) said he walked out because he had been “interested in jazz for a few years” and “got an ad on Instagram.” He said that due to the pandemic he hadn’t been able to see many performances at Penn State and was “really excited to come here.”


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