Review of 'Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Bernstein at 100'


I am a huge fan of the master trumpeter Wynton Marsalis so a year ago when I heard he was coming with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to the Barbican I had to have tickets. He was here for a series of concerts: A tribute to Benny Goodman (King of Swing), a tribute to Leonard Bernstein (born 100 years ago), and a concert with several youth concerts. I figured that the Bernstein concert would be a bit more relaxed and features music from one of my favourite musicals: West Side Story. I was not disappointed though surprised at the amount of jazz the evening actually included…though perhaps from a Jazz orchestra I should not have been…

The orchestra, wearing all the same two-piece suit (yet someone seeming to be very relaxed about it), is small at only 15 members with the woodwinds (saxophones, flutes, clarinets, etc) in the front row, behind them sits the trombones (each instrument having strikingly different finishes) with the trumpets alone in the back row. A piano, base and drummer sat to the left. At one point or another throughout the evening each of the musicians featured in solos. Many of the pieces were arranged by members of the orchestra themselves and suited the strengths of the group.

The concert included pieces from various musicals including Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town, and, of course, West Side Story. A few pieces particularly stood out including “Conversation Piece” (from Wonderful Town) where different musicians from the orchestra musically portrayed the talking of people during a party. At one point, the pianist, base and Wynton (on trumpet) repeated a phrase then they each made their own adjustments and finally ended up “talking” one over another. In the second half, “Gloria in excelsis” (from Mass) started oddly with the woodwinds striking a series of discordant chords that, somehow, worked and expanded to something so much more. Later in the concert was an incredible piece: “Leonard Bernstein Medley: Touches/Lonely Town/Somewhere” which had excerpts, as you might expect, from each of the musicals but then riffed on “Somewhere” in an amazing away to finish. Absolutely amazing.

Throughout the performance as solos started it was obvious the other musicians were interested in what was being “said” with many listening carefully then responding in kind. The group is very serious in what they do. Their performances were serious and considered throughout yet relaxed and emotional at the same time. They are very very good indeed and they obviously love what they do.

The acoustics in the Barbican Hall were absolutely incredible. We sat in the first balcony (circle) but even there the sheer power of the trumpets still managed to verge on painful at times though the nuanced performances of even the quietest pieces were easy enough to hear and enjoy. The audience was pretty much full (though there were the inevitable empty seats from “no shows) and generally seemed to appreciate the music though only a few were bobbing their heads and getting into the serious jazz being performed. After the orchestra left the stage the audience would not let them away that easily and kept clapping until five musicians returned to the stage: Vincent R. Gardner (musical director, trombone - who introduced each piece throughout the evening), Dan Nimmer (piano), Marion Felder (drums) and, the man who many in the audience came to this concert to see, Wynton Marsalis (trumpet). The played an amazing jazz number, riffing off of one another with Wynton performing some amazing feats on the trumpet with the use of his mute that looked like a bowler hat that he used to express the voice of the trumpet - Incredible.

A fantastic concert for fans of jazz and Leonard Bernstein performed by some of the best jazz musicians in the world including the incredible Wynton Marsalis. A fantastic evening though I have to admit not being a huge jazz fan I did find it often a bit hard to follow and understand what was being said or what it all meant…sometimes it all sounds a bit same-y to me. But that is just me, I can appreciate the tremendous performance I witnessed even if I did not understand it all. Amazing.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2018-02-28

Barbican Centre

Location: London (England)

Address: Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS, UK

Public Transport: TUBE Barbican TUBE Moorgate NRLOGO Moorgate

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7638 8891


The Barbican Centre is in the middle of the brutalist Barbican housing complex. The centre is a mixed-use arts venue with theatres, cinemas (in the basement), galleries and library as well as dining facility (both cafe, buffet and fine). The facilities are quite good and there is always something going on.

Regardless of how you get here you will probably end up walking through the Barbican so watch for the signs directing you to the Barbican Centre itself as the complex is quite large.