ELKHART — When Wynton Marsalis picks up a trumpet and plays, it’s not music that streams out — it’s a conversation.
But instead of using nouns, adjectives and verbs, the 51-year-old jazz musician tells stories with blue notes and soulful melodies. Marsalis has been spreading the gospel of traditional jazz internationally for the past couple of decades, and in less than a week, he will headline the 26th annual Elkhart Jazz Festival with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
“Anybody who plays an instrument loves Elkhart,” said Marsalis, who is in the middle of a summer world tour that will hit a dozen U.S. cities and six countries.
Marsalis grew up in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, in a house full of musicians, but, he said, not everyone has the opportunity to be exposed to jazz during their childhood. Over the years, Marsalis has become an advocate for the arts and passionate about passing on the spirit of jazz to younger generations.
“The more we get our kids interested in who we are, the better it is for us as a people, as Americans,” he said.
Music education is as much about training children how to play an instrument as it is teaching them about heritage and culture, Marsalis said.
“Music makes us understand who we are,” he explained. “It’s one of the many ways we can do that, but it’s an important and a fun way and not just in a historical sense. The music is alive now.”
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has been around almost as long as the Elkhart Jazz Festival itself. For 25 years, the critically acclaimed ensemble has helped highlight jazz as an essential piece of American culture. Marsalis has shared the stage with jazz giants like fellow trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, drummer Art Blakey, singer Sarah Vaughan and saxophonist Sonny Rollins, among others. In 1997, Marsalis became the first jazz musician to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
Marsalis and his band will play at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at the Lerner Theatre in downtown Elkhart, paying tribute to legends like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and traditional jazz that originated in the Big Easy.
“We play all of the music as if it were written yesterday,” Marsalis said. “I hope people are uplifted by it.”
HOW TO GET TICKETS
Tickets to see Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are included in Elkhart Jazz Festival premium passes for $180 to $280. Individual tickets for the concert are also on sale for $40 to $115 online at thelerner.com, over the phone at 239-4469 and at the theater’s box office at 410 S. Main St.