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Jazz and Art Take Center Stage To Form 'Portraits Of America,' on Jazz Night

Frank Stewart
Jazz at Lincoln Center

Jazz and the visual arts have always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. Last year the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis put that bond front and center with an ambitious original program called Portraits of America: A Jazz Story.

The concert featured new compositions by members of the orchestra, directly inspired by works in the collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. So in this special episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll not only hear the resulting music but also get inside the inspiration — learning how Grace Hartigan's abstract painting Rough, Ain't It motivated alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, and which qualities in the Romare Bearden collage Sacrifice spoke to tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding.

At a moment when it's not possible to visit an art museum in person, Portraits of America invites us to experience color and shape in a new way. "I love the fact that you can take a painting, a piece of art that isn't changing, and then create something that's constantly changing to represent it," reflects multi-reedist Ted Nash. "It almost seems like it wouldn't work, but the music can actually make the painting move."

Musicians: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis: Music Director, trumpet; Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Chris Crenshaw: trombone; Elliot Mason: trombone; Sherman Irby: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Ted Nash: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Victor Goines: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Camille Thurman: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Dan Nimmer: piano; Carlos Henriquez: bass; Jason Marsalis: drums.

Set List:

  • "Summer Day" (Elliot Mason)
  • "Black Balloon" (Chris Crenshaw)
  • "Au Café (Synchromy)" (Ted Nash)
  • "A Hot Jam on Grand" (Sherman Irby)
  • "For Never and Forever" (Walter Blanding Jr.)
  • "One Understands" (Vincent Garnder)
  • "Salvation, Serenity, Reflection" (Marcus Printup)


Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Senior Producer: Katie Simon; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Music Engineer: James P. Nichols; Tech Director: David Tallacksen; Thanks to Linda Freemen from L&S Video; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand; Senior Director of NPR Music: Lauren Onkey.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
Alex Ariff has big ears. A musician first, he straddles the worlds between performance/songwriting, media production and storytelling. Alex earned his B.A in Music from Florida State University where he fell for all facets of jazz music, history, and culture. He went onto earn his M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University-Newark. It was during this time that Alex began working at WBGO, where he currently works as a producer on Jazz Night in America. Outside of WBGO, Alex enjoys lapsang souchong, bike rides, and playing with his band The Wali Sanga.