A Biography of Wynton Marsalis

Published 09 Oct 2017

Wynton Marsalis is one of the great legends of jazz that has helped create American culture. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana on the 18th of October 1961, Marsalis found himself in the cradle of American music. At a very early age, Marsalis was performing traditional New Orleans music as part of the Fairview Baptist Church band. However, it was only when he reached 12 years old that Marsalis began to seriously study the trumpet. At that age, he honed his talent by taking part in local marching bands, jazz and funk bands, and classical youth orchestras. The highlight of his adolescent days was when he was asked to perform the Haydn Trumpet Concerto with the New Orleans Philharmonic at a young age of 14.

Wynton Marsalis credits his formal musical training to The Julliard School in New York where he studied classical trumpet. However, when he was given the chance to sit down with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Marsalis realized that his real love was jazz music. At this point, he decided to pursue a path towards the kind of music he really loved. He later on joined Blakey and his band and he performed with other notable jazz artists as well.

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Marsalis’ first recording as a leader was made in 1982. Since then, he has produced over 40 jazz and classical recordings. He gained the respect of the musical world as evidenced by the nine Grammy Awards that he has received. Moreover, Marsalis holds the distinction of being the only artist to win the classical and jazz Grammy Awards in one year which he did in 1983 and in 1984.

Marsalis’ work does not merely end with being a musician. He devoted time to being a composer as well. So much is the liking for his compositions that he has been called upon by various dance groups such as the Garth Fagan Dance, Peter Martins at the New York City Ballet, Twyla Tharp for the American Ballet Theatre, and Judith Jamison at the Alvin Ailey American Dance to come up with major compositions for their performances.

Marsalis’ devotion to music is not merely borne out of his love for music. He believes that through his music, he can contribute something to making the lives of people better. His belief in the importance of music education is evidenced by the various honorary degrees that he has received from academic institutions from all over the country.

As part of his devotion to jazz music, he co-founded a jazz program at the Lincoln Center in 1987. The program was such a success that in 1996, the Lincoln Center Board voted it to be, “A full constituent, equal in stature with the ten other organizations on campus including the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera and New York City Ballet…” (Wynton Marsalis Fan Club, n.d.)

By far, Wynton Marsalis’ biggest achievement came in 1997. In the said year, he became, “The first jazz artist to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music for his work Blood on the Fields, which was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center.” (Wynton Marsalis Fan Club, n.d) Four years later, Marsalis’ efforts were recognized by then UN Secretary General Kofi Anan who made him an international ambassador of goodwill by appointing him a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Wynton Marsalis is a true legend not just for his musical contributions but for his effort to bring about change to the lives of people. Through his music, he has reached out to various people and he has established his place in American and world history. To date, Marsalis serves as Jazz at Lincoln Center’s artistic director and as music director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.


  • Wynton Marsalis Fan Club. (n.d) Biography at Wynton Marsalis Fan Club. Retrieved February 6, 2007 .
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