On October 22, the Columbia and Sony Classical labels will release The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis, a 15-track collection of spiritually inspired works compiled and produced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning trumpeter. All of the music was recorded from 1988 to 2002.
The release of The Spiritual Side Of Wynton Marsalis coincides with a month-long tour, Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration Tour, featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, conductor Damien Sneed and the 70-voice Chorale Le Chateau. Billed as a “historic hand-clappin’, tambourine-slappin’ celebration,” the tour opens at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on October 3 and concludes in Boston’s Symphony Hall on October 27. From October 24-26, the tour comes to New York City for three homecoming dates at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall.
Appearing on The Spiritual Side Of Wynton Marsalis are such swingers as Marcus Roberts and Eric Reed (piano), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Wessell Anderson (alto sax), Victor Goines (tenor sax), Dr. Michael White (clarinet), Ted Nash (reeds), and many others, including Marsalis’ pre-eminent rhythm section of bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley.
Simeon Marsalis writes in his liner notes, concerning his father’s spiritual beliefs, “we learn that Wynton is a secular humanist whose growth was grounded in Christian philosophy by his mother.” Wynton reflects, “Spiritual means the innermost reflections on the most high and on an all-pervasive consciousness. It is a basic warmth and acceptance of human beings in the glory of unruly humanness.” The tracks that Wynton has personally selected for The Spiritual Side Of Wynton Marsalis range from duets, trios and small combos to full orchestral settings, and were chosen from seven albums originally released on the Columbia and Sony Classical labels. The music, Simeon writes, “strikes a balance between the sacred and secular worlds.”
This balance is heard on tracks featuring vocals by contemporary gospel luminary Shirley Caesar (“I Hear a Knockin”and “If I Hold On”), along with the genre-defying song craft of singer Cassandra Wilson (“Oh We Have a Friend in Jesus”) and on other tracks on the recording. The album’s centerpiece is a previously unreleased performance of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” by gospel legend Marion Williams, recorded at age 65, in 1993, the year before her death. This song, from the pen of Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music, is one of Williams’ signature showpieces.
Simeon Marsalis compares the theme of The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis to a New Orleans funeral function, “sorrowful but ultimately uplifting” as it alternates tempos. The effect is “designed to celebrate our collective soul,” he writes, “from a single plaintive chant, to an instrumental re-enactment of a Sunday service, to a full choir shouting for redemption.” Simeon writes that his father and grandfather were inspired and uplifted by the integrity and spirituality of A Love Supreme, John Coltrane’s 1965 masterpiece.