Jazz at Lincoln Center...at Massey Hall
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Jazz at Lincoln Center…at Massey Hall

Musical legends in town tonight; jazz nerds rejoice.

Victor Goines instructs students during the 2009 Essentially Ellington competition. Photo by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street)
February 23, 8 p.m.

Victor Goines went to kindergarten with jazz superstar Wynton Marsalis and, forty-plus years later, they’re still making music together.

If you’re a jazz nerd, you’ve been listening to and admiring Victor Goines for years. Born in New Orleans in 1961, Goines’s talent on all manner of saxophone and on the clarinet has led him to play with some folks you may have heard of, like Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. Tonight, he will be appearing with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; we spoke with him on the phone after he wrapped a rehearsal in New York.

Torontoist: You’ve been with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since 1993, so this isn’t your first trip to Toronto. Any thoughts on the city and what it’s like to play at Massey Hall, a venue with such a solid jazz pedigree?

Goines: You know, Massey Hall, that’s special for the obvious reasons. Many, many great musicians have spent their time up in there, including that legendary recording with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. So to be a part of that tradition is fantastic. Who would turn down the opportunity to play where Charlie Parker did? Or where Dizzy Gillespie played? That’s about the closest we can get to them, in fact.

What can we expect from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on February 23?

One of the things about Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Wynton as Artistic Director, is our mantra that “all jazz is modern.” We’re willing to play, and we have the capability to play, things that come from the early parts of jazz history from New Orleans and then we’ll turn around and play not only something that has been created recently but something that has been created recently by a member of the band. We like to believe, and I think we’ve been somewhat successful, that we play the history of jazz. And that’s what our audience anticipates. We also have a large enough book [repertoire] that it allows us to really cater to the needs of our audience, because the audience is a very important part of the music. We may have a program picked but if that program turns out to be not ideal for that audience, Wynton has been know to change direction and play something else that he thinks will bring the audience more into the program.

Wynton comes by that behaviour naturally too, doesn’t he? His father Ellis (a piano player), who you’ve studied and played with over the years in New Orleans, is notorious for not planning programs ahead of time. That keeps the players on their feet, doesn’t it?

Yes, that’s very accurate! You know, as a student of Ellis’ and playing in his band for eight years, I’d say that was one of the most educational things in the world…that might be where Wynton gets some of that particular behaviour.

Right now in Toronto we’re facing more budget cuts, and what some might even call hostility toward the arts, especially in schools. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts, as an educator with years as head of the jazz program at Julliard and now in your capacity at Northwestern, on the impact these cuts have on students?

Well, it’s difficult. What they’re doing by cutting arts in schools is taking away children’s exposure to music. And not just jazz, but to all music. So therefore, now, the average kid has no exposure at all. We always say at Jazz at Lincoln Center that music makes us better people. Everybody’s not going to be a professional musician and that’s not really that important. The prize is not being the best; the prize is being a participant.

Tell us about your new Quartet recording, Twilight.

Twilight is a CD that definitely needed to come out now, because it’s been seven years since my last release. It’s on my own record label and it’s 10 of my different compositions…I like to take the opportunity, when I do a recording, to explore all the different avenues of what I can do. The Quartet is a group of really talented young musicians working with me, who are all former students of mine.

That’s so cool to see. Do you find it gratifying playing with your former students?

It is gratifying. I try to make sure whenever I play with them, that I recognize them on the bandstand so they know how I feel about them. You know, I remember years ago, Ellis Marsalis told me “never get on a bandstand with anyone you’re not willing to get in a fox hole with.” You have to trust the people you’re with. And it is very gratifying when your former students come to that level.

It also means you taught them well.

They taught me a lot of things along the way too.