It was certainly a sign of the heights that UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) has scaled when Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) came through town last week for a three-day residency. While they gave no public performances, the greatest big band in the world, en route between performances in Los Angeles and San Francisco, exercised their significant muscle for the causes of arts education and A&L’s $20 million endowment campaign.
The JLCO may have been undercover but was by no means idle. On Monday and Tuesday, select musicians spread out to conduct five music clinics — for all three high school bands, one junior high band, and the UCSB Jazz Ensemble. A&L has long championed the educational principle that nothing can take the place of living contact with excellence, and last week’s residency was a fine example of this principle at work. On Wednesday, the Arlington Theatre was filled to capacity with 2,000 elementary school children as Marsalis and the orchestra gave a lecture/demonstration titled What Is a Big Band? Marsalis demonstrated his well-known teaching savvy, engaging and holding the attention of his enormous classroom with humor, vivid images, and the basics of the brass, woodwinds, and the rhythm section, and that all-important swing.
And as if that weren’t enough, Tuesday night, the whole band played for a private backyard concert/fundraiser at the Montecito home of Jim and Patricia Selbert. The Campaign for Arts & Lectures has now passed the halfway point toward its $20 million goal, and a generous contribution by Michael and Anne Towbes ($750,000) and a planned gift by Timothy and Audrey Fisher ($500,000) were toasted. The JLCO played a set of Basie, Ellington, and Mingus, and after a break, Marsalis returned with a New Orleans combo.