Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Sydney Opera House concert reviews


Ask most musicians where they would go to hear the world’s best jazz and chances are they will answer “New York”. In the heart of NY, NY sits a not-for-profit organisation lead by world famous trumpet player Wynton Marsalis called Jazz at Lincoln Center. The name grew out of the Lincoln Center funding a summer concert series back in the 1980s. The series was given to Marsalis to fulfil with the goal of attracting younger audiences and filling the gap whilst the Met Opera and New York Philharmonic were on summer break.

Several years later the Jazz series had grown such a following, the Lincoln Center created a whole new department to manage their jazz and classical jazz concerts. Almost 40 years later the Jazz at Lincoln Center provides free education to almost 150,000 students annually, many of whom have no other access to quality music education. They have a very popular online Youtube and webcast series of concert videos and a professional orchestra of 15 players touring around 3 months of the year.

When they are not touring, you’ll find them resident in New York city in the purpose built Frederick P. Rose Hall, 5th floor of the Deutsche Bank Center where there are three jazz venues: The Rose Theater, The Appel Room and Dizzy’s Club.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra collaborated with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to perform Marsalis’ work “All Rise” a few nights ago with choir. Presenting a different experience tonight, the Orchestra was featured on its own playing the jazz you’ll find in the clubs. Music ranged from a classic “Golden Cress” by Duke Ellington through to works of contemporary composers such as the recently departed Wayne Shorter (March this year) and Chick Corea (2021).

The players were impeccably presented sitting on tiered risers, many of the works were arranged by members of the orchestra and featured solos showcasing the extraordinary talent of each and every artist. Marsalis very humbly took his seat in the trumpet section in the back row and allowed other members of group to lead.

The first number “Jackie-ing” by Thelonius Monk arranged by Ted Nash began with drummer Obed Calvaire using brushes and gradually building in volume to sticks. The rhythms held a taste of Bernstein in their complicated changes of rhythm, each player seemingly playing their own piece. In a smaller venue, this may have worked well but in the echoing Concert Hall, it was hard to grasp with each part accumulating into a potential sonic boom. Same thing happened later on during Wayne Shorter’s “The Three Marias”. The audience really didn’t relax until the second number, Sherman Irby’s “Inferno” with muted trumpets and a lovely laid back lounge feel featuring the wonderful baritone sax of Paul Nedzela.

Improvisation was the mainstay for the majority of the program so each number lasted a good ten minutes. The set list for 1 hour 50 minutes was just 9 numbers and the encore had to be skipped due to venue commitments. This concert was packed to the rafters with paid standing room only tickets included. On the other side of the Opera House, in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, was the newly opened season of Miss Saigon which was also sold out so, unfortunately, the Concert Hall audience really needed to get moving in the carpark. If they hadn’t escaped before the musical finished, nobody would have got home before midnight. Some better planning by Management may have widened the gap and given a more relaxed feel to the close of the concert.

Jazz pianist Dan Nimmer, Jazz at Lincoln Center Sydney Opera House September 2023
Jazz pianist Dan Nimmer performing with Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House September 2023

Out of these 9 numbers, it’s very difficult to point out any one outstanding musician. Each was the best of the best. Drummer Obed Calvaire followed the subtleties of each soloist with astounding detail and movements so fluid he must have been born already playing. Pianist Dan Nimmer had his back to the audience which avoided all distraction. His playing was filled with expression and virtuosic technique particularly in Thelonius Monk’s “Light Blue”. Nimmer feels like he lives and breathes jazz, it’s his language of choice.

In the Kenny Dorham medley of Dorham’s Epitaph and Short Story, the sole female of the group got her moment in the spotlight. On tenor sax, Nicole Glover proved she didn’t just get the gig because she was a token girl. Glover stretched her technique to the max winning the most notes per square inch prize. She was all over that thing like a rash.

Following her in complete contrast was trumpet Marcus Printup laying it back with just enough notes to keep it classy. It was the perfect choice and made both artists look brilliant.

The two other trumpets in the section, aside from Marsalis were Ryan Kisor and Kenny Rampton, perfect team members lifting their horns above the microphones and blasting an octave above the rest of the orchestra to the back of the Gods. Trombones were really interesting, each creating a very unique personal brand. Elliot Mason offered a bolshy improv full of confidence and a touch of sexy carelessness. Chris Crenshaw arranged and played the solo for Duke Ellington’s “Golden Cress”, a sliding croon with a dreamy feel reminiscent of Teagarden. Vincent Gardner was a different style again, truly beautiful. Each trombone totally different yet pulling together to make an awe inspiring team.

Leading the woodwind was the amazing Sherman Irby who’s “Inferno” composition was mentioned before. You could see the younger members give him reverence when he played. Ted Nash really stood out with his “The Three Marias” flute solo as did Victor Goines frequently switching through the night between saxophones and clarinets.

Wynton Marsalis Sydney Australia concert reviews
World famous trumpet player Wynton Marsalis Music Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Rounding up the gang was Carlos Henriquez on bass, ever reliable in holding the foundation of the chords firm. Then, of course, Marsalis himself with marvellous solos that felt limitless in their diversity, like a great poet at work allowing the material to channel straight through him. Marsalis sneaked in a quick quartet at the close of the concert with keys, drum and bass. They would have known by that stage that the much called for Encore was not going to happen.

The whole concert was a magnificent treat with two standing ovations and much shouting and cheering. The only set back was the numbers with either very fast rhythms or many solos at once clashing in the acoustics of the hall. We will have to leave that to the Opera House technicians to perfect before the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra returns.

Just two performances here in Sydney. Keep an eye out for when they are next back in town. Tickets will sell like wildfire.


Wynton Marsalis – Music Director, trumpet

Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, Marcus Printup – trumpets

Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, Elliot Mason – trombones

Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Victor Goines, Nicole Glover, Paul Nedzela – woodwind

Dan Nimmer – piano

Carlos Henriquez – bass

Obed Calvaire – drums


Jackie-ing – Thelonius Monk arr. Ted Nash

Inferno – Sherman Irby

The Three Marias – Wayne Shorter arr. Carlos Henriques

Light Blue – Thelonius Monk

Free for all – Wayne Shorter

Dorham’s Epitaph/Short Story – Kenny Dorham

Golden Cress – Duke Ellington arr. Chris Crenshaw

Tones for Joan’s Bones – Chick Corea

Song with Orange – Charles Mingus

More about Jazz at Lincoln Center: https://www.jazz.org/about/

Check out their Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@jalc

What’s next for Sydney Symphony Orchestra: https://www.sydneysymphony.com/