Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Rock Chalk Suite
Few things bring a community together more than sports. Here in Tampa we rally around the Lightning when they’re making a playoff run and groan when the Buccaneers blow another game in the fourth quarter. Colleges are institutions of learning, but we identify more with their teams. Are you a Wolverine? Are you a Buckeye? Are you JayHawk?
The performing arts center at the University of Kansas, The Lied Center of Kansas, recognizes the importance their basketball tradition has in uniting not only the student body, but the entire state. To celebrate their 25th anniversary the Lied Center wanted to commission a new work that would create a sense of community. The Rock Chalk Suite has 15 sections with each piece inspired by a Jayhawk basketball legend. Wynton Marsalis said the combination makes sense because both jazz and basketball reward improvisation and rapid fire decision making.
The Rock Chalk Suite doesn’t have a single composer, but rather the movements are composed by multiple members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. This arrangement works well because it allows each movement to take on a unique vibe, just as they honor a unique hoops star (all well working as a united team).
While the Suite directly pays homage to the stars of the court, the movements pay tribute to the great musicians who created the sound of Kansas City jazz. “The Y’s Guy” opens the piece with a sound like Count Basie, while “C.B.Theme” moves toward the bop sound of Charlie Parker. “The Truth” (for Paul Pierce) gets down with a soulful blues with vocals by Chris Crenshaw, Several movements incorporate sounds you’d hear at a game. “Phog Allen” begins with the squeaking of shoes on the hardwood court. “D(fence): the Untold Story of Darnell Valentine” evolves from the well known chant heard at games, to an energetic tune with soloists chasing each other around the charts.
Wilt Chamberlin is undoubtedly one of the most famous basketball players who ever lived (and he was a Jayhawk). “I Cry Before My Country, I Leap Across Its Seas” begins slow and introspective, then shifts to joyous and swinging. I’m not familiar with Clyde Lovellette, but I love that his movement is called “The Ponderous Pachyderm of the Planks.” The whole thing concludes with “I’m a Jayhawk” (the KU Fight Song).
Music and sports are things that bring us together. With everything that is going on in the world these days, it’s good to take a moment to celebrate the things that unite us.