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Wynton Marsalis to headline 2021 ColaJazz Festival

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The inherent difficulty in continuing to one-up yourself with the headliner for your music festival is that there comes a point when you really can’t get any bigger.

That will be the problem facing the ColaJazz Festival next year, as this year’s festivities will be crowned by a performance featuring Wynton Marsalis. The most famous son of jazz’s most ubiquitous family, he is the director of New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, and he became, with 1997’s “Blood on the Fields,” the first person to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music with a jazz composition.

In his biography for the online music encyclopedia AllMusic, Scott Yanow calls Marsalis “the most famous musician in contemporary jazz.”

“He gradually found his own voice by exploring earlier styles of jazz (such as Louis Armstrong's playing),” Yanow writes of the staunchly traditional trumpeter, “mastering the wah-wah mute, and studying Duke Ellington. From that point on, even when playing a Miles Davis standard, Marsalis possessed his own sound and has taken his place as one of jazz's greats.”

Marsalis will perform on May 2 at the Koger Center with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet.

“Bringing to Columbia the world’s greatest and most highly acclaimed jazz artist, Wynton Marsalis, is testament to our successful partnership (with the Koger Center) and the support of our community of jazz fans,” enthused Mark Rapp, executive director of the ColaJazz Foundation, in a press release announcing this year’s festival. “Supporting local artists to enrich our city with world-famous jazz artists this May 1st and 2nd festival weekend, exemplifies our collective belief in and the love of our city and our people.”

World-renowned saxophonist Chris Potter (a graduate of Columbia’s Dreher High School) headlined the first ColaJazz Festival in 2018, followed by Scotty Barnhart (director of the Count Basie Orchestra) in 2019. Last year’s COVID-canceled outing was set to feature Tia Fuller, Don Braden and Alexa Tarantino.

This year’s festival will also expand to include a second day, with an opening concert at Vista rock club The Senate on May 1. The #supportlocal-themed night will feature Columbia jazz artists who have “struggled through the pandemic,” per the press release. Bassist Rodney Foster, Jr., guitarist Amos Hoffman, saxophonist Ben Eidson, Clyde Frazier’s Partly Cloudy Brass Band and vocalist Brittany Turnipseed will all be featured.

The news release also spells out extensive COVID-19 protocols for the concerts. These include: socially distanced seating at the Koger Center, a requirement that face coverings be worn at all times, maintaining a distance of at least 12 feet between performers and audience, and offering full refunds for all Koger Center tickets should guests feel ill and unable to attend.

"By May 1st and 2nd, the ColaJazz Fest weekend, the majority of our jazz community (as far as I can tell from conversations and feedback) will have had their 2 vaccine shots," Rapp told Free Times via text when asked why he feels comfortable planning the festival at this stage in the pandemic. "The venues will be adhering to CDC standards and we will expect people to wear masks, continuing to take all recommended precautions. Because of these reasons, I feel comfortable offering these events and taking large financial risks to do so.

"I believe in our community, our city and the vaccines and believe people will make the best decisions for themselves and their families."

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