Washington Performing Arts Society: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration by Veronique MacRae

When art is transformative to the spirit and universal in its ability to touch the souls of many, it has achieved a purpose greater than itself. This is the sentiment associated with Wynton MarsalisAbyssinian: A Gospel Celebration. Once again, for its inaugural performance of the 2013/14 Season The City is Our Stage, Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) has exposed many to the brilliance, elegance, power and enlightenment of arts through Marsalis’ dynamic composition that weaves the tradition of the African American church with the smooth improvisation and impact of jazz.

In “Abyssinian,” Marsalis combines a range of musical genres, from jazz to hymns, blues to ballads. Photo by Frank Stewart/Washington Post.
In “Abyssinian,” Marsalis combines a range of musical genres, from jazz to hymns, blues to ballads. Photo by Frank Stewart/Washington Post.

A greatly finessed merging of what is deemed as sacred with secular, Marsalis presents a religious expression of worship, praise and celebration in a manner that is universally understood and easily embraced. Ordered in the manner of a traditional church service, beginning with devotion and call to worship and closing with a doxology, recessional and benediction, Wynton Marsalis’ Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration redefines what is categorized as sacred by presenting the many facets in which the arts breaks the barriers of being mere entertainment and speaks to humanity through various forms.

In celebration of Marsalis’ thirtieth year of partnering with Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS), this performance was the perfect selection. As stated by Jenny Bilfield, President and CEO of WPAS, Marsalis has made “a fantastic foothold in jazz.”  It is clear through this performance, that Marsalis’ foothold not only exists in jazz, but in art as a form of education and spiritual illumination as well.  Yet the beauty of art is that it is ever collaborative and evolving.

It is the collaboration of Marsalis with Damien LeChateau Sneed and the Chorale Le Chateau that made this inaugural performance an indelible memory for years to come. The unified sound, clarity of tone and passion exhibited by Sneed and the Chorale Le Chateau elevated an already impeccable performance to an even higher level. The beauty of Marsalis’ piece along with LeChateau, the Chorale Le Chateau, the orchestra and the WPAS Gospel Choir gave example of the ingenious, exquisiteness and influence that arts brings to individuals, communities and greater humanity. 

Aabyssinian. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Winton Marsalis at ‘Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration’. Photo by Frank Stewart.

Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis: Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration) played for one-night-only on October 6, 2013 at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For future events, go to their calendar of events.


Wynton Marsalis’ website.


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