After seven months without, the Shelburne Museum and the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts brought back live performances — albeit limited ones — with a concert by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Septet on Friday night, Oct. 9.
Only 150 tickets were available for that show, and another that was rained out on Saturday night.
The Flynn’s artistic director Steve MacQueen said 150 is the maximum number allowed by COVID-19 restrictions.
Rather than being performed on the huge field to the north of the Shelburne Museum’s buildings where crowds of 3,000 see concerts during warmer months, this was held on the grounds within the museum next to the Pizzagalli Center. Circles were drawn on the grass to keep the audience socially distanced.
The concert was BYOB which in this case means bring your own blanket (you weren’t allowed to take alcohol into the concert).
The collaboration between the Shelburne Museum and the Flynn came about because of Marsalis and his warm feelings for Burlington, both the museum’s director Thomas Denenberg and MacQueen said.
“Wynton Marsalis wanted to do this. He’s the one who took a leadership role,” Denenberg said.
MacQueen said Marsalis contacted the theatre saying he wanted to do a tour of smaller, coronavirus safe concerts and that he would like to include a stop in Burlington.
MacQueen didn’t know the exact number of times the trumpeter has performed at the Flynn over the years, but it’s been several, and at least twice since 2012 when MacQueen joined the theatre.
Marsalis has a strong connection to Burlington. Besides performing here, he delivered the commencement address at his son’s graduation from the University of Vermont in 2013.
Marsalis spoke of his warm feelings for this area from the stage.
“We love playing here. We’ve been here a few times,” he said. “We’re not virginal to this experience. It’s fun to be here.”
Besides Marsalis, the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Septet included Elliot Mason (trombone), Ted Nash (alto saxophone and flute), Walter Blanding (tenor and soprano saxophones), Dan Nimmer (piano) and Obed Calvaire (drum).
Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Septet performed a new piece that Marsalis has recently composed called “Suite for Democracy.” The music was all inspired by contemporary issues — Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 and the political climate.
“It was inspired by things that have happened during this time,” he said.
For example, the first movement was “Be Present” which he introduced by saying it recognizes people who have been protesting and those who have worked during the quarantine. “People who have been forced to work even when they didn’t want to,” Marsalis said.
The next movement was “Sloganize, Patronize, Realize, Revolutionize: Black Lives Matter.”
He introduced the third piece by saying it is “about something funnier than anything I’m saying and that’s that our postmaster is making mailboxes bounce away, so this is called ‘Ballot Box Bounce.’”
A movement called “Deeper than Dreams” is about the many people who have died whose loved ones have not been able to say goodbye, he said.
A faint drizzle, lighter than eyelashes fluttering, fell during the performance. It was barely more than a mist that did nothing to dampen the audience or its enthusiasm, unlike Saturday when severe thunderstorms caused the cancellation of that evening’s show.
This Saturday at 7 p.m., The Queen’s Cartoonists will perform the music of cartoons from Looney Tunes and Warner Brothers to the Simpsons. While six musicians perform the musical soundtracks, the cartoons will be projected on a screen behind them.
Marsalis and The Queen’s Cartoonists are a first, and last for this year of performances sponsored the Shelburne Museum and the Flynn. The museum is closed for the season after this and the Flynn is not ready to resume live performances in the theater.
MacQueen said the theater sponsored eight free outdoor performances at outdoor venues around Burlington during the summer.
He doesn’t know and didn’t want to predict when the Flynn will be back up and running with performances there, although he did say he would love to see the Discover Jazz Festival in the theatre in June.
“We won’t do it until it’s safe. We’re not interested in doing performances when it compromises people’s safety,” MacQueen said. “Just having the theater open would be a dream.”