Wynton Marsalis has helped propel jazz to the forefront of American culture. He has served as the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the music director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra since Jazz at Lincoln Center's inception. In April 1997, he became the first jazz artist to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music for his work Blood on the Fields, which was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Born on October 18, 1961, in New Orleans, he began studying the trumpet seriously at age 12. In 1979, Marsalis entered the Juilliard School in New York City to study classical trumpet but in the fall of that year he had the opportunity to sit in with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and pursue his true love, jazz music. In the years to follow, Marsalis was invited to perform with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, and countless other jazz legends.
In 1982, Marsalis made his recording debut as a leader, and over the last two decades, has produced a catalogue of more than 40 jazz and classical recordings for Columbia Jazz and Sony Classical, which have won him nine Grammy Awards. In 1983, he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz Grammy Awards in one year, and repeated this feat in 1984.
Marsalis has devoted equal time to developing his compositional skills. He has received commissions to create major compositions and collaborations for Garth Fagan Dance, Peter Martins at the New York City Ballet, Twyla Tharp for the American Ballet Theatre, and Judith Jamison at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and orchestras and bands from the Russian Symphony Orchestra to Orquesta El Arranque through Jazz at Lincoln Center productions.
He is internationally respected as a teacher and a spokesman for music education. He developed the extensive education department at Jazz at Lincoln Center which recently partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts on NEA Jazz in the Schools.
He has brought the spirit of jazz into the homes of millions of people through televised Jazz at Lincoln Center productions, on several Emmy nominated Live From Lincoln Center concerts (PBS), on Marsalis on Music, Ken Burns's Jazz, and Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (PBS) among others, as well as with the radio series Making the Music for National Public Radio, which won a Peabody Award in 1996.
For his many achievements, in 1996 Time celebrated Marsalis as one of "America's 25 Most Influential People." He also was named one of "The 50 Most Influential Boomers" by Life magazine. In the spring of 2001, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan proclaimed Marsalis an international ambassador of goodwill by appointing him a United Nations Messenger of Peace. He also has received many other honors including the French Grand Prix du Disque, the Louis Armstrong Memorial Medal, and has received a citation from the United States House of Representatives for his outstanding contributions to the arts.