Jazz performance about Jayhawk basketball to take Lied Center stage

photo by: Sylas May/ Photo Illustration from Journal-World File Photos

Former Kansas players Danny Manning, Lynette Woodard and Mario Chalmers, and coaches Phog Allen and James Naismith will be among the KU legends honored with a special jazz performance at the Lied Center.

A jazz performance about Jayhawk basketball will take the Lied Center stage this week in honor of 15 legends affiliated with the University of Kansas sports program.

The Lied Center partnered last fall with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by acclaimed musician Wynton Marsalis, to produce a one-night show of jazz highlighting the legends of the blue-blood basketball program. The center commissioned the piece “Rock Chalk Suite” in celebration of its 25th anniversary this season.

The show, featuring 15 movements representing 15 legends, begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Lied Center. Tickets are $40-60 for adults and $21-31 for children and students.

Proceeds from the event will fund the Lied Center Performing Arts Access Endowment, which aims to allow every student in the Lawrence school district to attend a performance at the center each year.

Derek Kwan, executive director for the Lied Center, said many parallels exist between the sport and the music.

“Everybody has a role to play on the team or in the ensemble, but at the same time, everybody is going to be featured at some point, either when they have the ball or if they are soloing,” he said.

Marsalis, who serves as the JLCO’s artistic and managing director, wrote about the similarities of jazz and basketball in the program’s introduction.

“Jazz and basketball have an organic relationship on the most fundamental level,” Marsalis wrote. “Both reward improvisation and split-second decision making against the pressure of time and the restriction of a clearly defined geometric form.”

He noted both fields have produced a list of great individual styles and achievements.

“Our orchestra is privileged to service the sophistication and present-ness of jazz to honor this present moment of one of our country’s greatest sports legacies,” Marsalis wrote.

Featured Jayhawks in the piece include legendary coaches James Naismith and Phog Allen and players Danny Manning, Jo Jo White, Lynette Woodard, Darnell Valentine, Charlie B. Black, Nick Collison, Paul Pierce, Walt Wesley, Bill Hougland, Wilt Chamberlain, Clyde Lovellette, Andrew Wiggins and Mario Chalmers.

Although the piece is recognizing many Jayhawk legends, Kwan said a committee to choose who would be featured struggled to whittle it down to 15. The committee considered more than 60 individuals related to the program.

“It was very intense conversations to pair that list down,” he said. “We’ve gotten feedback, and that’s what’s great about this project. It’s initiated conversation about the list itself in terms of who is included and excluded.”

Each member of the orchestra wrote a movement for the piece and made a unique sound for each of the legends, according to the Lied Center program for the show.

For James Naismith, trombone player Christopher Crenshaw wrote “The Y’s Guy” to represent the creation of the game and Naismith’s original rules.

“For ‘The Y’s Guy,’ I used the rhythm of the syllables to the word ‘basketball’ for the melody,” Crenshaw wrote in the program. “There are nine and 13-bar phrases in the A sections to acknowledge the sudden changes of possession in a then nine-on-nine game and the foundation of the 13 original rules. Instrumental unisons, duets and trios are used simultaneously to represent the visionary coach’s specifications for each player in accordance with the team’s talent and discipline.”

For Woodard, the basketball program’s all-time leading scorer, Marsalis wrote “The First Lady: Lyrical Lynette.”

“Woodard’s game is pure poetry, tensile strength and style,” wrote Marsalis, who plays the trumpet. “She is herself a song of complexity, depth and everlasting lyricism.”

Kwan said the other movements also include a funky movement for White, a tango waltz for Wesley and a shuffle blues for Lovellette, among others.

The performance will present images along with the music to make it clear which player or coach is being highlighted by each movement of the piece. The performance also will include many references to basketball through the music, including the chanting of the crowd, the squeaking of shoes and the screeching of the referee’s whistle.

“It’s really interesting how they analyzed basketball itself and how they translated that into music,” Kwan said.


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