Timely jazz composition takes center stage at Hancher Auditorium

Hancher Auditorium and composer Wynton Marsalis’ will collaborate for the 13th time by virtually presenting “The Democracy! Suite” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Tate Hildyard

Hancher Auditorium is seen in Iowa City on Sunday, September 20th, 2020.

Tatiana Plowman, Arts Reporter

“Jazz music is the power of now. There is no script. It’s a conversation. The emotion is given to you by musicians as they make split-second decisions to fulfill what they feel the moment requires,” reads a quote from the website of composer Wynton Marsalis, a well-known jazz performer who has been dazzling audiences since he was 6 years old.

Hancher Auditorium will virtually present Marsalis’ new jazz composition on Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. The performance features the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet playing his new composition entitled The Democracy! Suite.

Marsalis is a nine-time Grammy award winning trumpeter and inspiration for many other jazz musicians. The performance will mark his 13th collaboration with Hancher Auditorium, as well as Hancher’s second completely virtual event of the season.

Executive Director Chuck Swanson and the rest of the Hancher executive team worked alongside Marsalis’ team on how to approach this virtual event.

“This partnership has strengthened significantly over the years, our collaboration comes naturally because of our common-shared goal of commitment to the arts and education,” Swanson said.

The Democracy! Suite was composed by Marsalis as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. The music features jazzy instrumentals about current issues the U.S. has faced since the start of the pandemic. The composition emphasizes beauty amid the chaos of current events and a hopeful outlook for the future.

In a video released on Marsalis’ website, the composer urges people to vote in the Nov. 3 election, whether on the specific date or via early voting. Many of the individual pieces featured in the suite also surround election topics, such as the “Ballot Box Bounce.”

The performance was recorded on Sept. 27 at the Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City.  Members of the septet include Marsalis on trumpet, Elliot Mason on trombone, Ted Nash on flute and alto saxophone, Walter Blanding on tenor and soprano saxophone, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Obed Calvaire on drums.


Dennis Green, general manager of Iowa’s only jazz radio station KCCK 88.3 F.M., expressed his enthusiasm for the opportunity to tell his audiences about the upcoming jazz performance. KCCK and Hancher Auditorium have collaborated in the past on other jazz performances.

“Nothing beats seeing a performance live at Hancher, but the uniqueness of a recorded performance allows for us as audience members to see the nitty-gritty details of a performance,” Green said. “From the drops of sweat to the exchanges of glances between members, it creates this intimate and special experience.”

Tickets can be purchased at the Hancher website. The cost is $20 per household; season ticket holders will be sent a link via email on the day of the concert. Viewers will have 72 hours to access the performance and watch it at whatever time is most convenient for them.

“This composition has a beautiful sound and message,” Swanson said, “it will inspire us to use our voices to bring democracy to life.”