Published: Dec. 17, 2020 By
Wynton Marsalis playing trumpet

Despite distancing and thanks to virtual conferencing, one of the College of Music’s most important annual events will go on this winter. The fourth annual Distinguished Lectureship in Music, Diversity and Inclusion will feature a conversation between the College of Music’s Diversity and Outreach Coordinator Alma Ramos and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis.

“Marsalis is such a prominent performer, composer and educator in the jazz and classical realms,” Ramos says. “There is also a lot we can learn from him about his experience as a Black man within the profession of music. It’s important for our BIPOC students, and even faculty and staff, to be able to see themselves within the realm of music in so many avenues.”

The Monday, Feb. 15, conversation is happening in conjunction with Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents The Democracy! Suite, a special, virtual Artist Series event available Feb. 19-21.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Assistant Director of Touring Daniel Israel says it’s a mission of the band and a personal passion for Marsalis to make music inclusive and accessible to everyone, regardless of their background. “Our mission statement is: ‘We believe jazz is a metaphor for Democracy. Because jazz is improvisational, it celebrates personal freedom and encourages individual expression. Because jazz is swinging, it dedicates that freedom to finding and maintaining common ground with others. Because jazz is rooted in the blues, it inspires us to face adversity with persistent optimism,’” Israel says.

Marsalis, who made a name for himself quickly as a child prodigy on trumpet, went on to attend Juilliard; perform with Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Sarah Vaughan and others; and become a prolific composer, author and activist. In his work with JLCO, Marsalis has tried to make jazz and music education an integrated part of school programs. Israel says one silver lining of the pandemic has been the opportunity to spread JLCO’s message to a broader audience.

“Whereas in a normal year we would only be able to do outreach events locally, we’re able to do them all over the country now. We’re opening the eyes of children who may never have been exposed to jazz, or even music, in this way before.”

Marsalis has also done several virtual talks this year, reaching more audiences than ever before. Incoming College of Music Dean John Davis says Marsalis will bring a unique perspective to the college’s distinguished lectureship series.

“Wynton is an engaging speaker and brings a lot of insight to the college’s Distinguished Lectureship on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion series,” Davis explains. “He has been a long-time advocate for diversity and racial equity, both inside and outside of music. 

“This series grew from one of the pillars of the college’s strategic plan and was launched in 2018 to begin a more formal engagement with diverse people, experiences and points of view about music. It is just one among several efforts to cultivate diversity and inclusion at the college, and will remain an important part of that education.”

Davis will introduce Ramos and Marsalis at the beginning of the virtual conversation, with Ramos moderating questions from students and guests. “We will engage in meaningful conversations and get a sneak peek of what his life experiences entailed in order to get to his highly esteemed position today,” Ramos says. “It will be an insightful and inspiring conversation for everyone attending.”

Ramos adds, it will be meaningful for the college community to hear from this champion of music inclusivity—especially at this important moment of racial reckoning for music programs across the country.

“Because of the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and so many other innocent Black lives, the anti-Asian racism due to COVID-19, and the ongoing pandemic, there is no way the College of Music cannot react to everything that has happened,” Ramos says. “This work has needed to be done in order to better support our students, faculty and staff with underrepresented identities. Therefore, we at the college have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and prepare to make the appropriate changes personally and systemically to make this a welcoming and supportive environment for underrepresented folks. It’s also an incredible opportunity for us, as artists, to expand our knowledge and library of the multitude of contributions that non-White, European, men have made in music and celebrate them.”

The Fourth Annual Distinguished Lectureship on Music, Diversity and Inclusion is Feb. 15 at 11:30 a.m. Mountain Standard Time. Information about how to access the event, and tickets to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents The Democracy! Suite virtual performance are available at the CU Presents website:

Photo above courtesy