A supremely talented instrumentalist who has made his mark on both the classical and jazz worlds (winning Grammies in both categories in 1984), Marsalis has become one of the leading advocates of the cause of jazz in the world's media, and a figure of towering influence in the world of jazz education. In addition he is a composer of style and flair, winning a Pulitzer prize for his oratorio Blood On the Fields (1994).
Marsalis grew up in the rich musical tradition of New Orleans, in which his father was a prominent pianist. Three of his brothers, Branford ( a saxophonist, born 1960); Delfeayo (trombonist, born 1965) and Jason (drummer, born 1977) are also world-class musicians. All the boys received a classical and jazz education, and Marsalis began playing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers while he was studying classical trumpet at Juilliard School in New York.
In the early 1980s, after playing with Blakey, Herbie Hancock and his own groups, Marsalis soon made his mark as one of the most gifted jazz trumpeters in the hard bop tradition of Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard, gradually relinquishing his classical career. Unlike Branford, who went on to play fusion and funk, Wynton turned his back on rock and free jazz, and began to explore the earlier jazz tradition, notably in his work with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, one of the world's leading big bands, which he has directed from the late 1980s.
His playing and writing have systematically covered music related to the work of Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and above all Duke Ellington, and Marsalis's small groups have also drawn on the traditional styles of New Orleans jazz. Wynton has recorded prolifically, and toured the world with both the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and his own groups, bringing jazz to a vast new, young audience, through a mixture of regular concerts and a programme of educational outreach work.
He has broadcast widely about jazz, notably in Ken Burns's 2001 documentary TV series, and he has also published books on the subject. His clear trumpet tone and beautifully crafted solos are coupled with a mastery of muted techniques.