6,000 Nationwide Join Crane in Honoring Wynton Marsalis


From left to right, Wynton Marsalis performs with student saxophonists Drew Coles and Taylor Clay, and with Crane Professor of Music Bret Zvacek on trombone.

More than 6,000 people joined SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music in honoring jazz legend Wynton Marsalis with an honorary degree last week by livestreaming the ceremony online. For the small college at the edge of the Adirondack Park in Northern New York, that is quite a feat.

With only 80 people in attendance at the intimate invitation-only ceremony at the Yamaha Piano Salon on Fifth Avenue in New York City, it is a testament to the respect that the composer and bandleader garners that 75 times as many people tuned in to watch the event as those who were able to attend in person.

“This is actually my Christmas present. It’s not to receive an honorary degree, it’s the fact that you all would come down here for me—to confer a degree on me, and it’s difficult in words to express the depth of that honor,” Marsalis said.

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher, who oversees all 64 campuses in the nation’s largest comprehensive system of public higher education, joined SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl T. Hayden in conferring Marsalis with the honorary Doctor of Music degree on Friday, Dec. 10.

SUNY Potsdam President Dr. John F. Schwaller and Crane School of Music Dean Michael Sitton also joined in recognizing the internationally acclaimed jazz musician.

“We are deeply honored by Mr. Marsalis’s acceptance of this honor—or perhaps I should say, Dr. Marsalis’s acceptance—since it gives us the opportunity to share Crane’s historic commitment to music education and excellence in performance with his personal commitment in both those areas. His brilliant success as an artist and his deeply felt advocacy for the arts and education in society have made his position clear and inspiring for students and all of us in the musical profession,” Dean Sitton said.

Five students from Crane’s Jazz Studies Program played before and during the ceremony. The students included Drew Coles and Taylor Clay on saxophone, Max Howard on piano, Joseph Goehle on bass and Kevin Urvalek on percussion.

They were joined for several tunes by Marsalis himself on trumpet, who led an impromptu masterclass and invited members of the audience to join in the jazz performance.

“We can all play together—anybody who can play, because that’s what our music is about. We get together and we exchange our ideas, and it’s truly a thing that John Coltrane called ‘a love supreme.’ So I’m deeply appreciative of this honor and I will not forget the effort that you all have taken to deliver it to me. It’s one of the greatest honors in my life. Thank you very much,” Marsalis said.

More than 6,000 people watched the video of the ceremony on their computers or mobile devices, including full-house audiences watching live from two locations at Crane—in Sara M. Snell Music Theatre and Ralph Wakefield Recital Hall.

Executives from Yamaha and Jazz at Lincoln Center attended the gathering in New York City, along with SUNY Potsdam alumni and friends. In addition, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Bill Owens sent letters of congratulations for Marsalis.

In 2011, The Crane School of Music will celebrate 125 years of fostering excellence in music education and performance. The 125th anniversary celebration will focus on Crane’s long tradition of innovation, which began with founded Julia Crane in 1886.

“Crane combines this commitment to music education with an unwavering commitment to high achievement in creativity in performance. The presence of our fine student musicians here today combines all those traditions from our institution,” Dean Sitton said.

Marsalis’s ongoing impact is felt around the world. He is an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader, educator and a leading advocate of American culture. He is the world’s first jazz artist to perform and compose across the full jazz spectrum from its New Orleans roots to bebop to modern jazz. By creating and performing an expansive range of brilliant new music for quartets to big bands, chamber music ensembles to symphony orchestras, tap dance to ballet, Marsalis has expanded the vocabulary for jazz and created a vital body of work that places him among the world’s finest musicians and composers. He is the co-founder and artist director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Read more about the amazing career of this extraordinary individual at www.wyntonmarsalis.org.

SUNY Potsdam is grateful to the generous sponsors for this event, including The Yamaha Corporation of America, and Michael and Barbara Maresca.

Learn more about the Crane School of Music at www.potsdam.edu/crane.


Founded in 1886, SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music has a long legacy of excellence in music education and performance. Life at Crane includes an incredible array of more than 300 recitals, lectures and concerts presented by faculty, students and guests each year. The Crane School of Music is the State University of New York’s only All-Steinway institution.