There's a lot more that goes into putting together a gala than just booking a big-name talent. Especially for a gala year that ends in 0.
So, for Saturday night's Gala 30, Tilles Center executive director Elliott Sroka performed a juggling act to assemble "a unique program that reflects the breadth of what we do here."
It doesn't hurt to start with a superstar if you want to fill the house as well as the tent next to Tilles with big-bucks black-tie benefactors who will be wined and dined before and after the show.
"We've worked with Wynton Marsalis over most of the 30 years since we started the annual gala," Sroka says. "When we found his orchestra was available, too, we went from there." That would be the orchestra for Jazz at Lincoln Center, where Marsalis is artistic director.
As a complement to the jazz standards Marsalis and his band favor, singer Ann Hampton Callaway, who has appeared often in Tilles' Club "T" cabaret series, was brought on board. But something still seemed to be missing. Marsalis, who has broadened his career beyond jazz to accommodate both classical and dance compositions, has collaborated with Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, among other choreographers.
"The Ailey company will be touring in Israel on the date we originally set for the gala," Sroka says. "But we really wanted dance to be represented. Mixed programs are such fun, and it makes the gala experience different from anything else our audience might see anywhere."
MARSALIS THE MASTER
The jazz trumpeter, Lincoln Center impresario and New Orleans native recalls his first Tilles appearance in the 1980s. Marsalis was a guest soloist with Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic - one of his early classical gigs. Next he played on a program with choreographer Garth Fagan in the '90s. Most recently - 2005 - he performed the Duke Ellington "Nutcracker" with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which has his back for tomorrow night's gala. "There's a community feeling to playing Tilles," says Marsalis, who also has come to the Long Island arts center as a fan. "That's where I saw Sergei Nakariakov, a phenomenal trumpet player."
Saturday night, "We'll be swinging," Marsalis says. The orchestra will provide a big band sound for standards sung by Callaway. "Most people will know all the songs," he says. And for a change of pace, Ailey principal dancers Linda Celeste Sims and Clifton Brown will perform a set of pas de deux.
"It'll go down real easy," Marsalis promises.
WHAT: Tilles Center Gala 30, featuring Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Ann Hampton Callaway and Linda Celeste Sims and Clifton Brown of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
INFO: Concert: $62-$102; dinner, show and post-concert meet-the-artist reception: $700; tillescenter.org, 516-299-3100