The best known and arguably most important jazz musician of the modern era, Wynton Marsalis has made his reputation with a combination of technical skill, charm and a focus on the roots of jazz combined with an interest in classical music.
Marsalis was born in New Orleans, the second of six sons of pianist Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores. He began studying trumpet seriously at age 12, and at 18 moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School of Music. In 1980, he became a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and signed a contract Columbia Records, releasing a self-titled debut in 1982.
In 1987 he helped found the Jazz at Lincoln Center program, and is still its artistic director. In 1997 he became the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, for his oratorio Blood on the Fields, on the subject of slavery. Marsalis also helped shape the 2000 television documentary Jazz by Ken Burns, contributing to its emphasis on pre-World War II acoustic jazz and a relative slighting of electronic forms such as fusion.
He has been awarded the Grand Prix du Disque of France and the Edison Award of the Netherlands, and was elected an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in Great Britain. He has sold nearly five million copies of recordings, and has toured 30 countries on six continents.