Wynton Learson Marsalis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1961, the second of six sons of Dolores (née Ferdinand) and Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr., a pianist and music professor. At an early age, he exhibited an aptitude for music. At age eight, Wynton performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band led by banjoist Danny Barker, and at 14, he performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic. During high school, Wynton performed with the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony, various jazz bands and with a local funk band, the Creators.
He graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School with a 3.98 GPA. At age 17, Wynton was the youngest musician admitted to Tanglewood's Berkshire Music Center, where he won the school's Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student. Wynton moved to New York City to attend Juilliard in 1979, and picked up gigs around town. During this period, Wynton received a grant from the National Endowment of the Artsto spend time and study with trumpet innovator Woody Shaw, one of Wynton's major influences at the time. In 1980, Wynton joined the Jazz Messengers led by Art Blakey. In the years that followed, Wynton performed with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Sweets Edison, Clark Terry,Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and countless other jazz legends.
In 1995, PBS premiered Marsalis On Music, an educational television series on jazz and classical music hosted and written by Marsalis. Also, in 1995, National Public Radio aired the first of Marsalis’ 26-week series, entitled Making the Music. Wynton's radio and television series were awarded the George Foster Peabody Award. Marsalis has also written five books: Sweet Swing Blues on the Road, Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life, To a Young Musician: Letters from the Road, Jazz ABZ (an A to Z collection of poems celebrating jazz greats), and his most recent release Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. There is a Language Arts study guide available for Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life for high school English teachers who desire to integrate the arts into their classrooms. It is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and has audio and visual supplemental materials. See http://artsrhetoricandswing.com
In 1987, Wynton Marsalis co-founded a jazz program at Lincoln Center. In July 1996, Jazz at Lincoln Center was installed as new constituent of Lincoln Center. In October 2004, Marsalis openedFrederick P. Rose Hall, the world's first institution for jazz containing three performance spaces (including the first concert hall designed specifically for jazz) along with recording, broadcast, rehearsal and educational facilities. Wynton presently serves as Artistic Director for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Music Director for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. One of his most recent releases was a 2011 collaboration with blues-rock guitarist Eric Clapton, a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert that produced the live album Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues.
In December 2011, Marsalis was named cultural correspondent for the new CBS This Morning.