scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Wynton Marsalis shocks retiring music director

Wynton Marsalis performing in New York City in April 2016.Getty Images/Getty

Jazz great Wynton Marsalis took the stage at the Foxborough High School Pops concert last weekend – much to the surprise of retiring music director Stephen Massey, who was running the event.

Massey was just introducing a piece by the Foxborough High School Jazz Ensemble -- and explaining that the band had been chosen as one of 15 nationally to play at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Festival in New York’s Lincoln Center where Marsalis runs the jazz program -- when Marsalis stepped out from behind a tuba, playing “Joe Avery’s Blues” on his trumpet.

“My reaction was shock, total shock, and disbelief,” Massey said later, although he calmly announced, “Wynton Marsalis, ladies and gentlemen,” to the crowd of family and friends sitting at tables at the high school.


“The generosity of that man to drive four hours up, visit us for half an hour, and drive four hours back -- with his schedule and his life -- is beyond my comprehension,” Massey said.

Marsalis improvised with the student musicians and then gave a moving tribute to Massey, who is retiring after 37 years in Foxborough and 46 years as a music educator. “We love you very deeply, and you are great,” Marsalis said to a stunned Massey.

Massey has brought Foxborough high school jazz bands to the elite Essentially Ellington festival 17 times over the years and gotten to know the Pulitzer Prize and Grammy-winning Marsalis, who judges the event, in the process. Massey’s colleagues and his daughter, Joanna, helped arrange the surprise visit by Marsalis.

“There’s kind of this simpatico communication that we have without many hours of talking to each other, just mutual respect for the things we do,” Massey said. “Music is powerful, very powerful.”

A video of the surprise appearance is available at


Johanna Seltz can be reached at