LIVE AT THE LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS, Red Butte Garden Amphitheater, Friday

The new Red Butte Garden amphitheater opened Friday night with a ribbon-cutting and closed with an after-hours jazz club jam.

Selecting Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra to host the grand opening proved an inspired move, as the 15-piece ensemble delivered a classy performance that matched the tone of the night. Oh, and they brought a little talent to complement their three-piece suits.

Despite the corporate festivities that started the night and the seemingly structured set-up of the orchestra, the musicians seemed loose while playing and their set seemed to be more on-the-fly than might be expected.

The orchestra is made up of individuals brought together by Marsalis for the primary purpose of honoring the roots of American music: jazz and blues. They are all acclaimed musicians in their own right, which meant that despite having his name singled out, it is not a Marsalis show.

In fact, the real star of Friday night's show may have been saxophonist and composer Ted Nash — which is akin to choosing the best athlete at an Olympics. Still, Nash had more stand-out solos than other performers, and he also arranged three of the evening's best songs, "Giant Steps," Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" and the Latin-flavored "Inner Urge."

Not that Marsalis, or any of the musicians in the orchestra, took a backseat to Nash. Marsalis stepped outside of the traditional music selections for the orchestra to play "Bamboula Dance," from his "Congo Square" composition, and soloed multiple times as well.

And all of the other musicians got a chance to shine during one of many solos granted during the performance. Selecting any one of those solos as superior, in fact, is not only difficult but unfair to both the performers and listeners.

But the highlight of evening may have been the final song, which was actually played after the house lights had been turned partially on and most of the crowd had begun packing their chairs and coolers. The orchestra came out and stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the front of the stage and essentially jammed through an additional five minutes of music that stopped most of the crowd in their spots. It felt very much like a last-minute jam in a late-night club, after last call has been served and the floors cleared.

For the most part, the new amphitheater lived up to its promise. The new sound system effectively eliminates the crowd noise that has plagued previous concerts in the garden, and there is pretty much no seat with a bad view of the stage. It is also gorgeous, both inside and out. While there were some first night hiccups, such as sod still being sown, it seems to have become a first-class venue.

E-MAIL: jloftin@desnews.com