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On Music: Branford Marsalis

Publication: The Paris Review Daily
Author: Sam Stephenson
Date: December 8, 2011

It’s sixty-two degrees and raining in downtown Durham, North Carolina, on a Tuesday in mid-October. At noon members of the Branford Marsalis Quartet gather at the former St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1891, now converted into the Hayti Heritage Center, an arts-and-community nonprofit. Their goal is to record a new album over the next few days.

When Marsalis moved his family to Durham from New York a decade ago, the local press assumed he was replacing the retiring director of Duke’s jazz department, saxophonist Paul Jeffrey. But Marsalis, who’d grown up in Louisiana, simply wanted to return to the South and picked Raleigh-Durham because the area had an airport large enough to get him anywhere he needed to go. Later, he began teaching part-time in the noted jazz program at the historically black North Carolina Central University, which is a mile down the road from Hayti.

The original St. Joseph’s sanctuary remains intact: a wood-plank stage, hardwood pews, a balcony, chandeliers, and lots of stained glass. Marsalis began recording albums here in 2006 when he noticed that the room had a unique quality: there is no reverb at low decibel levels; it grows gradually with the sound.

His road manager, Roderick Ward, and sound engineer, Rob Hunter—who have been with Marsalis for twenty-seven and twenty-two years, respectively—spent two days creating a recording studio on the sanctuary’s stage and in adjoining rooms, hauling in seventy crates of equipment and cables and renting a Steinway grand from Hopper Piano and Organ in Raleigh. It’s the sixth time they’ve transformed this space. The advantage of working in Hayti, says Hunter, is that “we can build a studio the way we want to, rather than trying to adapt to an established studio’s specifications.” “The disadvantage,” he adds, chuckling, “is that we have to build a studio.”

I asked Marsalis if he had planned any overarching themes for this recording session. “Musicians who talk about their concept—that’s why all their songs sound the same,” he said. “We select good songs and we play them to the best of our ability. Then we move on to another song and do it again. That’s our concept.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 04:45pm

[live review] Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo at the MFA

Publication: Boston Phoenix’s On The Download
Author: Jon Garelick
Date: December 8, 2011

That’s Branford Marsalis (center) with jazz guitar genius David Gilmore and David’s dad, Marvin — owner of the Western Front, music-enthusiast, and all-around man-about-town. The occasion was the latest in the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Celebrity Lecture Series at the MFA, also known as “Evenings with Creative Minds.” Which is probably why it didn’t show up on the MFA’s concert calendar. That said, there was plenty of great music. Yes, Branford began by talking, in his gloriously off-the-cuff, eloquent, and blunt-spoken style.

Over the past 30 years, jazz fans have grown accustomed to the rants of Branford and younger brother Wynton. But Branford at least has always been a charming and funny gadfly. In a short talk that began with a quote from Faulkner about the expressive powers of music. Marsalis went off on the particular powers of instrumental music. Differing with Faulkner’s contention that music was the easiest way to express emotion directly, Marsalis said that to the contrary, “music is not the easiest way to express anything.” Which is why people always lean toward music with lyrics. But, he said, the difference with instrumental music is that you can never say exactly what it’s about — and that’s it’s strength.

“The idea of instrumental music is difficult and tedious for most lay-persons to get their heads around, and it’s also difficult and tedious for most musicians to get their heads around.” Read more »

Up for a Grammy award, Arturo O'Farrill still fights for eliminated Latin jazz category

Publication: New York Daily News
Author: Monika Fabian
Date: December 7, 2011

An outspoken critic of the Grammys’ controversial decision this year to eliminate 30 awards categories was graced with a nomination last week by the host organization, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).

“I’m extremely proud,” said bandleader and pianist Arturo O’Farrill, whose album “40 Acres and a Burro” has a bid for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

However, he still opposes the elimination of the Best Latin Jazz Album category, calling it “horrific.”

“To compete with big, big, big names is very healthy, but it doesn’t bode well for us [Latin jazz musicians],” said O’Farrill, winner of the 2008 Best Latin Jazz Album award and a four-time nominee.

“A lot of what happens is brand awareness,” he added. “It would be an amazing vindication of our artistic integrity and the academy’s position of it leveling the playing field if any of the Latinos had a real shot at winning.”

Also competing for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album — the only category in which Hispanic artists were nominated that did not involve Latino/Mexican/World Music — is Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who saw in the academy’s restructuring a chance for Latin artists to gain more widespread jazz cred. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 11:14am

Harry Connick, Jr. Trio: The Happy Elf

Publication: JazzWeekly.com
Author: George Harris
Date: December 8, 2011

There’s just something about Harry Connick Jr. that you just gotta love. He’s got great musical instincts, and a heart for service, as he’s shown by his unrelenting assistance for NO post Katrina. Here, he’s put together a disc that serves as a companion to his children’s book, just in time for the Christmas Season. The disc begins with Connick telling the story from the book, with background music supplied by himself and his regular team of Arthur Latin/dr and Neal Caine/b. After that, it’s strictly instrumentals, with the remaining dozen tunes spotlighting Connick’s clever writing skills, as well as his impressive chops. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 11:55am

Saturday's Best Bet: Branford Marsalis Quartet in concert

Publication: Syracuse.com
Author: Mark Bialczak
Date: December 8, 2011

Jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis opens OCC’s arena

Ten, 20, 50 years from now, Branford Marsalis will always be the answer to this trivia question:

Who is the first national artist to perform in the SRC Arena?

The Branford Marsalis Quartet plays in the new place on the campus of Onondaga Community College Saturday night. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 11:27am

Best jazz albums of 2011

Publication: Stanford Daily
Author: Alexandra Heeney
Date: December 7, 2011

Songs of Mirth and Melancholy”–Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo
Jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo’s much-anticipated duo album of original music is absolutely marvelous, with a mix of foot-tapping numbers like “One Way” and beautiful ballads like “The Bard Lachrymose.” The result is a wonderful album that shows off what a jazz duo is meant to do.
Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 11:09am

Marsalis at the MFA

Publication: Boston Globe
Author: Mark Shanahan and Meredith Goldstein
Date: December 8, 2011

Grammy-winner Branford Marsalis was at the Museum of Fine Arts last night for the first of two performances of “A Language Beyond Language,’’ a program that includes a talk and concert with his piano-playing pal, Joey Calderazzo . The duo has a new album, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy,’’ which features a cover shot in the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing. Last night’s event was sold out. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 8th, 2011 — 10:09am

It's beginning to swing a lot like Christmas

Publication: Chicago Tribune
Author: Howard Reich
Date: December 6, 2011

It’s a Christmas miracle: Holiday music that’s actually worth hearing.

For reasons unknown, several major jazz artists have released seasonal recordings that don’t merely recycle music we’ve already been inundated with in the shopping mall. The best of these albums transcend cliché:

Harry Connick, Jr. Trio: “The Happy Elf” (Marsalis Music): Singer-pianist Connick penned the songs for the stage musical “The Happy Elf,” and here he reformats the score for a noble purpose: introducing young listeners to jazz. Connick narrates the tale in the opening track (which runs a little over 10 minutes), his jazz trio swinging in the background. After that, the album offers 12 tracks of unadulterated instrumental jazz, the music at once subtle and sophisticated enough for the connoisseur yet easily accessible to uninitiated ears. If young people are wooed by Connick’s opening recitation, perhaps they’ll let the record keep spinning. Here’s hoping. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 6th, 2011 — 03:59pm

Good Tidings to You: DownBeat’s Holiday Music Roundup

Publication: Downbeat
Date: December 5, 2011

Read the rest of Downbeat’s picks for holiday music here.

Harry Connick Jr. Trio: Music From The Happy Elf (Marsalis Music)
Music From The Happy Elf is a twofer. If you’ve got young children or grandchildren, The Happy Elf starts off with Connick reading his children’s story about Eubie, the happiest elf on the North Pole, with a sweet backing track by his trio. After that, you’ve got 13 Connick-penned tunes with some nice improvisation. With Neal Caine on bass and Arthur Latin on drums, the trio works out jazz instrumental versions of music written for the stage musical version of the book. And, for the first time, the music and the story are available in one neat holiday package. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on December 6th, 2011 — 12:22pm

Jazz notes: Sinatra at Count Basie, Billy Hart, Los Mas Valientes, Branford Marsalis

Publication: Star-Ledger
Author: Tim Wilkins
Date: December 6, 2011

Marsalis at Kean
Branford Marsalis’ concert on Friday at Enlow Recital Hall of Kean University is the best of both worlds: It presents the tenor saxophonist in the comfortable company of his longtime quartet, with Eric Revis on bass, Justin Faulkner on drums and Joey Calderazzo on piano, but Marsalis and Calderazzo will also perform as a duo (as they appear on their 2011 CD, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy”). Marsalis is a musical modernist who values lyrical content in jazz, as well as classical music: The CD contains homages to Brahms and Prokofiev. Read more »