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Saxophonist Miguel Zenón in peak form

Publication: Chicago Tribune
Author: Howard Reich
Date: April 13, 2012

The ingeniously paced, handsomely played set that alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón offered Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase very nearly summed up the man’s appeal in small-group settings.

For if Zenón had affirmed has ability to hold his own in an orchestral setting last February, when he fronted the Chicago Jazz Ensemble at the Harris Theater, this time he led his quartet in expansive performances of both new and familiar repertoire. Virtually every piece in his first set emerged a model of pacing and architectural clarity, themes appearing and re-appearing at carefully chosen moments, instruments entering and exiting the ensemble texture for maximum dramatic effect. Yet, somehow, the music sounded free and spontaneous while conveying unmistakable structure and form.

Not surprisingly, the heart of the set was built on scores from Zenón’s most recent recording, “Alma Adentro,” in which Zenón re-imagined classic popular songs of his Puerto Rican heritage through the prism of jazz improvisation. As strong as this music sounded on disc, however, in some ways it proved still more effective in this performance, thanks largely to the bloom of Zenón’s tone in full-throated passages and the delicacy of his sound elsewhere. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on April 17th, 2012 — 09:08am

Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of America’s First Family of Music

Publication: Post-Tribune
Author: Diane Kubiak
Date: April 6, 2012

If recent reviews are an indication, ticket holders can expect a musical treat from jazz master Ellis Marsalis, headliner of the Valparaiso University 27th annual Jazz Festival on Saturday, April 14.

Jazz reviewer Dean Shapiro of “Where Y’At” magazine had high praise for the elder Marsalis’ release of “Jazz at Christmas in New Orleans” last fall. “It invites the listener to tune in with a fresh set of ears,” he wrote.

Although the selections were familiar, “only a master composer/arranger like pianist Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of America’s First Family of Music, could have pulled off such an astounding transformation,” Shapiro wrote.

Marsalis’ musical transformations in other works are done both with respect for the original and with the entire history of the genre at his fingertips. Consider his CD “An Open Letter to Thelonious Monk.” The song “Deceleration” does more than put one into a relaxed mood; the music requires one to relax in order to appreciate the subtle harmonies and dissonances as they keep the listener in that delicious place between surrender to the lyrics and anticipation of its next nuance.

His command of the history of his genre comes forth, too, in the CD “Homecoming,” a reissue of the famous 1984 recording session of Ellis with Eddie Harris on tenor sax. In Ellis’ left hand one can hear the rhythm of New Orleans in the beat of people striding down “Hickory and Cognac Streets,” as the song is entitled.

Marsalis recently shared some of that New Orleans history in a phone interview that included insights into his craft, his teaching, the upbringing of his six sons and the struggle to “make a living” in times that were transforming both musically and socially.

A new Orleans native

Born on Nov. 11, 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, Ellis Marsalis began his formal music studies at age 11 when he attended the Xavier University Junior School of Music. “I was fortunate enough to be born in New Orleans,” he said. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on April 6th, 2012 — 02:14pm

Branford Marsalis at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center

Publication: Las Vegas Weekly
Author: Robin Leach
Date: April 3, 2012

Three-time Grammy Award winner Branford Marsalis performed an incredible concert Saturday night at Cabaret Jazz in the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown’s Symphony Park. Four master musicians each starred as solo experts, yet united in a fusion of joyful sound. The drummer, the pianist and the bass player were as remarkable as the saxophone star.

It was a memorable Las Vegas night — intimate, warm and friendly. You felt as if you were onstage with them throughout the entire 75 minutes. There were two standing ovations and thunderous applause from jazz fans. The sound was superb. With its subdued lighting, Cabaret Jazz is reminiscent of a New York supper club set in an Art Deco building. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on April 5th, 2012 — 11:41am

Marsalis quartet in top form at Smith Center

Publication: Las Vegas Review-Journal
Author: Carol Cling
Date: April 1, 2012

Those expecting a one-man show must have been disappointed.

But for those who had come to see — and hear — the Branford Marsalis Quartet, the what’s-in-a-name question took a back seat to the music.

Playing two sold-out shows Saturday night at The Smith Center’s intimate Cabaret Jazz club, the Marsalis quartet demonstrated that jazz is nothing if not a team sport — and that a solo in the spotlight is no match for an in-sync team grooving in top form.

Oh, there’s no mistaking Marsalis’ star presence. After all, he’s the one with the famous name, the Grammy Awards, and the résumé that stretches from Sting to Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.”

Despite his past pop and funk forays, however, there’s no mistaking his serious commitment to, and serious command of, a wide-ranging jazz repertoire.

During the first of two Saturday night sets, Marsalis led his equally accomplished bandmates — pianist Joey Calderazzo , drummer Justin Faulkner and bassist Eric Revis — through a stylistically varied but consistently rewarding program, one that showcased all four players delivering everything from blues to bop. And beyond.

The quartet kicked off in high gear with Calderazzo’s rousing “The Mighty Sword,” its jittery rhythms setting the stage for Marsalis’ fluid solos (on soprano sax) and equally fluid interplay among his fellow musicians. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on April 2nd, 2012 — 02:09pm

All in the Family

Publication: VanityFair.com
Author: Benjamin Wallace
Date: March 29, 2012

Whether you’re going into your first audition or making your fourth trip to Promises, navigating the entertainment world is a tricky business. Close-knit Hollywood clans such as the Baldwins, Cusacks, Wayanses, and Arquettes have a leg up (not to mention some undeniably good genes), it seems, sharing tips about everything from choosing a project that might strike Oscar gold to avoiding the paparazzi. Whether it’s DNA, shared know-how, or sheer power-in-numbers, some families clearly have that something special. Benjamin Wallace investigates the origin of that je ne sais quoi and the support and rivalry it gives rise to.

Sometimes, the parents are not only enablers but also role models. Ellis Marsalis, father of the Marsalis brothers—Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason—was a jazz musician, but there was no pressure on his sons to follow his path, Wynton says. The only thing the Marsalis parents did to guide their children was to make sure—wisely—that each played a different instrument. “My father didn’t expect us to become musical professionals,” Wynton says. “I didn’t start practicing till I was 12.”

Wynton Marsalis experiences a kind of synchronistic mind meld with his brother Branford. “I just stopped in North Carolina and taught his class,” Wynton says, “and at the end, we played together. There were so many ideas going back and forth, such an understanding. You know you can look at someone, and with a glance know you’re thinking the same thing? And then you look away and think something else, then look back, and you’re thinking the same thing? Me and Branford can play two solos, then play counterpoint to each other, and then reach a point where we play the same five or six notes in a row. That’s almost unbelievable. It’s a fascinating thing.”

To read the rest of Mr. Wallace’s interesting article about fame and families, please visit VanityFair.com. Read more »

Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy

Publication: Houston Press
Author: Olivia Flores Alvarez
Date: March 22, 2012

Think you know saxophonist Branford Marsalis? Think again. His latest CD, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, on which he’s joined by pianist Joey Calderazzo, is a departure from his previous material, a drastic departure based less on virtuosity and more on melodic style. Bottom line, it’s less note-y. And it’s that music that will be the basis for today’s concert, Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy.

Marsalis and Calderazzo have been performing together for several years in the Marsalis Quartet, but when the duo performed at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival things really clicked and the two decided to record together. The result was Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, a collection of originals from the two performers, with the exception of Wayne Shorter’s “Face on the Barroom Floor” and Brahms’s Die Trauernde.

“I have only played duo with Harry [Connick, Jr.], my dad [Ellis Marsalis] and Joey. And with Joey, I can go in different directions,” says Marsalis via press materials. In liner notes for Mirth and Melancholy, he praises Calderazzo’s talent and versatility. “There are so few people who can actually create melody – which is why there’s an over-reliance on pattern, because it’s attainable and melody is elusive: either you’ve got it or you don’t. Joey’s always had it, and the technical side as well.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 28th, 2012 — 09:17am

‘Finding Your Roots’: Marsalis Reflects; Why Alicia Keys Pulled Out

Publication: EurWeb.com
Author: Cherie Saunders
Date: March 26, 2012

New Orleans-born musician Branford Marsalis was hit with a one-two punch in Sunday’s season premiere of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.”

First, the Grammy winning saxophonist had always figured that he had white, European blood in his family line – as do most African Americans – and had always assumed that it was the result of a slave master raping one of his ancestors, as is usually the case.

Dr. Gates confirmed that Branford indeed descends from a German white man, Johann Learson, who changed his name to John Learson and shows up in New Orleans in 1851. But he fathered a child with a free black woman – named Mertay Valentine, Branford’s great, great, great grandmother). The relationship appears to have been a long one, as they had seven children – each bearing Learson’s surname.

Then, Dr. Gates dropped the other bombshell. The Marsalis family does not actually descend from a Marsalis. Their blood line comes from Isaac Black, who was married to Branford’s great, great grandmother Elizabeth Montgomery. They had a child together, Simeon, before divorcing a short time later. She then married Joseph Marsalis, who adopted Simeon. The boy then took on his step-father’s name.

“When Professor Gates was telling it to me, I kind of said, ‘You know, however I got here is fine with me,’” Marsalis recalls of that moment in the episode. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 27th, 2012 — 01:01pm

Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis explore their family trees on PBS' 'Finding Your Roots'

Publication: Nola.com
Author: Dave Walker
Date: March 25, 2012

The genealogy surprises revealed to Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in the latest installment of Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” series for PBS are so much fun they could count as story spoilers. So, if you want those surprises preserved, feel free to now skip ahead a few paragraphs knowing that a couple of New Orleans’ favorite sons meet some great-great-greats they couldn’t have imagined having. Spoilers a-comin’.

The episode airs at 7 p.m. Sunday (March 25), followed by a second hour in which Gates does similar digging for Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

The Marsalis musical dynasty, it turns out, is the product of the mid-1800s union of a German immigrant and a free woman of color.

The couple couldn’t marry, and their relationship – which produced seven children – was a statistical rarity.

“They had a relationship of mutuality and love and that kept them together, and that’s really neat,” Gates said during a recent phone interview. “Here’s something that will never be lost now for the Marsalis family, that they’re descended from this white man who defied all the common prejudices of the time. He gets off the boat and the first thing he sees is this beautiful free Negro woman, and boom they have seven children. Can you imagine writing home? Read more »

Stars search for their roots on PBS series

Publication: Lansing State Journal
Author: Mike Hughes
Date: March 24, 2012

Decades ago, the Marsalis kids had their notion of fun.

Branford, 13, and Wynton, 12, would find white Marsalis families in Summit, Miss.

“We’d knock on the door and say, ‘We’re doing our family tree and I think we’re related,’” Branford Marsalis recalled semi-sheepishly, “ just to watch them go, ‘Oh no, there must some mistake!’”

In truth, he knew they weren’t related to these people – “we were just being jerks” – but he also knew there were whites somewhere on the family tree. “In the hot Louisiana sun, when I … saw little blond hairs on my arm, I thought, ‘Ahh, that’s not supposed to happen.’”

The search for answers is at the core of “Finding Your Roots,” Henry Louis Gates’ new PBS series. It reflects something that has drawn Gates since the 1960 funeral of his grandfather. Read more »

'Finding Your Roots' enlightens, inspires family history work

Publication: Deseret News
Date: March 24, 2012
Author: Tiffany Shill

PBS’s 10-part series “Finding Your Roots” illustrates how researchers never quite know what they’ll find when looking into family history, whether it’s in a public record, through the Internet or a story passed down from generations.

Finding your Roots,” which premieres Sunday, March 25, at 7 p.m. on KUED, Ch. 7, is hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. The series looks into the family history of notable names like Samuel L. Jackson, Barbara Walters and Robert Downey Jr. Gates invites all to look back in their family lines and find what it is that makes them who they are.

“Genealogy is more popular than ever, but it’s far more than a solitary pastime,” says Gates, whose previous projects include “African American Lives” (2006), “African American Lives 2” (2008) and “Faces of America” (2010). “It’s a fascinating endeavor that can drastically alter both history and the way we think of ourselves.”

The premiere episode features guest biographies of musician/actor Harry Connick Jr. and composer/band leader Branford Marsalis. The two are “dear friends” who grew up together in New Orleans with its rich musical heritage.

It’s often been said that people in New Orleans don’t just tell history, they do history,” Gates says.

Gates uses “every tool available” to put together their “book of life.”

Genealogists help stitch together the past, using the paper trail their ancestors left behind,” Gates says.

Their story “illuminates the complicated history of race in New Orleans,” he says. Read more »