ellis marsalis

Interview: Ellis and Wynton Marsalis

Publication: NUVO News
Author: Scott Shoger
Date: March 26, 2014

Ellis Marsalis, Jr. — the paterfamilias of the jazz-playing Marsalis clan — says he was “never big on family bands.” Maybe that’s why even after the Marsalis family performed together for the first time during a retirement celebration for Ellis in 2001, they still don’t play as a family all that often. The sole date on their online schedule is their Clowes Hall show. And then they’ll go their separate ways: Wynton with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; Ellis, Branford and Jason with their respective quartets; Delfeayo with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra; spoken word artist Ellis III to wherever it is that he issues his oracular judgments on American life (Wynton will have more on that in a minute).

In short, all the Marsalises lead busy professional and personal lives, so it’s only when Ellis is “interested in doing it,” according to Wynton, that they get together for another show. “He’s at the stage now of his life where we try to get together and touch base with him,” he adds. I talked with both Ellis and Wynton this week: Ellis from New Orleans; Wynton from somewhere on the road between San Francisco and Ames, Iowa (he prefers not to fly when he has a choice). The results are as follow, but a quick bio seems in order:

Born in New Orleans in 1934, Ellis Marsalis, Jr. came up as jazz pianist, playing in a modern style that wasn’t obviously indebted to Dixieland and R&B, before moving into education, eventually teaching on both a high school and university level, notably at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. He and his wife, Delores, have six sons, five of whom will perform at Clowes. There’s Branford, an adventurous saxophonist who’s worked with Art Blakey, Sting and the Grateful Dead and briefly served as musical director for The Tonight Show. Wynton, a nine-time Grammy winner, long-time artistic head of Jazz at Lincoln Center and notorious contrarian. Ellis, who contributes spoken word monologues to some Marsalis Family gigs. Trombonist Delfeayo, who has followed directly in his dad’s path in becoming a New Orleans-based educator. And drummer Jason, the youngest Marsalis, who has spent more time performing with his dad than any other son.

Feel free to consult Wikipedia or, hell, the Grove Dictionary of Music for more information; for now, to the interviews!
  

NUVO: So, who calls the shots at a Marsalis Family show? Your dad?

Wynton Marsalis: Yeah, we go along with him, whatever he wants. He sacrificed for us so much, we have so much respect for him that it’s not a problem.

NUVO: Is there any different sort of chemistry when playing with your family vs. playing with other talented musicians?

Wynton: We all grew up listening to our father’s music. But for Branford and I, it’s different because we grew up playing together. We didn’t play with Delfeayo so much because he’s younger than us. And Jason was two when I left home. He’s such a talented musician, with his hearing and the understanding of the concepts of what we play. He grew up playing with my father, so I’m sure there’s a chemistry between them. Read more »

The Marsalis Family to appear with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra at Clowes Hall

Publication: The Indianapolis Recorder
Date: March 20, 2014

A once-in-a-lifetime event will take place at Clowes Memorial Hall on March 29, at 8 p.m. as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performs with the Marsalis Family.

Ticket prices start at $50. Tickets are on sale now at the Clowes Hall Box Office, ticketmaster.com, or by calling 800-982-2787.

Called ‘the first family of jazz,” The Marsalis Family continues to be the driving force behind jazz education and preservation. In this one-night-only performance, Ellis, Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis will take the stage together and in solo performances with the famed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Hailed as “an extraordinarily versatile orchestra” by The Los Angeles Times, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is composed of 15 of jazz music’s leading soloists under the leadership of musical director Wynton Marsalis. Drawing from an extensive repertoire that includes original compositions by Marsalis, Ted Nash, and other members of the orchestra, as well as the masterworks of Ellington, Mingus, Coltrane, and other great jazz composers, concerts by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are internationally critically acclaimed. “The finest big band in the world today,” said the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph.

The Marsalis Family story starts in New Orleans, with the birth of Ellis Marsalis Jr. in 1934. Although the city was noted for Dixieland and rhythm-and-blues, Ellis was more interested in the bebop sounds coming from Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Read more »

Branford Marsalis: I’m a MF Musician!

Publication: iRockJazz.com
Author: Matthew Allen
Date: June 10, 2013

“I don’t use songs as a vehicle to glorify myself. I’m going to play whatever is required to make the song successful.” These are the words of Branford Marsalis. He’s a man that understands that it’s not all about him. Considering the big names he’s played with from Sting to Gang Starr, and all the hit songs he’s played on, it’s a wonder that he hasn’t gotten a big head, but the truth is that in the realm of jazz, it’s easy for some to get caught up in their own ideas and try to show them off to whomever is listening. Marsalis, however, takes no part in that line of thinking, and it’s a main reason why he’s been as successful as he has and why he continues to grow and educate others in that the music is more important than the musician.

Marsalis has long considered himself as a musician rather than as a saxophonist. In his mind, there is a big difference between the two in that a musician is someone that knows what it takes to make a song reach its highest potential, even if it means not playing as fast as one can or as many notes as is possible. “For the instrumentalist, the instrument is the center of their life; for a musician, the music they play is the center of their life,” Marsalis explains to iRockJazz. “In order to play music and communicate with people you have to have something in common with people. Most people don’t spend eight hours a day or four hours a day in a little cubicle working on complicated devices to play on stage. ”

Marsalis spent his childhood playing in funk bands as part of the horn section and grasped the concept of knowing his role. This method of thinking led him to lend his instrument saxophone to some of the biggest recordings of the late 21st century, such as Shanice’s pop smash “I Love Your Smile” and Public Enemy’s iconic anthem “Fight the Power.” “First of all, I don’t go up there playing jazz solos. I employ jazz sensibilities and it’s unique and it’s different in the way it sounds, but I understand my role in that situation.”

Branford Marsalis Waxes Philosophical

Publication: Washington Informer
Author: Stacy M. Brown
Date: February 13, 2013

Exuding the class often associated with jazz, a member of an esteemed family waxes philosophical about music, Hollywood and growing up in a family of accomplished musicians.

Grammy award winner Branford Marsalis intends to mesmerize the audience Friday evening when he and his quartet perform before jazz aficionados, longtime fans and newcomers to the genre.

Marsalis said there’s a uniqueness about jazz musicians, largely because of the laid back style of the music and the perceived sophistication that it takes to create jazz.

There are a lot of musicians interested in jazz because of the intellectual component. But, a lot of guys also play jazz because that’s all they know how to play,” said Marsalis, who is touring the country with his quartet to bolster his latest CD, “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes,” which is currently available at Marsalis’ website, www.branfordmarsalis.com and iTunes.com. The CD has already been named Apple iTunes Instrumental Jazz Album of the Year. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 19th, 2013 — 06:18pm

Branford Marsalis: Don’t call him an instrumentalist. He’s an MF musician

Publication: IRockJazz.com
Author: Matthew Allen
Date: September 7, 2012

“I don’t use songs as a vehicle to glorify myself. I’m going to play whatever is required to make the song successful.” These are the words of Branford Marsalis. He’s a man that understands that it’s not all about him. Considering the big names he’s played with from Sting to Gang Starr, and all the hit songs he’s played on, it’s a wonder that he hasn’t gotten a big head, but the truth is that in the realm of jazz, it’s easy for some to get caught up in their own ideas and try to show them off to whomever is listening. Marsalis, however, takes no part in that line of thinking, and it’s a main reason why he’s been as successful as he has and why he continues to grow and educate others in that the music is more important than the musician.

Marsalis has long considered himself as a musician rather than as a saxophonist. In his mind, there is a big difference between the two in that a musician is someone that knows what it takes to make a song reach its highest potential, even if it means not playing as fast as one can or as many notes as is possible. “For the instrumentalist, the instrument is the center of their life; for a musician, the music they play is the center of their life,” Marsalis explains to iRockJazz. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on September 10th, 2012 — 11:35am

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 — 03:14pm

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 toots his horn in Napa

Publication: Times-Herald
Author: Rich Freedman
Date: March 11, 2012

Yes, Branford Marsalis toured with Sting . Yes, he did two years on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

But, while it might make a good line or two in a lengthy biography, it’s far from who the brilliant saxophonist is. One may as well have found the credits on a cave wall.

For the record, performing with Sting was a good experience. And Leno was a decent chap. But Marsalis, 51, was never the guy to lure the former Police front man onto a recording merely to put “featuring Sting.” Nor was it ever his intention to forever be “that guy who once led the Tonight Show band.”

One thing I did learn from ‘The Tonight Show’ is that unless you’re on TV, people don’t know who you are,” Marsalis said.

Most folks who have picked up a horn — or even have a mere passive interest in jazz — in the last 30 years likely know of Marsalis. And if it’s not Branford, it’s brother Wynton or the patriarch of the jazz-playing family, Ellis Marsalis.

It’s been a life of jazz — and, more recently, classical — that keeps the father of three motivated. Not that the scene, the industry or his own body haven’t change through nearly 30 recordings as The Lead Guy and more than 50 recordings as a sideman.

Still, touring — including a March 29 date at the Napa Valley Opera House — is “the same as always,” Marsalis said, “the airlines is more of a drag.”

But he continues. The Marsalis Music label he founded in 2002. He won the 2010 Drama Desk Award for “Best Music in a Advertisement Play” in the Broadway revival of “Fences.” And he released, “The Songs of Mirth and Melancholy” duo with Joey Calderazzo in 2011.

These days Marsalis listens to his kids — a 26-year-old son and daughters 11 and 7 — and realizes perhaps it’s good to be 51. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 12th, 2012 — 10:31am

JAZZ NOTE 19 – HAVE A FAMILY REUNION

Publication: We Heart Music
Author: Dave
Date: March 5, 2012

What makes New Orleans not only a musician’s town but also a place that produces musical families? Take the Marsalis family. There’s Wynton, one of jazz’s more tireless promoters. Then you have Branford, Delfeayo and Jason. Plus, don’t forget the man who started it all, Ellis.

What is surprising about this multi-gifted family is how they never grew up playing together à la the Von Trapps, the Osmonds or Hanson. Ellis was aware of the gimmicky nature of children dressed in uniformed costumes trying to please a taskmaster of a father. He had no intention of pushing his kids to follow his tradition. If Ellis’ sons wanted to learn jazz, he would show them how, but they would have to discover what it meant to them on their own.

That’s what Ellis did most of his life, first teaching music in high school before moving on to New Orleans University. In fact, The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration is a concert that only came to fruition because Ellis was retiring from the University’s jazz department. Only at the end of a distinguished career would his sons come to play together for the very first time. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 6th, 2012 — 01:17pm

The Marsalis family: The Times-Picayune covers 175 years of New Orleans history

Publication: The Times-Picayune
Date: February 1, 2012
Author: Keith Spera

In a city known for musical families, few have affected the jazz community in New Orleans and beyond as greatly as the Marsalis clan. As a fluent pianist and composer, patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr. has gigged with Al Hirt’s band and Bob French’s Storyville Jazz Band, led his own groups and released his own albums.

As a music educator, he taught at Xavier University, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Virginia Commonwealth University. His students included Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard, Irvin Mayfield and Donald Harrison Jr.

In 1989, he returned to New Orleans from Virginia to establish the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans. He encouraged his students to perform at local nightclubs, simultaneously gaining experience and infusing the scene with fresh talent. He continues to perform most Friday nights at Snug Harbor.

Four of his and wife Dolores’ six sons are professional musicians.

Branford Marsalis, a saxophonist with an especially modernist approach, served as the bandleader on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and recorded and performed with the pop star Sting, among many others. He founded a jazz record label, Marsalis Music, and now lives in North Carolina. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 1st, 2012 — 02:48pm