songs of mirth and melancholy

Marsalis Music Interviews Art Director Steven Jurgensmeyer

Steven Jurgensmeyer began his career as the Art Director at the trailblazing record label Rykodisc, working closely with Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, Bob Mould, Robert Cray and Morphine, among others. He joined Rounder Records as Creative Director, working with musicians such as Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, Harry Connick Jr, and Madeleine Peyroux. He is now the principal in his own studio and has worked with Carly Simon, Dan Zanes, Richard Lewis, the legendary Jamaican label Studio One and, of course, Branford Marsalis. His work can be seen at www.stevenjurgensmeyer.com.

Marsalis Music: You were the Art Director for Branford’s two latest recording projects, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy and Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. Could you please explain your concept for each project?
 
Steven Jurgensmeyer: It was a great pleasure working directly with Branford on Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. He sent me a CD of the music and asked me to “design what I heard.” Upon hearing the music, two things struck me pretty immediately; one was the openness of the music, and the space “between” the notes. The second was the obvious familiarity and intimacy between Branford and Joey. So… you had two really contrasting ideas at play here, and I really wanted to create something beautiful, that would stand the test of time and sit comfortably amongst the classic album covers from Blue Note and Prestige. I knew a sense of scale was going to be a key to success; luckily, we were able to utilize this wonderful, towering wall in the Museum of Fine Arts’ new “Art of the Americas” wing. I loved the stone and the natural light; it really filled the “spacious” role, but also became another player in the composition. The “other thing” I needed to capture was the familiarity Branford and Joey share as musicians. They brought that naturally with their personalities and relationship. There was a lot of clowning around (as the outtakes attest!), but their body language in the final shot provided exactly what was needed. Photographer Stephen Sheffield caught that moment; I knew immediately that this shot was the cover. The typography is a nod to the simplicity and grace of that classic era of jazz sleeves and to the album’s title. This cover is my favorite piece in my career to date.

With Four MFs, we wanted to illustrate the importance of each band member and their musical personality and contributions in this particular quartet, as they had really jelled into a formidable unit. I knew I wanted “motion” to serve as the metaphor for the music and, in turn, highlight each musician in focus, while the others “played” around him or her. A friend recommended photographer Eric Ryan Anderson, who uses a lot of motion techniques; he was game and the shoot was on. As with any shoot, no matter how tightly scripted, you always have to improvise and we worked the quartet hard to get those shots! It was an incredibly difficult shoot; a lot of fun, to be sure, but a long day and hard work.

Marsalis Music: What was the biggest challenge during the Four MFs shoot?
 
SJ: The biggest challenge of theFour MFs shoot was keeping the guys moving and staying out of the subject’s way so that he remained the focus. It’s not easy to plan and direct spontaneity! Read more »

Jazzfest Review: Marsalis and Calderazzo walk a musical high wire without a net

Publication: Ottawa Citizen
Author: Doug Fischer
Date: June 26, 2012

REVIEW: Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo Duo
NAC Studio
Reviewed Tuesday, June 26

In these penny-pinching times, a cynic might be tempted to say the recent popularity of the jazz duo is simply the result of programmers finding ways to save money. Two musicians come cheaper than a quintet or, heaven forbid, a big band.

Ah, but true or not, the observation misses an essential point: the duo is not only good value for the bean-counters, it’s probably the leanest way to get at the core of jazz.

If jazz at its best is the in-the-moment interplay between musicians, then what’s more basic, more intimate, than an unencumbered encounter between two players at the top of their game — two guys like saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo?

The pair have played together since Calderazzo replaced the late Kenny Kirkland in Marsalis’s powerhouse quartet in 1998. But it’s only been for the past few years than they have also performed as the seamlessly intuitive duo that played two shows at the Ottawa jazz festival Tuesday night.

Their kind of familiarity can lead in two directions: playing what’s comfortable, or taking advantage of the freedom that comes from trusting each other when walking out on a musical high wire without a net.

Happily, Marsalis and Calderazzo have chosen the latter course. 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

School superheroes: Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo make sure music does good in H-Town

Publication: Houston Culture Map
Author: Chris Becker
Date: March 22, 2012

Music and the arts in pre-college education are the first things to go due to state deficits and blowhard politicking. Several music and arts organizations in Houston with strong educational programming, including Musiqa, Writers in the Schools, and Young Audiences of Houston, work tirelessly to provide arts-integrated learning in some of this city’s most financially challenged schools.

Friday night at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Houston organization MusicDoingGood presents pianist Joey Calderazzo and saxophonist Branford Marsalis in concert, as a duo, to benefit MusicDoingGood in Schools, which serves students 7 to 18 in after-school educational programs. Participating musicians and artists for all of the above mentioned organizations steel themselves to work with underprivileged, and often behaviorally challenged kids. Read more »

Portland Jazz Festival 2012: Branford Marsalis and Joe Calderazzo, a MUSICAL Jazz conversation

Publication: Oregon Music News
Author: Tim Willcox
Date: February 24, 2012

Branford Marsalis. Period. That’s pretty much all you need to say. About as well know as any Jazz musician can possibly be, Mr. Marsalis is no stranger to the limelight that comes from performing around the world with his own various groups or with pop-stars like Sting, not to mention being beamed into millions of homes every night as former musical director of The Tonight Show. The eldest brother of New Orleans’ royal family of Jazz, Branford has remained at the top echelon of Jazz, both as a saxophonist and bandleader for a quarter century.

Joey Calderazzo, while perhaps not a household name, is undoubtedly one of the finest and most well-known pianists in all of Jazz. Mr. Calderazzo came to notoriety and critical acclaim in the late 1980s as pianist for the late, great Michael Brecker. Performing with Brecker for nearly twenty years, Calderazzo was added to Marsalis’ quartet line-up in 1998 after the untimely death of Kenny Kirkland. Since then, the pair have played around the globe thousands of times together in The Branford Marsalis Quartet (BMQ).

They will close out this year’s Portland Jazz Festival on Sunday, February 26, 3pm at the Newmark Theater, $28-$58.

After playing as a duo at various celebrity golf tournaments, the pair booked a gig at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival. Some serious sparks must have ignited during that performance because the two have now teamed up for a duo recording on Marsalis Music, the record label owned and operated by Branford. The resulting album, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy is full of beauty, space, intimacy, and longing. It’s truly one of the best duo recordings by any pair of musicians in recent memory. Read more »

Road Trip! Branford Marsalis + Joey Calderazzo at the Portland Jazz Festival

Publication: Seattle Weekly Blog
Author: Chris Kornelis
Date: February 15, 2012

Last year, Branford Marsalis told Seattle Weekly about “The Problem With Jazz”: why old records sound better than new ones, why the genre feels too much like an exclusive club, and how there’s so little good jazz these days that when he hears something good, “it shocks me.” The interview went viral, sparking myriad Internet debates. Read more »

Branford Marsalis will be in good company Friday night at Proctors

Publication: The Saratogian
Date: February 2, 2012
Author: Phil Drew

SCHENECTADY — The art of collaboration in jazz is a delicate thing. The right combination of performers can make all the difference — not just in the who, but in the how.

Noted Grammy-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis is a case in point. His performance Friday night at Proctors Theatre will mark his first appearance in the region in several years, and it will feature both the familiar Branford Marsalis Quartet and a newer duet with pianist Joey Calderazzo.

In 1998, the delicate balance of the quartet was briefly disrupted by the sudden death of pianist Kenny Kirkland. His subsequent replacement by Calderazzo was a seamless transition for the foursome, which also includes bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff “Train” Watts. That temporary imbalance opened Marsalis’ eyes to new possibilities.

“To me, my favorite jazz musicians are like good talk-show radio hosts,” Marsalis said. “A good talk-show host has to know a little bit about a lot of things and be able to talk about them with some knowledge. Over the years, Joey has developed. He knows all the modern stuff. He’s also fluent with the classics, with Brahms and Schumann. It shows in the |lyricism of the songs he writes. We have so many options in how we play now.” Read more »

Branford Marsalis brings mirth and melancholy to the Schermerhorn

Publication: ArtNowNashville.com
Author: Ron Wynn
Date: January 25, 2012

Saxophonist, bandleader and composer Branford Marsalis’ writing and playing has become steadily more adventurous and challenging since he chose to concentrate on his quartet in the late ’90s. Friday night at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, he gave a packed house ample example of how much he’s moved beyond the emulative fare that was his specialty when he made his debut as young player with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1980.

The evening’s program was divided into a duet segment – with Marsalis (soprano and tenor sax) and pianist Joey Calderazzo – and a quartet portion that added bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. In both sets, the music was always extensive and invigorating. It might have gotten a bit too unconventional for those preferring basic 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures and simple songs forms. The Marsalis duo and quartet pieces never veered into the avant-garde, but there were pieces that lasted between 15 and 20 minutes. Some had multiple sections, and most weren’t variations on familiar melodies. Even when they did perform traditional parts of the jazz canon, the Marsalis ensemble did them in a manner that spotlighted both the individual member’s brilliance and group’s desire to keep stretching the music’s fabric. Read more »

Interview with Grammy-winning musician Branford Marsalis

Publication: Nashville Examiner
Author: Sterling Whitaker
Date: January 19, 2012

To listen to Branford’s interview with Sterling Whitaker, please visit the Examiner’s site here.

Branford Marsalis is one of the most celebrated musicians of his generation. In a three-decade career the saxophonist has worked with artists as diverse as Sting, Miles Davis and Harry Connick Jr., led his own bands, served as the bandleader on The Tonight Show, appeared in films and as a soloist with symphonies internationally. He is a Grammy winner and Tony nominee, and also works tirelessly as a music educator.

  Marsalis’ most recent album is Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, a duo effort with pianist Joey Calderazzo. Marsalis will perform in concert on Friday, January 20 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, showcasing songs from that album as well as quartet material spanning the range of his career.

Branford Marsalis spoke to Examiner.com about Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, his compositional process, why live music should not require click tracks, the degrading of pop music and television, his stint on The Tonight Show and much more in the following exclusive interview. What follows are excerpts from a longer interview; to listen to the entire audio interview, click on the video at left.

Thanks to Branford Marsalis, and to Laurie Davis at the Nashville Symphony for arranging this interview.
 
Let’s talk about Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. Where does that title come from?

There’s a Keats poem, and the title was “Of Mirth and …” something. Mirth and madness or something like that. So the more I listened to the record, the more I realized that we had a couple of songs that were quite mirthful, and a number of songs that were quite lachrymose. So I sent out an email blast to my friends saying, “I’m trying to get the name of a title together, and it’s gonna be Songs of Mirth, and I need a word that rings with melancholy. And lachrymose doesn’t work, because ‘lachrymosity’ is just too long. That doesn’t work.”

So my wife writes back, “What about ‘melancholy?’” And I said, “Well, no, I don’t want melancholy, that’s why I said I need a word that kind of rhymes with melancholy.” And she goes, “Well, melancholy seems fine to me.” I said, “Yeah, okay, great.” And the more I thought about it and all these other suggestions came in, melancholy just kept kicking me in the teeth. So I said, “Well, all right … mirth and melancholy.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 20th, 2012 — 03:20pm

Jazz giants to share the stage at Montgomery College in Rockville

Publication: Maryland Gazette.Com
Author: Cody Calamaio
Date: January 18, 2012

After more than a decade of working together in a quartet, Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis and his longtime piano player Joey Calderazzo are setting out on their own. The idea for a duo collaboration album was not born in the studio, but rather on a golf course. 

As amateur golf buffs, Marsalis and Calderazzo often would play together in celebrity tournaments. Sometimes, the organizers would ask the pair to perform something, but Marsalis would beg off with the excuse that there was no acoustic piano on the course.

“One year they invited us and there was a damn piano,” Marsalis recalls. 

Enjoying the music they made together on the green, Marsalis decided to just invite Calderazzo to play with him as a duo at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival. 

“At the end of that concert in August, I said, ‘Hey, I’m booking studio time,’” Marsalis says.  Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 18th, 2012 — 11:53am