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Classical or Jazz? Branford Marsalis bridges both worlds of music in Allentown Symphony Orchestra ‘Opening Gala’

Publication: Bethlehem Press
Author: Paul Willistein
Date: October 14, 2016

The 2016-17 season-opening Allentown Symphony Orchestra classical music concerts will be long-remembered for a Lehigh Valley world premiere by a well-known musician, band leader and composer.

Branford Marsalis and the Allentown Symphony perform Villa-Lobos’ “Fantasia for Saxophone and Orchestra” in an updated transcription of the work.

Marsalis headlines the “Opening Gala” for the Allentown Symphony Orchestra ”Classical Series,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 and 3 p.m. Oct. 16, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

The program, conducted by Diane Wittry, Allentown Symphony Orchestra Music Director, in addition to Marsalis performing Villa-Lobos’ “Fantasia for Saxophone and Orchestra” and Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5 Aria (Cantilena) and Dansa (Martelo), includes Villa-Lobos’ Sinfonietta No. 1 (“A memoria de Mozart”), and Beethoven Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).

The Villa-Lobos’ “Fantasia for Saxophone and Orchestra” work on the Allentown Symphony concert program has a special place in the repertoire of Marsalis, who grew up in a household filled with music in Breaux Bridge, La. His mother, Dolores, is a jazz singer and substitute teacher. His father, Ellis, is a pianist and music professor. His brothers Jason, Wynton, Ellis III and Delfeayo are also jazz musicians. The New York Times described the Marsalis family as “jazz’s most storied living dynasty.”

“The piece [‘Fantasia for Saxophone and Orchestra’] is on the first classical record I ever got. I played the piece and liked it and didn’t like it,” Marsalis says during a phone interview the day before he turned 56 on Aug. 26.

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Submitted by Courtney on October 17th, 2016 — 11:30am

Branford Marsalis, coming to Allentown, swings from jazz to classical

Publication: The Morning Call
Author: Steve Siegal
Date: October 8, 2016

When Branford Marsalis performed Villa Lobos’ Fantasia for Saxophone and Orchestra for his first time back in 2008, you’d think it would have been a cakewalk for the multiple Grammy-winning, Tony-nominated, NEA Jazz Master saxophonist.

After all, Marsalis had worked with a roster of who’s who in the music world — he toured with Herbie Hancock, recorded with Miles Davis and performed with Sting, Phil Collins, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and a host of other icons.

But classical music proved a formidable nut to crack.

Nine years ago I felt like I was treading in the Pacific Ocean after the boat had sunk and the water was just above my nose,” says Marsalis, 56, speaking from his home in Durham, N.C. “When you’re a defensive player not trying to make mistakes, it means you’re not making music. It took a long time for my brain to start to slow down — only then can you make musical decisions not based on survival.”

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Submitted by Courtney on October 17th, 2016 — 11:10am

Branford Marsalis Quartet/Special Guest Kurt Elling: Upward Spiral

Publication: JazzTimes
Author: Christopher Loudon
Date: July 25, 2016

How did one of the best and most important jazz bands around—saxophonist Branford Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner—come to unite with one of the best and most important jazz vocalists? The idea ignited when Marsalis and Kurt Elling met during the 2014 Monk competition. Two years on, immediately prior to a New Orleans recording session, Elling and the quartet shared a weekend engagement at Snug Harbor, finding their collective groove and testing various songs. That Elling becomes fully one with the group—this is truly a quintet album—is evident from the opening moments of “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,” its feverish pace finally slowing as he adlibs 90 seconds of wolfish patter oozing with carnal desire.
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Submitted by Courtney on July 29th, 2016 — 10:58am

Music Review: Branford Marsalis Quartet with Special Guest Kurt Elling – ‘Upward Spiral’

Author: Jack Goodstein
Date: June 3, 2016

As explained in the notes on the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s album Upward Spiral (featuring Kurt Elling), this is truly a collaborative effort. Everything about the album, from the instrumental musicians’ desire to work with a vocalist, to the choice of that vocalist—although when that choice is Kurt Elling what other choice is there—to the choice of material, is the result of “serious musical debate” creating what Marsalis calls “a true partnership.”

“I usually reject the word ‘collaboration,’” Marsalis explains, “because it implies a third thing from that which each collaborator does well. I don’t need a collaborator to do what I normally do, and Kurt doesn’t, either.” The idea for the new album was to get together to do something different. “The goal here, even though he sings lyrics, was to highlight Kurt’s voice as an instrument.” In effect, Upward Spiral was not intended to be just another vocalist fronting just another quartet.

Now while in any artistic endeavor there is often a great chasm between what was intended and what resulted, and in spite what is oft said of good intentions—the Marsalis-Elling intentions are plenty good, and the road they pave could well bridge over any chasm and end at an innovative musical heaven.
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Submitted by Courtney on June 7th, 2016 — 01:20pm

The Branford Marsalis Quartet With Special Guest Kurt Elling: Upward Spiral

Author: Dan Bilawsky
Date: May 19, 2016

To one extent or another, jazz has always maintained a discriminatory dividing line between vocalists and instrumentalists. Instead of being viewed as equals—artists on par with all the rest, possessing the same good sense, skill, and stake in an artistic outcome—vocalists have often been unfairly stigmatized and interned in a separate category. But all of that has slowly been changing, due in no small part to a large and continually growing crop of vocalists who are consistently raising the bar. 

Whether on or off the bandstand, Marsalis doesn’t mince words or ideas. Due to that fact, few vocalists are really up to the challenge of entering his orbit and thriving in such a climate. In Elling, however, Marsalis has found one who’s every bit his match. The saxophonist and his quartet mates are able to telescope focus toward Elling’s warm, strong, and pliant voice, and Elling is able to accentuate the inherently melodic and lyrical qualities in this group’s work. The beauty in Marsalis’ music isn’t cited often enough, as many tend to focus exclusively on the edgier side of his sound. This project rectifies that problem.

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Submitted by Courtney on May 23rd, 2016 — 10:53am