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BRANFORD MARSALIS CELEBRATES MELODY AND FEELING ON IN MY SOLITUDE: LIVE AT GRACE CATHEDRAL

Branford Marsalis continues to prove that there is no context too large or small to contain his gifts. A reigning master of the jazz quartet format, dedicated champion of the duo setting, in-demand soloist of classical ensembles both chamber and orchestral, and session-enhancing special guest on an array of rock, roots and pop performances over the course of his career, his ever-broadening creativity and instrumental command have created the profile of a multi-dimensional musician with few peers among contemporary performers.

One setting notably absent from Marsalis’s resume until now has been the unaccompanied solo concert. This most daunting of formats poses particular challenges that were met with his signature blend of serious intent, technical rigor and emotional directness when Marsalis brought his soprano, alto and tenor saxophones to Grace Cathedral on October 5, 2012. This San Francisco landmark, the site of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts in the Sixties and, since 1983, home to recitals at the centerpiece of the annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, proved an ideal setting for a program spanning early and post-bop jazz, baroque and contemporary classical music and spontaneous improvisation. The results can be heard on In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral, the new album that Branford is releasing on his Marsalis Music via OKeh Records imprint on October 21, 2014.

As might be expected from someone with such a refined appreciation of musical excellence, Marsalis prepared by listening to solo recordings by a range of preferred artists, including Sonny Rollins, Steve Lacy and Sam Newsome from the jazz world as well as Anner Blysma, Angela Hewitt and Arno Bornkamp among classical players. He also committed himself to a program that transcended blatant displays of virtuosity. “From my time playing r&b and rock and roll, I can listen like a casual listener,” he notes, “but the challenge for 80% of any audience, for any kind of music, is hearing melody and improvisation based on melody. Playing a lot of notes can be impressive at first, but will quickly make every song sound similar. So everything I played at Grace Cathedral was based on songs with great melodies, not being too `notey,’ and utilizing the feeling in the room.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on September 25th, 2014 — 12:39pm

RIP David S. Ware

Date: October 19, 2012

Saxophonist David S. Ware passed away yesterday and we wanted to share Branford Marsalis’ words about him:

He was considered a free jazz artist, but was a very intelligent, and highly informed musician. His interpretation of Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite is a clear example. He is a voice that will be missed.”

Visit Mr. Ware’s official website for some musical selections from this jazz great.
Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on October 19th, 2012 — 12:03pm

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 »

Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook Receives Latin Grammy Nomination

On September 25, 2012, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (LARAS) announced nominations for the XIII Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards. Congrats to Miguel Zenón for his nomination! Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook, Miguel’s collection of reinterpreted Puerto Rican standards, was nominated for Best Instrumental Album. Alma Adentro was also nominated during the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. The XIII Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards will be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and will be broadcast live on the Univision Network on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Submitted by Courtney on September 27th, 2012 — 03:02pm

Claudia Acuña included in UNESCO jazz exhibit

A portrait of Marsalis Music artist Claudia Acuña will be featured in a collection of thirty photographs curated to provide an overview of the evolution of jazz across the world at UNESCO headquarters in Paris to celebrate the inauguration of International Jazz Day on April 30, 2012. Curated by the Smithsonian’s John Hasse, Claudia’s photo will be featured alongside photographs of jazz greats including Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. UNESCO describes International Jazz Day as “intended to raise awareness in the international community of the virtues of jazz as an educational tool, and a force for peace, unity, dialogue and enhanced cooperation among people.” For more information about International Jazz Day and activities happening to mark the Day in Paris and around the globe, please visit the UNESCO website. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on April 18th, 2012 — 03:12pm