Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 6
Godfather. Adopted son. Honorary Muskateer.
Whatever the title, Wynton Marsalis is a figure of affection in Marciac.
The trumpet player has performed at the Jazz In Marciac Festival every year since 1991 and taught at the village's esteemed college music program. His 2000 septet album The Marciac Suite is the finale in his eight-CD Swinging Into the 21st series and, according to his web site, is "arguably the most personal disc of the batch."
"Marciac is an inspiring place," said Marsalis in comments posted at the site. "It's down- home. Each song in the piece has to do with a person there or the landscape or food. I love it there. It's the feeling you get when you like something because it's always changing but always the same."
He is billed as the godfather of the festival and embraced as an adopted son for his involvement in the community. Officials in the Gascony region - home to the Three Musketeers - also bestowed that honorary title upon the modern jazz icon. A life-size bronze statue of him is in the Place du Marciac town square, along with engravings featuring the first page of each movement of the 13-part suite he premiered during the 1997 festival.
There was something mind-boggling about not being able to find a copy of the album for sale among the numerous festival vendors with sizable inventories, but perhaps appropriate. Marsalis, who said "I didn't want this CD to be sold. I wanted it to be given away to people," did so with 2,000 pre-release copies during the 1999 festival to friends associated with the event. Columbia initially offered it as a free mail-in bonus for those purchasing the other albums in the set before releasing it as a retail item.
Marsalis played two concerts during the first weekend of the 28th annual festival, making him the only main stage performer appearing more than once. A "My Brazilian Heart" concert with a 12-member supporting cast Friday was followed by a quintet concert backed by a string ensemble Saturday.
More than the usual number of people holding or wearing handwritten "need ticket" messages seemed to be in the main village square during the day, and one got the feeling they weren't the same types one sees nightly at some urban festivals handing their purchases off to accomplices for resale at inflated prices. A weekend mentality may have had something to do with it, along with the fact a second series of featured concerts (a twin billing of Ghetto Blaster and Femi Kuti) was taking place on a different stage for the first time all week, but denser crowds and more buzz was certainly in the air.
That said, a shameful personal confession: I dogged it Friday night. I'd been feeling awful from sleep deprivation since arriving in France nearly a week before and was getting worse every day pushing things. Since The Man was playing two shows, I decided enjoying one beat suffering through two and the quintet performance was of far greater interest. Regrettable, but after 14 hours of coma-depth slumber my appreciation of all things French has improved 1,000 percent (even if I can't understand the gourmet fascination with cassoulet - maybe the world's most expensive version of franks and beans).
There was the usual local and regional action throughout day six, including an appropriate pickup from where day five's student performances left off. Saxophonist Benjamin Dousteyssier, a graduate of the college who plans to continue his music studies in Paris this fall, led the Namaste quartet through some energetic shows on the town square stage. Possessing a fairly contemporary tone and speed recalling memories of Christopher Holiday's play-twice-as-fast-as-the-masters work a decade or so ago (Dousteyssier suggests Steve Coleman - who he cites as an influence along with John Coltrane, Kenny Garrett and Keith Jarrett - as a personal comparison), his alto and soprano work on compositions including post-bop, African and Indian shadings offered a good balance of academia and emotion. There are a couple of regional saxophonists I've heard so far I'd rate higher, but Dousteyssier's somewhere secure among the next tier in the upper echlon.
Also performing a couple of stage shows was the African percussion group Batuque Usina, whose early afternoon wanderings around the town square were a daily occurrence during the festival's opening days. A secure spot on the stage offered a change to hear a more complex and polished series of jams, but somehow it felt less entertaining and spontaneous than watching them take their acts through the wine booths on the streets with a crowd in tow. But in terms of energy, quality and authenticity, they came across first-rate in both settings.