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The Marsalis familyfather Ellis on piano with sons Branford on tenor and soprano saxophones, Wynton on trumpet, Delfeayo on trombone, and Jason on drumshas put an indelible stamp on the world of jazz.
One problem: they've never played together as a family.
That changed in August 2001, when the University of New Orleans decided to mark Ellis' retirement as a teacher there, as well as the school's establishment of a chair in his name. The Fates stepped in, clearing the Marsalis brothers' schedules for Aug. 4.
The result is The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration, an album capturing that evening's musical magic at the Kiefer UNO Lakefront Arena. Rounding out the cast of musicians are bassist Roland Guerin and special guests pianist/vocalist Harry Connick Jr. and trombonist Lucien Barbarin.
Throughout the album, the brothers Marsalis get a chance to shine in various combinations. Jason shows off his drumming chops on the Rodgers and Hammerstein song "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," beginning with a simple tom-tom rhythm flowing under Ellis' interpretation of the melody before switching to a swing beat for Ellis' solo. After a solo from Guerin, Jason slowly simmers along, building and building the rhythmic layers until his drumsticks are flying around the drum set.
Branford's "Cain and Abel" features a fiery musical duel between the saxophonist and brother Wynton. One will take a bar, the other will answer, or they'll overlap melodies. At one point, it sounds as though Jason becomes the bass soloist, playing his sticks on the strings. Delfeayo gives his trombone a sweet yet brash personality on "Sultry Serenade," a tune written for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
On "Nostalgic Impressions," Ellis wrote lush chord progressions that his sons melded under a bossa nova beat. With the slow ballad "After," Ellis shows that even with a small amount of notes, he can speak volumes. Connick pays tribute to his former teacher by taking a solo on "Twelve's It." He also sang and played the piano on the melancholy "St. James Infirmary," featuring a heartfelt trombone plunger solo from Barbarin.
To close the evening, the Marsalises pay tribute to another famous son from New OrleansLouis Armstrongby playing the infectious sounds of "Struttin' with Some Barbecue," featuring solos from everyone. The Marsalis brothers came to swing that August night in a fitting salute to their father's musical genius.
Reprinted with permission from The Villages Daily Sun, Lady Lake, Fla.
Track Listing: Swinging at the Haven; The Surrey with the Fringe on Top; Wynton Speaks; Cain and Abel;
Nostalgic Impressions; After; Sultry Serenade; Twelve's It; Harry Speaks; Saint James Infirmary;
Struttin' with Some Barbecue
Personnel: Ellis Marsalis: piano; Branford Marsalis: saxophones; Delfeayo Marsalis: trombone; Jason Marsalis: drums; Wynton Marsalis: trumpet; Roland Guerin: bass; Harry Connick Jr.: piano; Lucien Barbarin: trombone.