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Musical Talent Is (Now and Then) All in the Family

Jack Bowers By

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The induction of almost the entire Marsalis family (father Ellis, piano, and sons Wynton, trumpet; Branford, saxophones; Delfeayo, trombone; and Jason, drums) set me to thinking about how musical talent sometimes runs in families. In the pop world, almost everyone knows about the Jacksons, the Kings, the Osmonds and others. The same is true in jazz, in which a few families manifest extraordinary musical aptitude, well beyond what the law of averages would presume. Is it nature, nurture or some combination of those ingredients? Your guess is as good as mine (perhaps better). The fact is that musical proficiency sometimes runs in families. And the families in which it arises are in many cases blessed not only with talent, but extraordinary talent, above and beyond the norm.

In spite of their impressive talents, the Marsalises are in effect laboring to keep up with the Joneses, within whose ranks are three Hall of Fame standouts (trumpeter Thad, pianist Hank, drummer Elvin). And they are by no means the only families in which musical talent seems to run rampant. The Heath brothers (Jimmy, tenor sax; Percy, bass; Albert "Tootie," drums) must be ranked near the top of any list, and one mustn't overlook the Montgomerys (Wes, guitar; Buddy, piano / vibes; Monk, bass) or the LaBarberas (Pat, saxophones; Joe, drums; John, trumpet / composer). A few have played the same instrument (Pete and Conte Candoli, trumpet; Bud and Richie Powell, piano, for example) but not many if one excludes the vocalists (Nat and Freddie Cole, Bing and Bob Crosby, Roy and Irene Kral among them).

Here's a brief (and far from inclusive) list of other family members whose talent has enabled them to become well-known while making a decent living playing jazz:

The Dorseys (Tommy, trombone; Jimmy, saxophone); the Adderleys (Julian "Cannonball," alto sax; Nat, flugelhorn); the Breckers (Michael, tenor sax; Randy, trumpet); the Claytons (John, bass; Jeff, saxophones); the Mangiones (Chuck, trumpet; Gap, piano); the Methenys (Pat, guitar; Mike, trumpet); the Eubanks (Robin, trombone; Kevin, guitar); the Williamsons (Claude, piano; Stu, trumpet, valve trombone); the Royals (Ernie, trumpet; Marshall, alto sax); the Sims (Zoot, saxophones; Ray, trombone); the Turrentines (Stanley, tenor sax; Tommy, trumpet); the Teagardens (Jack, trombone; Charlie, trumpet); the Vaches (Warren, trumpet; Allan, clarinet). While there are no doubt many more where these came from, this should serve as a reminder that when it comes to intrafamily musical aptitude, the Marsalises aren't alone or even unique. Others may advance reasons for the phenomenon; as for this writer (whose musical talent is less than nil), I am simply amazed, thankful (and, I'll admit, a trifle envious) that some families have been so abundantly blessed.

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