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The Last Southern Gentleman--Up Close and Personal with Jazz Great Delfeayo Marsalis By Shelah MoodyPublished on Monday, 06 October 2014 02:30
Delfeayo Marsalis compares the structure of his band’s performance to a fine, six course meal.
Musically, the New Orleans born, Grammy-winning trombonist/composer/producer wants the audience to experience everything--the aperitif, soup, salad, main course, dessert and the port wine. When you leave one of his shows, you feel fulfilled; joyous. After the meal, you want to stick around, greet the chef and even take some food home.
Delfeayo Marsalis is recognized worldwide for his mellifluous tone on the trombone, his sir name is instantly identified with the first family of jazz. His older brother Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) is a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Grammy winning composer who presides over Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Older brother Branford Marsalis (saxophone) achieved pop music success as a member of Sting’s band in the eighties and as musical director of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” band. Younger brother Jason Marsalis (drums) is an accomplished recording artist who has played with his family as well as Bill Summers, Irvin Mayfield and Marcus Roberts to name a few. And, of course there is family patriarch, Ellis Marsalis Jr., 79, a revered professor, pianist and mentor who instilled in his six sons a fierce sense of discipline and integrity as well as a love of music and knowledge.
Delfeayo Marsalis is also one of the most prolific producers in contemporary jazz, with more than 75 recordings to his credit. In 1985, he was involved in the production of Wynton Marsalis’ “Black Codes from the Underground,” of one of the most influential contemporary jazz recordings of all time, featuring Branford Marsalis, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Charnett Moffett and Ron Carter on bass the late Kenny Kirkland on piano. The album won two Grammy Awards that year as well as worldwide accolades.
People often ask if the entire Marsalis family gets to perform as a group. Well, in 2009 the historic event took place at the White House when Ellis Jr., Delfeayo, Wynton, Branford, Jason and Ellis III were invited to perform for the Obamas.
Ellis Marsalis with a "JazzTimes" photographer at Monterey Jazz Festival 2014
Ellis Marsalis with a "JazzTimes" photographer at Monterey Jazz Festival 2014
Before their headlining weekend gig at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival, Delfeayo and Ellis Marsalis performed an intimate up close and personal show at Yoshi’s San Francisco in promotion of their latest CD, “The Last Southern Gentlemen.” They were accompanied by Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums and John Clayton on bass.
Marsalis took the audience on a journey through New Orleans Mardi Gras, blues, swing and popular music during his set at Yoshi’s. Selections included Marsalis’ original composition “Secret Love Affair,” (a tale of forbidden love in the time of sharecropping in rural Mississippi), jazz standards “Autumn Leaves” and “My Funny Valentine” and the theme from “Sesame Street,” which Marsalis calls the “happiest blues ever written,” “Second Line” being the first.
Immediately after the Monterey Jazz Festival, Delfeayo Marsalis and his Uptown Jazz Orchestra flew to Johannesburg, South Africa as featured artists on the Standard Bank of Joy Jazz Festival. Then, it was back home to New Orleans for his regular gig with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra at Snug Harbor as well as work on the set of a movie about legendary trumpeter Buddy Bolden.
Delfeayo Marsalis is also an accomplished writer and storyteller who wrote the liner notes and included several of his short stories in a booklet in “The Last Southern Gentlemen” CD package. He co-wrote the screenplay for NC Heikin’s compelling documentary “Sound of Redemption,” the story of saxophone great Frank Morgan. He is also the author of a children’s book, “No Cell Phone Day,” winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Award for Best Picture Book, ages 4-8 and the Grand Prize Winner of the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards. As an advocate for children and music education in the schools, Marsalis, the father of a 13-year-old daughter, founded the Uptown Music Theatre in New Orleans.
Shelah Moody: How did you get involved with “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story?”
Delfeayo Marsalis: I got an email from the director and producer. They were looking for someone who could emcee the show at San Quentin prison; who had an intimate knowledge of Frank Morgan, who could also organize the music. That was right up my alley. With my experience as a producer and having played with Mr. Morgan, it seemed like a good fit.
SM: When did you play with Frank Morgan?
DM: It seems like we did a gig at Catalina’s in 2003. I had forgotten that I had videotaped an interview with Mr. Morgan. The director and I had a bit of a disagreement about the script and the content. (The interview) was what convinced the director that I had a point in terms of my view on how you present certain information. When she saw that particular interview, she was like, oh, I get it now. Jazz musicians, like most people, have certain challenges; and musicians in the fifties and sixties had a lot of challenges, and they dealt with them in different ways.
SM: What was Frank Morgan like as a musician and what defined his greatness?
DM: Well, the fact that someone could spend many years of their adult life incarcerated and still have the passion and the desire to play music at a high level, and the ability to articulate and the ability to execute the music at a high level into their sixties and their seventies was a remarkable feat. It’s one of those tragic stories that has redemption at the end.
SM: In 2012, you directed and performed a tribute concert inside San Quentin prison, where Morgan was incarcerated. What was that experience like?
DM: Well, we grew up in the hood and I work with fellows in the hood, young men that I know; it wasn’t any different to me. I mean, the reality is; if it gets to the dark side, it gets really dark. These guys, I felt, were appreciative that we were there. There were some guys who were not appreciative; and projected whatever kind of beef they had with society or with individuals. Most of the time, if you’re going out of your way for somebody, they are going to be appreciative. I met a guy, Sam the camera man who was taking pictures, he was a young guy. I asked, “what are you in here for?” He said, “a situation came up and I overreacted, and had I reacted differently, I wouldn’t be here.”
SM: Tell us about the concept of “The Last Southern Gentlemen,” your first recording with your father, Ellis Marsalis.
DM: Well, the album is a variety. We’ve got two original songs and jazz standards. The idea was not to have songs that were thematically related to the “The Last Southern Gentlemen,” but to perform the music in a way that southern gentlemen would perform it. Many things are taught in jazz schools, but the idea of manners and the graciousness and humility that a lot of the older musicians has taken a back seat. The younger students are not learning about the manners, graciousness and humility of the older musicians. That’s very important in the music. That’s a big void that we’re missing; that sense of humanity. In the liner notes, I provide social commentary. We talk about jazz being birthed in New Orleans, but that was primarily because the Europeans settled there and decided to bring some Africans to help them out by doing all of the labor for free. Most people think that it was just a relationship based on master/slave, when really; it involved whole families of people. That’s how it still is in New Orleans. With black and white folk, there’s a serious racial divide, but it’s all like one family. Africans and Europeans were trading ideas; Africans were picking up on the language as they could and Europeans were picking up on various (African) cultural elements. It’s just like when you are in a family with a lot of individuals; ideas are shared. In my opinion, that was certainly what created the music; it was really the African spirit and the culture and the dance. The Europeans maybe brought in a kind of form and structure that came from European music. Nowadays, they are trying to remove the Negritude from the music; they really want to remove the blackness; it’s not important to them anymore. I mean, that’s the crucial element; it’s important to me. You know, everything is always reported in black and white, whether I say it or not. The European world view is “our music is too intellectual.” I’m like, no, man, your music is not intellectual enough. Because if your music was intellectual, like Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie, it would have lasting value. So, if your music is culturally and socially inept, and that’s why people don’t want to hear it, don’t blame that on intelligence; that’s not intelligence.
SM: At Yoshi’s tonight, you were dancing and singing in between playing the trombone on stage. When I saw you perform in the early nineties, you were more formal.
DM: African music is functional; it’s and it’s about celebration, there are dance elements; there are many elements in African music. What I’m realizing is that here in America, there’s always been a struggle between the African and the European. The European can’t understand how it is that the jazz musician has such spirit, life and vitality, and the jazz musician can’t understand why the European gets to play in concert halls. People play European (classical) music in concert halls and people sit and pay attention; they’re not drinking, smoking or talking. It’s a funny thing. Early on, I was heavily influenced by Wynton, who is heavily influenced by the European model; the European design. His band is always well prepared, the music is well organized; it’s a great show. They are to be respected. But what I realize from communicating with Trombone Shorty, Big Sam Williams and Cory Henry—who played in New Orleans brass bands—is that there is another way to present the music that is still in keeping with what I like and what I believe in. I’ve always loved groove music. “Pontius Pilate’s Decision” is a bunch of grooves; but it is a question of how the music is presented. From my perspective, I’d rather people have a good time and then get to the serious stuff in the middle, because it’s difficult. The atmosphere is really changing. Twenty years ago, you could play hardcore and people would sit there and check it out. Now, there is too much “American Idol,” too much “The Voice” and the average attention span is so short, I think, that you have to change it up; you have to really bring it. I have a good time doing it; I have a good time playing. I’ve evolved as an artist. I understand different things. I’m playing quartet now, and before I would have more instruments, a quintet and sometimes a sextet. It’s about evolving and changing. I have songs like “The Secret Love Affair,” which I presented tonight, and there are other songs that I’ve written, like “Lost in the Crescent,” which deal with the racial situation, but in a more covert fashion. Because I deliver the story in a non-angry way, in a funny way, it takes a minute to understand how jive it is and actually what’s going on. By the time you realize what’s going on, you’re caught in an emotional trap. The structure of my shows is similar to opera; it’s similar to Disney cartoons. Disney would always juxtapose a very sad event with something uplifting very quickly, setting you up for an emotional high and then presenting something to bring you back down. I like to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster.
SM: In the early eighties, you played a role in one of the most innovative jazz albums all time, Wynton Marsalis’ “Black Codes From the Underground.” What is the historical significance of that recording?
DM: That was a different time. Wynton’s early band unfortunately broke up too soon. It was intimidating. Here were five young black men playing, and you knew what they were thinking when they played their instruments. We’ve gotten away from that level of rebellion. It almost didn’t matter what they said, verbally, it’s what they said on their instruments—the folks knew. “Black Codes,” to me, was the ultimate representation of a band addressing any unjust things that were going on. It’s not as hardcore, now, so it’s difficult to knock people over their heads like that. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but a younger crop of musicians would have to be really playing at a high level to do that. Branford continued the tradition with “Bloomington,” which seriously addresses the racial issues in the country from a militant, radical standpoint. My position is a little different now. I’m getting up and putting you in a good mood, and all of a sudden people think, wow, this isn’t what I thought it was gonna be. It’s a challenge to juggle the entertainment with a serious, modern sound and a light weight sound. We play “Sesame Street.” There’s a certain freedom that you have when you are on the bandstand. Like, we finished our set with (Duke Ellington’s) “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing.” When you get to that point, it reaches you; it does something to you spiritually.
SM: Are you looking forward to performing in Johannesburg, South Africa?
DM: Black people are beautiful, it’s enriching for the soul. I was just at a school in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was enriching, enlightening to be around the kids; it’s so beautiful and they have such great spirits. That’s what it’s about. The challenge of the “jazz musician” is that we are moving further away from the community. The children don’t embrace us, no one really embraces us, so we have to make an extra effort to reach out, and that’s what I’m doing. The African people are beautiful. When you are around them—there’s no way to describe the enlightenment until you experience it yourself. In the words of my father, a gig is a space and some people. We have a very strong band and we’re developing the concept of music. (California) will be the last stop on the tour for a while with my dad, so I want to make sure that we present the music to the people on the highest possible level, the way that we envisioned it.
Follow Delfeayo Marsalis on his website: delfeayomarsalis.com
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DelfeayoMarsalis
Monterey Jazz Festival 2014Published on Saturday, 20 September 2014 02:41
Grammy winning trombonist/producer Delfeayo Marsalis performs with his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis on
Broadway Extravaganza “Motown the Musical” Brings Legends to the Bay Area Story and Photos by Shelah MoodyPublished on Saturday, 30 August 2014 20:18
Motown founder Berry Gordy addresses the crowd at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, CA
Since it’s opening on August 15, there has been quite a buzz about the Broadway hit “Motown the Musical” and its run through Sept. 28 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. The extravaganza has generated much excitement and curiosity and attracted a number of music industry legends to the Bay Area, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown’s former creative assistant and producer Suzanne de Passe and former Motown recording and visual artist Chris Clark.
Shelah Moody with former Motown Creative Director Suzanne De Passe
In conjunction with welcoming “Motown the Musical” to the Bay Area, the glitterati also celebrated the life of icon Michael Jackson, who would have turned 56 on Aug. 29.
“Motown the Musical” revolves around the life of Gordy, the music mogul who launched the careers of Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, and Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and more. “Motown the Musical” follows Gordy’s life and career from a featherweight boxer to one of the most influential men in the music industry. Gordy is noted for making soul music appealing to mainstream audiences and branding what came to be known as the Motown sound, out of Detroit, MI.
On Aug. 18, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson presented the 84-year-old visionary with a county proclamation declaring “Berry Gordy Day in the East Bay” at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Gordy was also presented the key to the city of Oakland, with Mayor Jean Quan present.
Gordy cited Sly Stone, the Pointer Sisters and En Vogue as some of the great artists who have come out of Oakland.
“Motown is weaved into the life of Oaktown,” said Gordy. “Oaktown has always been a part of the Motown family. Indeed, my dear friend, (former Black Panther) Elaine Brown was also a great artist who recorded for Motown’s Black Forum label.”
“I started out as a songwriter, but as a songwriter, I had to create dreams that people didn’t believe were possible,” said Gordy. “All people have feelings, so why wouldn’t my music be with black people, white people, Chinese and Australians? I think that here in Oakland, there’s always been a push for that understanding—of one race. The people of Oakland have always been fighting for equality. Everybody who believes in themselves inspires me, because the magic is inside of us. We have to recognize it and be confident and not let other people tell us that we are bad and that we don’t know what we’re doing.”
After the ceremony, the Joyce Gordon Gallery in downtown Oakland (www.joycegordongallery.com) hosted a media preview and reception for the exhibit: “Motown Legends: Artwork by Chris Clark,” attended by Suzanne de Passe, Mayor Jean Quan, Supervisor Keith Carson, Elaine Brown and Dorothy King, owner of Everett and Jones BBQ, www.eanjbbq.com, (who hosted and reception later that evening for Gordy, who I’m told, got caught up in the excitement and danced).
Clark was one of the first white singers signed to Motown records, releasing her debut “Do Right Baby, Do Right” in 1965. Clark eventually ventured into photography, videography, graphic design, screenwriting and painting, documenting the great moments in Motown history. Clark worked for Motown for 18 years.
Longtime Motown artist Chris Clark beside her painting "Michael Jackson" at the Joyce Gordon Art Gallery in Oakland, CA.
“Chris Clark was always somebody who was different in her thoughts, and they were always above everyone else’s,” said Gordy. “She lived with the artists and she knew their wishes, their feelings, their arguments and mostly, their dreams and where they wanted to go. I tell a lot of people: be careful what you wish for because you might get it.
“Chris’ work is so deep; it’s hard for people to understand,” said Gordy. “Take an artist like Michael Jackson. Chris captured him in the car dreaming about what he wanted to be. Michael wanted to be what he became—the greatest artist in the world, and Chris saw that before anyone else. ‘Michael Jackson’ is a magnificent piece because it tells a story. All of her pieces tell a story.”
Clark was especially fond of one of Motown’s founding artists, Marvin Gaye, who inspired several of her paintings.
A painting of Marvin Gaye by Chris Clark.
“Marvin Gaye wanted to do a protest album, because his brother was in Vietnam,” said Gordy. “All of this is in the play. He didn’t want to be a pop star anymore; he wanted to be an activist. I wanted him to be a singer of love songs because he was our top. ‘What’s Going On’ turned out to be Motown’s biggest selling album.”
The soft spoken Chris Clark shared her personal memories of Michael Jackson during the week of his 56th birthday.
“You know, when he was a little kid I caught him his first snake at the beach,” said Clark. “Back then, I raised big cats—cougars, lions, jaguars and a Florida panther. Michael came to my house and fell in love with exotic animals. He was amazing.”
On Aug. 25, Yoshi’s San Francisco hosted “San Francisco Welcomes Motown the Musical,” (www.yoshis.com). featuring several members of the touring cast. San Francisco District 5 Supervisor London Breed presented the production and cast with a City proclamation in honor “Motown the Musical.” The event was also a fundraiser, with proceeds going to benefit Project Level, The African American Art and Culture Complex and the San Francisco Arts Education Project.
Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Linda Stewart, Supervisor London Breed and Patrice Covington
One of the young men living Gordy’s dream is Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., who grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore district and went on to earn his degree from Carnegie Melon University. A seasoned singer and dancer, Jackson portrays Jermaine Jackson and other characters in “Motown the Musical.” Jackson kicked off the entertainment at Yoshi’s performing the Temptation’s hit “Get Ready” with cast member Patrice Covington, who plays Martha Reeves.
“I auditioned in New York for Berry Gordy himself, and actually, after three or four auditions, I got a call from my manager telling me that they had offered me the role,” said Jackson.
Jackson, who heads the Bay Area Theatre Company in San Francisco, is thrilled to be part of the touring cast of “Motown the Musical” and also thrilled to be performing for family and friends in his hometown.
Like many of his generation, the Motown Sound was a soundtrack of his life.
“My earliest memories of Motown music and its energy would have to be the record player that my mom kept in the house, with old Temptations records as well as the Supremes and Gladys Knight,” said Jackson. “I haven’t met any of the Jacksons, but I’ve met Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. Berry Gordy was in the audience during the process, so I felt that we had an encyclopedia right there with us.”
Reflecting on the legacy of Michael Jackson, Rodney Jackson, Jr. refected: “Someone asked me who I would most like to meet, alive or dead, and I said Michael Jackson. More than a performer or an entertainer, I would have liked to have known who he was as a human being.”
Leon Outlaw, Jr., 12 and Reed Lorenzo Shannon, 13,
portray young Berry Gordy, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder in “Motown the Musical.”
During the reception, the two young actors danced with the band Top Shelf as they performed a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and gave the audience a sample of their stellar vocal skills. Don’t let their size fool you; these kids can blow the roof off of the theater! (http://youtu.be/s47BrZFKvHs).They thrilled the crowd with two of Motown’s famous songs of longing and lost love, with Reed singing the Smokey Robinson-penned “Who’s Loving You” a Capella and Leon singing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” a Capella.
Both boys have a private tutor of the set of “Motown the Musical and like the young Michael Jackson, demonstrate a level of maturity and professionalism beyond their years.
Asked what he likes best about performing in “Motown the Musical,” Reed said:
“The audience varies every night, from quiet and observant to loud and fun loving.
“The cast is great and the crowd encourages me,” said Outlaw.
Leon and Reed also reflected on the legacy of Michael Jackson.
“I’ve been listening to him ever since I was really little,” said Leon. “There was a Michael Jackson DVD set that I’d always play. I would dance to it all day.”
Said Reed: “My parents always played Motown music and Michael Jackson has always been there. I’ve always been listening to his music. He was a great human being, despite what anybody says about him. He will always live through his music.”
“Motown the Musical” runs through Sept. 28 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. For information, go to www.shnsf.com, call (888) 746-1799 or go to www.motownthemusical.com.”
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