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Delfeayo Marsalis | Kalamazoo (An Evening with Delfeayo Marsalis)

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Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz Jazz: Vocalese Moods: Type: Improvisational
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Kalamazoo (An Evening with Delfeayo Marsalis)

by Delfeayo Marsalis

Kalamazoo is a reflection of working with multiple generations of musicians, each contributing both the specificity of their personal style and the broader expression of their generation.
Genre: Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Tin Roof Blues
9:41 album only
2. Autumn Leaves
6:32 album only
3. My Funny Valentine
8:45 album only
4. Sesame Street Theme
6:26 album only
5. If I Were a Bell
6:23 album only
6. Secret Love Affair
7:49 album only
7. It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
7:28 album only
8. Introducing the Blues
2:05 album only
9. Blue Kalamazoo
5:30 album only
10. Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans
6:58 album only


Album Notes
Delfeayo Marsalis is meticulous.

Maybe it’s just his personality. Maybe it stems from his years as a record producer tasked with meeting the exacting standards of some of the most accomplished musicians in contemporary jazz. But even a brief conversation reveals that Marsalis thinks in meticulous detail. So where, then, is the evidence of that meticulous mind on this recording?

The album is comprised mainly of standards that a bandleader could call without thinking, confident in the knowledge that all the musicians assembled had played the tunes dozens of times before. And the band? This isn’t Marsalis’ usual, intricately arranged outfit, the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. That 15-member ensemble holds forth most Wednesday nights at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro in (where else?) downtown New Orleans. This group consists of the leader’s father, Ellis Marsalis on piano, Reginald Veal on bass, Ralph Peterson on drums and of course, Delfeayo on trombone.

“We were on the fourth day of a seven-day tour,” Delfeayo says, “featuring mostly music from our recording The Last Southern Gentlemen. Drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith played the first two nights and Ralph Peterson joined us for the remaining dates. We had an early morning children’s show, and then played our first concert as a quartet. Thankfully, this recording captures the magic of our unrehearsed musical communications that evening.”

While the specifics of what took place on the bandstand that night weren’t planned days —or even minutes —in advance, the shape of the performance and of the band has been evolving in Delfeayo’s mind over the decades of his work as a musician, bandleader, composer and producer. In that way, Kalamazoo is a reflection of long term planning. Key to the approach he has developed is working with multiple generations of musicians, each contributing both the specificity of their personal style and the broader expression of their generation. Marsalis, Veal, and Peterson are from the same generation, while Marsalis père is from an older generation. Add to that two young ringers, vocalist Christian O'Neill’ Diaz and drummer Madison George—who were the only two Western Michigan University students in attendance bold enough to accept an impromptu invitation to sit in—and the collective group covers a wide range of the American experience.

“One great aspect of jazz,” says Marsalis, “is that the older musicians teach the younger musicians, who in turn inspire those same individuals who helped them to develop. Dizzy Gillespie learned from Louis Armstrong during the 1920s-–30s, yet you can hear his influence on Armstrong in the 1950s-60s. That same type of relationship can be heard between Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker or Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, to name a few. The long span of time that elapsed between the lifetimes of the great European composers makes that particular kind of influence virtually impossible in the classical tradition. Bach never heard the innovations of a disciple like Mozart, let alone had the ability to incorporate those newer sounds into his later works. Mozart never heard mature Beethoven; Beethoven never heard Wagner, etc. To that end, my dad certainly served as a model for us during our developmental years, yet today, he is respectful of our modern way of thinking in his approach to complementing and soloing. The hippest jazz recordings are always a product of the culminating experiences of the performers, interpreted into a musical statement that captures the social moods of the day.”

Ultimately the goal accomplished here was the seamless fusion of these generational expressions. The blending is not so much heard as felt; the group’s chemistry is magnetic from first note to last. “The one idea that all of the older musicians I’ve played with over the years spoke about consistently was the importance of honesty. In jazz performance you have to be honest with yourself and in return, the music will reflect that truthfulness. Honesty is what allows you to discover your own voice in the music. More than anything else, audiences want to know who you are and what you’ve got to say. They are not so enamored with technical proficiency the way musicians are. The jazz audience wants to experience the process of music unfolding in their presence. That night in Kalamazoo, the folks in-house trusted us a certain way. They listened to our personal stories with critical yet compassionate ears, and encouraged us to reveal more of ourselves as the night progressed.”

There is a tightness to this group. The interaction of these musicians generates a subtle intensity more akin to a smoldering flame than a raging fire. That’s by design. “My father’s musical disposition and the intimate dynamics of our relationship are pretty much established early on. Veal and Peterson join in seamlessly as though they are longtime members of the family.” In many senses they are. Reginald studied under the elder Marsalis while a teenager in New Orleans, performed in his quartet, and later joined the bands of both Branford and Wynton. Ralph Peterson has played in various musical settings with both Delfeayo and Reginald since the mid-1980s. According to Delfeayo, “The family dynamic is important to me in all of my creative endeavors.”

One key facet of a Delfeayo Marsalis show is his clever use of the Southern storytelling tradition. The anecdotes, the asides, the personal reflections—they all help put the audience at ease and invite them to experience the music more intimately. Most of those passages have been excised from this recording, however, allowing more room for the music itself.

To know Delfeayo and his music, you must start with the blues, preferably at a slow tempo. He opens this concert with the 1923 classic Tin Roof Blues. “We seem to have forgotten that the fundamental and necessary ingredients of American music are firmly rooted in the African diaspora. At its core, jazz is the African descendant’s interpretation of the everyday negotiations required to survive on American soil. That’s what the blues is all about,” he says. “That emotion—the blues aesthetic—is certainly not from England, mate! It’s 100% homegrown, yet its presence is steadily diminishing in the vocabulary of young people who choose to improvise today. Hardly any of them play the blues at slow tempos the way pianist Gene Harris used to. That’s the blues for real!”

After stating the blues New Orleans style, the set continues with a pair of very recognizable pop standards. “Autumn Leaves has always been a favorite of mine,” Delfeayo says. “In fact, I include it in my Global Warming Suite on gigs. The chord progressions are easy to listen to, and it’s one of the few minor-key songs that sounds happy.”
The piano introduction on My Funny Valentine is an inventive tour de force that Delfeayo admits gave him a moment’s pause. “The intro is in C minor, and the rest of the song is in F minor!” he says. Once father and son settle into the tune, however, Delfeayo exhibits a ballad approach that is rare even among the greatest of jazz trombone players. Evocative ballads have emerged as a Delfeayo Marsalis signature. “My dad and I share a similarly romantic view of the world, just from different angles. Other than sharing that particular common ground, there is a stark difference in our approaches to presenting the music. One of us is rather introverted and the other fairly extroverted!”

And who knew the Sesame Street theme is itself a 12-bar blues? Truly educational television! The song’s relevance here, however, relates more to The Last Southern Gentlemen album which was, among other things, a musical exploration of Southern manhood at its finest. As Delfeayo says, “It is a firm acknowledgement of the existence and importance of sweet, gentle sounds.” Having encouraged the audience to sing along, he playfully jokes about the lack of participation by song’s end.

During the applause that follows, Delfeayo can be heard asking, “If I Were A Bell or Emily?” He explains, “Emily is one of my dad’s favorite songs, even though we generally don’t play it on my gigs. By giving him the option, I trusted his judgment, not only with the specific song choice, but also the continuity of the concert. Had he played Emily, a romantic waltz, the show would have taken an entirely different emotional path. Medium up-tempo swing is exactly what we needed to set the audience up for the rest of the night.” If I Were a Bell is a trio tour-de-force that showcases the rhythm section in full effect, offering a masterful version of a memorable, yet complex Broadway show tune.

Though Delfeayo is an accomplished composer only one of his original songs appears here, The Secret Love Affair. No, not the kind of secret love affair where shy boy can’t bring himself to express his true feelings to the girl of his dreams. This is a much darker story about forbidden love. Set in 1935, the song poignantly describes the period of “indentured servitude in the Deep South that was ushered in after the Civil War due to certain changes in legislation.” The full story is available in the liner notes to The Last Southern Gentlemen. “This song champions African descendants and their undeniably optimistic response to the pervasive abuses—both physical and metaphysical—of the dominant culture. Throughout the adventure—an 11-bar minor blues—we often alternate between minor and major tonalities.”

The concert officially ended with a rousing rendition of It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing). “Elvin Jones always called this ‘the theme song’ because it embodies the true essence of jazz,” says Delfeayo. The melody swings hard by itself and the doo-wah rhythms invite the audience to participate either by singing, tapping or just grooving in their seats. The swing was so captivating, everyone joined in clapping on the beat and in time! Mr. Jones would certainly be proud, as would Mr. Ellington I imagine.”

The 1st encore, Blue Kalamazoo is Delfeayo having fun, first at the expense of two younger musicians, then in concert with them. Much like his father, Delfeayo takes his role as teacher very seriously, so this public music lesson also becomes a lesson in democratic cooperation. “The addition of Diaz and George highlights the extent to which jazz mirrors the fundamental ideals of American democracy. I enjoy creating spontaneous compositions because the entire ensemble must rely upon their skills and ingenuity in real time. Diaz embraced the music without ego. He took to the stage with the intention of becoming a key part of the group, not just a showboat. At some point in the song, Ralph relinquishes the sticks to Madison, who plays the 12/8 blues with steadfast resolve.”

The father and son duo rendition of Do You Know What It Means is a fitting final chapter to this wonderful outing. It is romance through music in every respect with Delfeayo adding a wah-wah mute for a softer, gentler rendering of the melody’s reprise. Anyone who listens to live jazz often has had the experience of walking out of a concert and saying, “That was great music. Too bad it wasn’t recorded.” Most of those nights are lost to everything but memory. Yet, this night, the gods of musical preservation were smiling on Western Michigan University’s Dalton Center Recital Hall. Fortunately, radio station WMUK recorded the entire performance with the intention of broadcasting only 20 minutes of it.

“The sound quality was great. The vibe was killing! Everyone in the room could tell it was a special night.” Listening to this recording, we are magically in the past and the present simultaneously.


*On another occasion with my Uptown Jazz Orchestra, I asked the audience what theme we should put into musical terms and it resulted in our CD being entitled Make America Great Again!.... But that’s another story entirely.

About the Musicians

I love playing with my dad. He’s always laid back and in control. E!

Reginald “Swing Doom” Veal began playing electric bass in the church and developed his acoustic chops in high school. He plays a little trombone, as well. His understanding of and ability to perform various musical styles proficiently is uncanny to say the least. The precision of his lines on the standards and the swagger of his grooves on the Sesame Street theme and The Secret Love Affair are uniquely profound. It is, however, his remarkable vocalized/bowed solo à la Slam Stewart on If I Were a Bell that highlights his understanding of the jazz tradition and how to effectively appropriate earlier innovations into a modern context. Veal is a complete musician who understands the full range of possibilities of the bass in virtually any musical environment.

Ralph Peterson has always been one of my favorite drummers. He is an accomplished and complete musician who always performs on a high level. Ralph has a very extensive vocabulary, and most importantly, knows how and when to use it. One overlooked aspect of his playing would have to be his tremendous sense of humor. Throughout the concert, Ralph plays as though he’s pranking the other musicians and the audience simultaneously… individually and collectively! From the snare drum rolls that ebb and flow without resolution on Tin Roof Blues to the outstanding brushwork on If I Were a Bell to the rhythmic displacement of Kenny Clarke’s Mop Mop in his solo on It Don’t Mean a Thing, Ralph keeps you guessing intentionally without divulging the answers. Known primarily for his aggressive modern drumming style, the diversity of performance on this recording leaves no question that Ralph Peterson is in the upper echelon of drummers of his generation.



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