There are few family dynasties as prominent — in any field — as the Marsalises are in Jazz. The New Orleans clan includes patriarch Ellis Marsalis and an all-time Jazz supergroup in sons Wynton (trumpet), Branford (sax), Jason (drums) and Delfeayo, one of the greatest trombonists in music today.
Delfeayo Marsalis was inspired to take up trombone due to early influences like Tommy Dorsey, Curtis Fuller and, of course, J.J. Johnson. In a recent interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, Marsalis talked about how the brothers’ personalities led to the different instruments they each pursued. He described the trumpet as more individualistic, with the sax having to determine how to interact with it — whether harmoniously or “in argument.” He said the trombone/trombonist is more of a mediator.
“If the saxophone and the trumpet are arguing, the trombone comes along and says, ‘Hey, man, everything’s going to be cool,’ ” he explained. “And if they’re getting along too much, then the trombone has to kind of stir the pot and say, ‘Hold on — it ain’t that cool.’ The trombonist has to be the most flexible in the New Orleans Jazz band. I would say that suits my personality, inside of the family.”
Also an accomplished producer, Marsalis has worked the boards on recordings by artists like Harry Connick, Jr. and Terence Blanchard and he played in the bands of legends like Art Blakey, Slide Hampton, Max Roach and Elvin Jones. As a composer, his work has long had a big-picture, conceptual edge. His 1992 debut album, Pontius Pilate’s Decision, was inspired by Bible stories, while his 2016 album, Make America Great Again! (with songs like “Back To Africa” and a skronkily re-arranged “Star-Spangled Banner”), was a musical response to the social anxiety brought about by Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign.
That album was with Marsalis’ Uptown Jazz Orchestra, a collective he founded in 2008 that features multiple generations of New Orleans players who strive to reach new audiences and preserve and celebrate Jazz as a living, breathing art form. It’s an extension of the Uptown Music Theatre, a community arts and education organization he founded in New Orleans in 2000.
Marsalis plays this Friday (Oct. 4) at Caffè Vivace with alto saxophonist Khari Allen Lee, pianist Richard Johnson, bassist David Pulphus and drummer Willie Green III. The quintet plays shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Advance tickets are available at Eventbrite.