Art Works Blog

Let's Celebrate 2011 NEA Jazz Masters: The Marsalis Family

Washington, DC

The Marsalis Family: (l-r) Ellis, Jr., Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason, and Branford. Photo by Jos L. Knaepen

Ellis, Jr. on his first professional band

"The first professional job that I had was with this group called the Groovy Boys....This friend of mine, this piano teacher, wanted the band to play for a party for her students... .and we went to the YWCA and played this job, which was free. So at the end of the job, she passed the hat and we made a dollar and a half a piece....You know, after that I said, 'Man, you know what, if we can do this, we can make more money than a dollar and a half.' So that?s when we started trying to play at these dances. And we used to make five dollars a gig."

Wynton on the importance of jazz

"We want everybody to have jazz in their life...What is it about jazz that makes it important in peoples? lives? It tells people it's okay to be themselves. And then it tells you it?s okay for another person to be themselves too, even though it?s not like you."

Delfeayo on why he plays the trombone

"The trombone kind of suits my personality and when the band teacher came around with all the instruments, there was something about it that attracted me to it. I realized later that? the trombone is the peacekeeper in the band. In the New Orleans band the trumpet plays the lead. The saxophone's job, or the clarinet, is to make the trumpet sound good. The trombone's job is to make both the saxophone and the trumpet sound good, and it?s also the bridge between the rhythm section---the drums and the tuba---and the horns. So, the trombone player has to be very flexible, whereas, you know, the trumpet can afford to be more just singular thinking because their job is really just to play the melody. So that kind of suited the way that I function in our family."

Jason on innovation

"There?s one thing that honestly troubles me a bit and it has to do with the need for innovation. There really should be an emphasis on quality more so than innovation. I think it is very important to realize that great music is timeless and that the original intent of music was not about innovation or doing the new thing, it was people that wanted to express themselves on the highest level possible that they could. And I think now there's this big concern about doing something new or doing the newest thing tomorrow, rather than developing your craft over many years and years and always see it as a evolving product....I think that if there was more of an emphasis on just quality and skill more so than new, I think that, overall, music and art would be in a much better place."

Branford on what he learned from playing with Sting

"Sting?s people called and said, 'Yeah, we want you to join this band.' And what was really?great about it was all of a sudden I had to play 30-second solos, as opposed to these five-minute, really long-winded winding solos I was playing with Wynton's band. And I was using as few notes as possible, trying to employ space, and all of a sudden you've got to get in everything you have to say in 30 seconds. And you do that for about a year and a half and then you come back to play jazz and then all of a sudden there?s a sense of urgency that just wasn?t there before, where it was mostly cerebral. It had that kind of emotional energy that I wasn?t able to find in the music, because I had been spending so much time with the intellectual aspects of it."

Visit our Marsalis Family NEA Jazz Masters page to hear more from (and about) this notable New Orleans family.

Don?t miss our NEA Jazz Masters panel with Ellis Marsalis, Jr., and other 2011 honorees on Monday, January 10 at 1:00 pm ET. Check it out live or in person; go here for details.

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