Jazz News

April 29, 2019
The New Orleans Advocate

2019 New Orleans Jazz Fest's first weekend wraps with Marsalis family reunion

Keith Spera

Sunday was a day of gratitude and tribute at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Bonnie Raitt thanked festival producer Quint Davis for the many times he’s booked her since 1977.

The Indigo Girls gave Jazz Fest a 50th anniversary shout-out.

And at a jam-packed WWOZ Jazz Tent, Delfeayo Marsalis, on behalf of his assembled brothers, thanked their father Ellis, and their late mother, Dolores, for their existence and ongoing musical camaraderie: “It’s a credit to them that we’re up here.”

The Marsalis family reunion capped off a day of old favorites at Jazz Fest, including Raitt, Al Green, Van Morrison and the O’Jays, alongside such relative newcomers as Bleachers and J Balvin...

...For trombonist Delfeayo, saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton and drummer Jason Marsalis to share a stage with their father is a rare occurrence; hence, the Jazz Tent overflowed at the end of the day. But this set was not about spotlighting the sons. It was about saluting their father by showcasing his elegant compositions.

On the opening “Crescent City Strut,” their solos — first Delfeayo, then Branford, Wynton, Ellis and finally Jason — were in keeping with the song’s spry, stately nature. Branford and Wynton were more adventurous on “Tell Me.” The family settled back down for the romantic vibe of “Orchid Blue.” Harmonies abounded.

Branford also made note of his and buddy Harry Connick’s Jr. post-Hurricane Katrina project, the Musicians’ Village in the Upper 9th Ward, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity that has provided housing for dozens of musicians and others. The centerpiece of the Village is the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, a performance and educational space.

As an extension of the salute to Ellis, a trio of young students from the center that bears his name took center stage for “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A 13-year-old visually impaired student vocalist named Jayla Raymond earned a roar of approval for her rendition of “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You).”

With that, the stage was back in the hands of the Marsalis family and bassist Eric Revis, a longtime member of Branford’s band (and a former student of Ellis’ at the University of New Orleans). Branford introduced “After” as “a beautiful ballad (Ellis) wrote before we were born.” Wynton’s muted trumpet was all burnished gold.

The set, to this point, was enjoyable, but could have benefited from more fireworks. With the clock winding down, those fireworks finally arrived. Wynton uncorked the razzed trumpet opening of the Mardi Gras anthem “Second Line, Pt. 1.” Delfeayo pumped his fists, the audience rose as one, and it was on.

Delfeayo, Branford and Wynton marched offstage, still playing, into the densely packed crowd in front of the barricades. They made their way across the width of the tent, finally returning to the stage at the opposite side, as drummers Herlin Riley and Shannon Powell joined in.

It was the exclamation point the Marsalis reunion, and the first weekend of the 50th anniversary Jazz Fest, needed.

Read Keith Spera's full article.