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Marsalis mixes it up

Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra celebrate his native New Orleans next week with the premiere of Congo Square, an 80-minute composition co-written and performed with Ghanian drum master Yacub Addy and his nine-piece ensemble, Odadaa!
The performance April 23 at New Orleans’ namesake Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park is part of a weeklong residency aimed at helping the healing process in the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged city. There also will be free concerts, master classes, workshops and exhibits throughout the week in conjunction with the French Quarter Festival. It is the first time Marsalis has ever played there with the orchestra.

Then they’ll begin a six-city tour before returning to New York for a New Orleans Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center. As part of it, Congo Square will be performed May 4-6.

Congo Square is inspired by the square where slaves gathered on Sunday afternoons from the 1700s to the mid-1800s to perform African music and dances. That music was banned and the playing of it was punishable by death in the British colonies and later the United States. But New Orleans, which was a French colony before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, was the only place where it was allowed until a mid-century ban.

“Because of the stifling ignorance and racism, they were unable to accept the greatness of what took place in Congo Square,” Marsalis says. “But it’s been a gift that we’ve all enjoyed in any form that has bass and drums in it.

“It was one little desperate outpost of soul.”

Marsalis says jazz grew out of the spirit of Congo Square, and his composition brings two types of music together. He says he and his musicians have struggled at times trying to play along with the complex drum rhythms of Odadaa!, but he’s learning, thanks to Addy’s prodding. Bassist Carlos Henriquez, who is well-versed in Latin rhythms, also has helped bridge the gap.

The piece will be done in several parts to reflect the different aspects of the square and will uniquely combine different music.

“We are actually going to try to play with them,” Marsalis says. “It’s not going to be where you put a 6/8 (time signature) rhythm on something and just play on a vamp, which is what normally happens when you say African jazz. We are trying to actually get inside the bell patterns that they play and play music that goes with those.”

Marsalis, who is on several committees to help restore New Orleans, says he’s sure the city will bounce back. He says he was amazed 12 years ago when he visited Hiroshima at how the Japanese city had recovered from World War II’s nuclear devastation. The same is possible in his hometown, he says.

“We come with a balm,” he says. “We’re not coming to gawk and look around. We are coming to make people feel better about who they are, and that we are going to continue no matter what our circumstances. And we are going to continue with style.”

By Steve Jones

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  1. How to interact with the Marsalis family?

    MOJELA MOKGOKE on Dec 17th, 2009 at 4:40pm

  2. I first saw the Congo Square at one of our local stores (Kloppers in Bloemfontein – South Africa) in December 2009, bought it. I have never regretted doing that. It is not that I am mad about the father and son’s (Brandford and Wynton)music, but spirituality role that their artistic work delivers to my soul makes me buy anything from them without even listening or view. If it is possible all those who got spiritually cought by the concert or the DVD will agree with mr when I say the composition of the two have much to do with healing,connectio with Africa and spiritual uplifment. I am encouraging fellow friends to also go an extra mile to buy the following artistic works of this and other artists –

    Brandford Marsalis 1. Eternal (CD) Wynton Marsalis 1. In this house, On this morning (DVD) – ,the song “Benediction” 2. The Majesty of the blues (CD), the song “Premature Autopsies” Pharoah Sanders 1. Save Our Children (CD), the song “Jewels of love” Miles Davis 1. Kind of Blue, the songs “Flaming Sketches 5 and 6” Live Culture (RSA)

    1. A man, A boy and A Girl, the song “Kraal Blues”

    John Coltrane

    1. The very best of …(CD), the song “My favorite things”

    Charles Lloyd

    1. Forest Flower, the song “Forest Floer Sunset”

    Mojela Mokgoke on Aug 10th, 2009 at 2:31pm

  3. Dear Larry,
    the Congo Square album will be in stores this fall.

    Luigi Beverelli on Jul 20th, 2007 at 5:10pm

  4. I was at the Original concert in New Orleans last year and it was “awesome” and uplifited the spirits of all New Orleans residents who attended. I would like to know when is the CD coming out of that performance?

    Larry Calvin on Jul 20th, 2007 at 1:38pm

  5. Yes, Yacub was not present in Rochester. It was, thankfully, the only performance that he missed. Actually, I found it very interesting to be able to attend that show. Many of the musicians in Odadaa had assumed different roles in the instrumentation of the pieces as a result of Yacub’s absence (and also due to absence of the one and only Ricky Gordon). Also, the Odadaa drummers received a standing ovation in the Eastman Theater for their performance in “Logo Talk”. The audience loved it and they carried the show extremely well.

    I want to thank Wynton and Yacub for this uplifting contribution to the canon of Jazz. There is a beauty in this piece that touches the audience in a deep way, on a spiritual level. This music further esteems the value of African culture, particularly Ghanaian culture, and exemplifies the West African roots of American musical forms. This is so critically important at this time in our global development. It is through music and dance that we can most readily celebrate each other. Jazz has its collective essence and it is truly beautiful to witness this collective cultural phenomenon and its impact on our citizens.

    Karen on Jun 25th, 2007 at 11:44pm

  6. I caught the Congo Square show here in Detroit,Michigan on friday night.I had my concerns as to how the two art forms would intermingle……In my estimation this artistic presentation was the best I had ever seen.Everyone who attended this concert came away very enlightened.Please check it out if you can and take someone with you.

    “Keep Swinging”
    Jacques Mullins

    Jacques Mullins on Jun 24th, 2007 at 10:27pm

  7. Totally Amazing…!!

    Caught Wynton and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra along with Yacub Addy and Odadaa! (from Ghana)at the Eastman Theatre, Rochester NY (Rochester International Jazz Festival) last night…took my two teenagers. My kids are both musicians and my 18 year old was really impressed. He is in a post hardcore/metalcore band and awakening to jazz and other genres all the time. My daughter is 15 and has ambitions in opera and/or contemporary so they take their music seriously. I am a poet/writer/single mom.

    And as if exploring the roots of jazz in its new orleans/African roots weren’t enough; to hear, feel and witness the transitions between the two and wonder how they were so masterfully accomplish truly boggles the mind in retrospect, even if the two side by side now seem like the most natural thing in the world to me. My epiphany was seeing the fusion actually take place.

    Never in my years have I ever been quite this impressed……

    Sarah Brinklow on Jun 15th, 2007 at 4:56pm

  8. Only those who are a native of New Orleans like Wynton is able to convey such a spiritual interview as this. Its touches my heart and gave me a history I was unaware of.


    Now what about the 9th ward obtaining electricity and the levee to be restrored by next months hurricane season????

    whitney marchelle on Apr 27th, 2006 at 1:01pm

  9. A spiritual,historical, festive,rythmnic,musical event I was so proud to be able to participate. I am so proud of the song wynton wrote and sung.


    whitney marchelle on Apr 27th, 2006 at 12:55pm

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