Family Affair: The Marsalis Magic At Blues Alley

Watching the two Marsalis brothers play with their father at Blues Alley last night, one could almost imagine a similar scene seven years ago at their New Orleans home when the father was tutoring the two high schoolers in the basics of bop.

As father Ellis Marsalis displayed his compact chording and light, fluid runs, it was clear where his 22-year-old son Wynton and 23-year-old son Branford acquired their marvelous sense of discipline. One of the elements that has made Wynton an overnight jazz sensation has been his precise phrasing—every trumpet statement has a clear beginning, middle and end punctuated by pauses rather than extra notes. Branford’s saxophone playing is distinguished by a resonant soulfulness that can give one sustained note several meanings by subtle shifts of tone. The roots of that phrasing and soufulness could be found in Ellis’ playing last night.

The two sons were obviously overjoyed by the rare chance to play with their father. With the Wynton Marsalis Quintet’s regular pianist in Japan, Ellis took a week off from teaching to sit in with his sons and the aggressive hard bop rhythm section of drummer Jeff Watts and strong new bassist Charnette Moffett. The usually poker-faced Wynton broke into a grin and even joked, “Now he has to do what I say.”

Clearly inspired by the occasion, the two brothers played not only with their usual technical mastery but with an added intensity and affection, as if showing their dad how much they’ve grown up.

The Wynton Marsalis Quintet will be at Blues Alley through Saturday.

By Geoffrey Himes
Source: The Washington Post

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