Marsalis displays his warm side at jam session

A piece of Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival history went down in the wee hours of Sunday morning when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his band showed up to play at the New Rapa House Jam sessions in the Hotel Pontchartrain. The moment revealed a rarely seen side of Marsalis and confirmed his dedication to these disintegrating proving grounds of traditional jazz.

New Rapa House listeners on previous nights had included pianists Billy Taylor and Tommy Flanagan, but nobody of Marsalis’ stature had taken the stage.

Marsalis slipped into a low traffic area of the Top of the Pontch at 1 a.m. He never broke his cool demeanor and talked in a hushed, low-key voice. But the trumpeter, who has gained a reputation both as a powerhouse player and as an aloof personality, signed autographs, hammed it up a bit posing for a picture, shook hands and talked to admirers. He even gave a quick trumpet technique tip to an aspiring local musician.

INITIALLY, FEW people were aware of his presence; even RAPA House bandmaster Ernie Rodgers had to reassure doubters after he announced Marsalis’ presence. Once convinced, the sellout crowd that came to hear spontaneous jazz improvisation was stunned and delighted. “I wish I had my camera,” said one thrilled listener.

When the music started, Marsalis took the first solo demonstrating his tonal clarity and impeccable chops. Impressive solos were then exchanged by the other players, including Marsalis’ pianist Marcus Roberts and his Detroit-born bassist, Bob Hurst.

There was some speculation that Wynton’s appearance at RAPA might have been to atone for the last-minute arrival for his Hart Plaza concert earlier or as a favor to Hurst. But Hurst denied both. “He wanted to play.”

Rodgers was bubbling after sharing the stage with the young star. “It’s fantastic,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about the younger guys get to see someone who is successful and learn what it takes to make it. Wynton may appear aloof, but he’s very warm.” So what began as a cozy and intimate evening of jazz jamming became an extra-special thrill that no one would have expected.

Marsalis at the plaza

By show time, a strange kind of electricity was brewing backstage while festival organizers awaited the appearance of Marsalis and his band. It was clearly the largest Hart Plaza audience of the festival; and if that didn’t make things tense enough, Marsalis’ last-minute arrival sharpened the edge.

But it took just five minutes to set up Jeff Watts’ drums and Marsalis led pianist Roberts, bassist Hurst and guest saxophonist Charlie Rouse onstage just eight minutes after his announced starting time.

The quintet worked through studious, extended standard jazz compositions, many from its new album, “Marsalis Standard Time: Vol. 1,” exploring and expanding solos that covered every nuance of jazz. Marsalis was precise, droll and unemotional, concentrating on the sound of every note and producing the excellent tones he’s become known for.

Hometown boy Hurst had a special glow, and Marsalis gave him the option to play whatever he wanted on a solo midway through the set. Marsalis also offered a crowd-pleasing finale by inviting two more Detroit players trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and African percussionist Keita Sundiata onstage during his encore. The Detroiters lit an emotional spark, charging up Marsalis and the group during a hot rendition of the Charlie Parker composition “Au Privave.”

by Charles Hunt
Source: Detroit Free Press

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