Branford Marsalis will be in good company Friday night at Proctors

Publication: The Saratogian
Date: February 2, 2012
Author: Phil Drew

SCHENECTADY — The art of collaboration in jazz is a delicate thing. The right combination of performers can make all the difference — not just in the who, but in the how.

Noted Grammy-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis is a case in point. His performance Friday night at Proctors Theatre will mark his first appearance in the region in several years, and it will feature both the familiar Branford Marsalis Quartet and a newer duet with pianist Joey Calderazzo.

In 1998, the delicate balance of the quartet was briefly disrupted by the sudden death of pianist Kenny Kirkland. His subsequent replacement by Calderazzo was a seamless transition for the foursome, which also includes bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff “Train” Watts. That temporary imbalance opened Marsalis’ eyes to new possibilities.

“To me, my favorite jazz musicians are like good talk-show radio hosts,” Marsalis said. “A good talk-show host has to know a little bit about a lot of things and be able to talk about them with some knowledge. Over the years, Joey has developed. He knows all the modern stuff. He’s also fluent with the classics, with Brahms and Schumann. It shows in the |lyricism of the songs he writes. We have so many options in how we play now.”

One of those options, it turns out, is a jazz duo with Calderazzo at the keyboards and Marsalis on the horn. Last year the pair released an album, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy” — nine tracks, mostly originals, that displayed the new possibilities. Sales of the recording have been modest, but Marsalis said, “It’s a really good recording.

“One of my managers suggested kind of piggybacking the duet on the quartet programs we already had booked, introducing the duo in a way to make it more palatable, for promoters to see the possibilities.” Friday night at Proctors is, he vows, “probably the last time for that.” It’s time for the duet to breathe on its own.

Marsalis himself is, of course, a scion of what is widely regarded as New Orleans’ first family of jazz — his legendary dad Ellis, his superstar brother Wynton and younger siblings Delfeayo and Jason, each a rising star in his own right.

Branford Marsalis has been a prized sideman for everyone in the business, from Davis to Sonny Rollins to Herbie Hancock. And he went mainstream as Jay Leno’s band leader in late night for a couple of years in the early ’90s.

Marsalis has known Joey Calderazzo since his days as a student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “He was 14 at the time. We just kind of hit it off,” he said. “Later, I played on a couple of Joey’s recordings, but our most extensive playing together didn’t happen until I asked him to join the quartet.”

“We feed off each other,” Marsalis said. “We made a few rules before we went in to record. One of those is no walking bass lines with the left hand (on the piano). That represents a lack of imagination.

“It’s a different kind of playing needed for a jazz duo. What Joey has been able to do is to understand that his function changes from the quartet to the duet.”