The Marsalis Family: Music Redeems – review

Publication: The
Author: John Fordham
Date: May 5, 2011

This unexpectedly quirky live get-together by the Marsalis family, with Harry Connick Jr among the guests, was caught at the Kennedy Center to commemorate the patriarch, pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis’s receipt of a lifetime achievement award. It’s also a fundraiser for the new Center for Music bearing his name in New Orleans, and was made to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the family’s home town. All those honourable motivations might have turned the gig into a restrainedly respectful affair, but in fact it’s a hoot – in one case almost literally, as drummer and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis delivers probably the only extant whistling version of Charlie Parker’s bop sprint Donna Lee, and swaps pretty nimble improvised choruses with brother Wynton’s trumpet on it. Ellis, now 76, creditably keeps up with the headlong tempo, but sounds more in his element in the elided chords and slowly unfolding treble lines of the ballad After; he also complements Connick Jr’s boogie-power with a more smooth-swinging jazz feel in a duet on Sweet Georgia Brown. Wynton and saxophonist Branford (who contributes some typically pungent tenor breaks) also share a witty, affectionate but unschmaltzy conversation about their New Orleans childhood.