The Branford Marsalis Quartet
Present the History of the Jazz Saxophone at Lincoln Center
A Feature Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis played a two night engagement at the Rose Hall at Lincoln Center (Broadway & 60th) in New York City on April 5th and 6th of 2013. attended the Saturday performance.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet - A Night of Jazz Saxophone at Lincoln Center
The Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center as seen from Columbus Circle.

Branford Marsalis is a band leader, composer, producer, saxophonist and sideman. Branford is a versatile artist who has performed and recorded with jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. He has also worked with many well-known rockers including Sting, the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews, Bruce Hornsby and Bela Fleck.

In the past decade Marsalis has written music for Broadway, performed with orchestras and he is currently fronting an innovative jazz band called the Branford Marsalis Quartet. This Grammy Award winning performer also runs Marsalis Music - a label that he founded in 2002 - in addition to teaching jazz at the university level.

Marsalis, the one-time Tonight Show band leader along with Harry Connick, Jr. conceived the New Orleans Habitat Musician's Village to help people impacted by Hurricane Katrina rebuild their homes and their lives. Within this community is the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. The facility has instructional, performance and practice spaces along with a recording studio. The Village is just another example of Marsalis' on-going commitment to community and music.

"Great to be back," greeted Branford as the four took center stage. Marsalis introduced the band and explained that they would be presenting the history of jazz saxophone. The lesson started with Sidney Bechet (1897-1959). Branford utilized a soprano sax for this spirited tribute with Justin adding snare drum to the blend. As is the tradition in jazz Marsalis who was the leader stepped back for Joey's spotlight on piano. He was potent and precise on the ivories. Branford concluded the piece with a soulful sax part.

Marsalis mentioned other influences such as Lester Young (1909-1959) and Charlie Parker (1920-1955) as they jammed on a more traditional jazz tune that had a snappy rhythm and a sassy sax solo. The teachings continued with the classic "Body and Soul" from Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969). The pace was set by the piano at the start as the others added eloquent elements to the piece. Branford was beguiling on his solo adding many notes and nuances to the song.

"Thank you," said Marsalis. He commended his tight team for putting this show together as bassist Philip had come in at the last moment. Sonny Rollins (born 1930) was showcased in an energized series of interplay and solos that included a potent piano part from Joey Calderazzo and a dynamic drum solo from Justin Faulkner.

Branford mention that there were three major periods in the music of John Coltrane before they played "My Favorite Things". The Quartet's version was vibrant with plenty of progressions. Marsalis mentioned that he liked melodic exploration in jazz with a shout out to Wayne Shorter (born 1933). "Infant Eyes" was a slower, sort of sultry piece with a pretty piano part and brush strokes on the drums.

Branford said that he wrote "Whiplash" with inspiration from Keith Jarrett (born 1945). The song was technical with more intricate interplay within the band with dramatic piano parts and another powerful drum solo. The encore was an up-tempo jam with a saucy sax solo.

During the night, Branford used the alto, soprano and tenor saxes for a broad range of sounds. Obviously, the Branford Marsalis Quartet could not cover all of the rich history of jazz in one concert but they presented an organized and winning overview of some of the major players.

Opening for The Quartet was The Yes! Trio that consisted of bass, drums and piano. The Yes! Trio emerged well-dressed and the wonderful players quickly showed their chops. Their show included fine interactions and feisty rhythms. During their set they mentioned that they have worked together for twenty years and the songs that they performed had a seasonal theme. "Steadfast" had a spring in its step as it burst forth with colorful and complex progressions.

The next song had the feel of strolling followed by an impressive stand-up bass solo. It was a blend of gentle taps and strums on the strings that moved from minimal notes to more, then the piano floated into the mix. "Flow" lived up to its name as the trio flowed seamlessly through a torrent of tricky transitions and solid solos to close their opening slot. The sound at the circular Rose Hall for both bands was incredible enhanced with wood flooring and paneling throughout.

The Rose Hall at Lincoln Center was the ideal place to see Branford as it was designed acoustically with jazz in mind. It is an elegant venue that is stunning both sonically and visually. The theater has eleven movable on-stage seating towers that allows for various concert configurations. In addition to jazz the Rose Hall also hosts dances, operas and symphonies. Interestingly, Branford's brother Wynton - himself a talented trumpeter - is the Artistic Director of the famous facility.

In addition the venue is an educational facility and has other rooms such as Dizzy's Club that hosts concerts and events. The walls of the theater are filled with jazz facts and photos along with large windows with great views of New York City and Columbus Circle. The Rose Hall is housed in a structure that has a mall, a food court and up-scale dinning on the top floor with more windows over-looking Manhattan.

Branford Marsalis Quartet:
Branford Marsalis - Saxophones
Joey Calderazzo - Piano
Philip Kean (filling in for Eric Revis) - Bass
Justin Faulkner - Drums

The Yes! Trio:
Ali Jackson - drums
Aaron Goldberg - piano
Omer Avital - bass

Related Links: For more information on BRANFORD MARSALIS and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Branford Marsalis | YES! Trio | Jazz at Lincoln Center

(Originally Published on April 08, 2013)




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