release date: February 7, 2020 via Troubador Jass
Featuring Tonya Boyd-Cannon (“The Voice”), original UJO member and Dirty Dozen Brass Band co-founder Roger Lewis, rising star rhythm section Joe Dyson Jr. (Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ellis Marsalis) and Kyle Roussel (Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Headhunters)
For the better part of a decade, acclaimed trombonist, producer and composer Delfeayo Marsalis has spent Wednesday nights at the helm of his sprawling Uptown Jazz Orchestra’s residency at Snug Harbor in New Orleans. With Jazz Party, Marsalis’ seventh album as a leader, he delivers an original composition-heavy set of music that showcases the same exuberant energy of those shows, complete with modernised twists on New Orleans songbook gems and musical traditions, and swinging, groove-infused homages to the contributions of modern jazz masters.
Spiked with the NEA Jazz Master’s wry wit and visionary production acumen, Jazz Party sees Marsalis – along with Roger Lewis, Terrance Taplin, Khari Lee, and more of the Crescent City’s finest musicians – making a strong musical case for the notion modern New Orleans jazz can and should be as celebratory in nature as it is cerebral in execution.
“Music, like all art, should have some type of contemporary relevance,” Marsalis says, joking that his decision to call 2016’s UJO recording premiere Make America Great Again missed fulfilling its “comedic relief potential” by “a few votes” in the 2016 election.
“Jazz, the indigenous American music, is a music of celebration and optimism,” he continues. “The Uptown Jazz Orchestra is such a fun band that I wanted to capture its uniqueness. The idea was to keep the wide variety of styles that we play but to really capture the joy that is a central trademark of the band.”
Recorded in February and May 2019 at New Orleans’ Esplanade Studios with the help of Marsalis’ longtime production partner Patrick Smith (and without the so-called “dreaded bass direct”), Jazz Party opens with a laidback and languorous title track that brings “The Voice” alum Tonya Boyd-Cannon’s gospel roots in touch with the band’s preternatural sense of groove.
The Dirty Dozen’s Roger Lewis, an original member of the UJO, contributes another album highlight with his burning “Blackbird Special” solo as the band delivers a perfect balance of wiggle, funk and propulsive motion that urges its way forward, second line-style.
The breezy “Seventh Ward Boogaloo” shifts gears to highlight the lasting influence of musicians who have historically called that neighbourhood home, from Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet to Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint.
Another standout, the Marsalis original “Raid on the Mingus House Party,” turns up the tension with a dramatic horn section performance that kicks off the narrative arc implied by the title before Ryan Hanseler’s gorgeously restrained piano work guides the melody away from the proverbial cliff’s edge. According to Marsalis, it was inspired by “aspects of the current social climate in America” that seem to be continually “heightened by extreme political negativity, mass shootings and racial community divisions.” When all ten of the tune’s moving melodic parts get resolved, the music reminds us that, as Marsalis puts it, “love for humanity” really can “reign victorious” even in the most troubled and confusing times.
The album begins and ends its second half with two takes on “Mboya’s Midnight Cocktail,” delivering the kind of funny bar banter one might overhear between sets during a UJO performance at Snug Harbor.
Between the first incarnation and its final reprise, the orchestra serves up a hilarious riff on its hometown’s hyper-local obsessions (“I’m so New Orleans I remember when crawfish was $1.27 a pound,” Dr. Brice Miller raps on “So New Orleans”); the Scott Johnson centric jump blues meets “modern tonality” flavored “Irish Whiskey Blues” and an anthemic rendition of the Soul Rebels’ “Let Your Mind Be Free,” plus funk-laced tributes to Roy Hargrove (“Dr. Hardgroove”) and New Orleans’ cultural connections to the Caribbean (“Caribbean Second Line”).
Jazz Party offers a deftly varied look at the role of joy, humor and straight-up fun in jazz, an artform Marsalis points out in his liner notes was created by a group of people seeking to “define life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in a “psychological vacuum” necessitated by the systematic denial of their own human rights. That one band can so compellingly reflect the many nuances embedded in that fundamental cultural concept is a major artistic achievement in itself.
Over the course of his prolific career, trombonist, composer, producer, educator and NEA Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis has been hailed as one of the “most imaginative…trombonists of his generation,” a title that reflects decades of musical exploration, preparation and risk-taking, much of which began during his childhood in New Orleans, where his father, Ellis Marsalis, introduced him to jazz in the family home. Eventually, Delfeayo says, he “gravitated toward the trombone,” which felt like “an extension of my personality.” He was simultaneously developing his ear for music production after his brothers, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, piqued his interest in the process, which he continued to develop while producing their demo tapes and interning at Allen Toussaint’s Sea Saint Studio. He’s gone on to produce more than 100 recordings for artists including his brothers, his father, Spike Lee, Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and others. An exceptional trombonist, Delfeayo has toured internationally with bands led by Art Blakey, Slide Hampton, Abdullah Ibrahim, Max Roach and Elvin Jones, as well as his own groups.
Jazz Party, the trombonist’s second studio album with his 10-plus-year-old Uptown Jazz Orchestra,
comes on the heels of 2017’s live album, Kalamazoo, and 2016’s UJO studio recording debut, Make America Great Again!, which uses the orchestra’s stylistic fluidity to fuse its hometown sound and musical history with songs associated with American patriotism. Other highlights in his discography include The Last Southern Gentlemen (2014), his first album-length collaboration with his father and 2010’s stunning Sweet Thunder, a fresh octet reimagination of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s suite of the same name. Pontius Pilate’s Decision (1992), his dramatic musical take on biblical tales, remains a standout.
Delfeayo recently served as Music Producer for the film “Bolden!,” a mythical account of the life of Buddy Bolden, and has worked extensively in arts education. He holds a master’s degree in jazz performance from the University of Louisville and an honorary doctorate from New England College. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
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Over the course of his prolific music career, acclaimed trombonist, composer and producer Delfeayo Marsalis has been praised for his “technical excellence, inventive mind and frequent touches of humor,” (Leonard Feather, Los Angeles Times) and heralded as being among “the best, most imaginative and musical of the trombonists of his generation,” (Philip Elwood, San Francisco Examiner) In 2011, the Marsalis family’s musicians – Delfeayo, his father Ellis Marsalis and brothers Branford, Wynton and Jason – were honored with the nation’s highest jazz honor, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award.
Delfeayo’s 2019 recording, Jazz Party, marks the trombonist’s second studio album with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, a flexible, New Orleans-based big band he formed in 2008. Known for its long-running residency at Snug Harbor, the group consistently features an array of the city’s most talented modern jazz artists.
Marsalis’ commitment to the idea that optimism and progressive musical thought can — and, in fact, should — coexist in modern New Orleans jazz is a conceptual cornerstone for both Jazz Party and the UJO, which opens and closes performances with second line numbers and often engages audiences, literally, by encouraging their participation in the music.
Jazz Party comes on the heels of Kalamazoo, a live album recorded in 2015 and released in 2017, and 2016’s UJO studio recording debut, Make America Great Again! The latter leans on the orchestra’s agile stylistic fluidity to fuse its hometown sound and musical history with songs associated with American patriotism to create a sound that reflects the United States today — a place Wendell Pierce calls in the title track, “a melting pot of diversity fighting a juggernaut of adversity.”
Marsalis’ latest work, of course, reflects decades of musical exploration, preparation and risk-taking.Born in New Orleans on July 28, 1965, the young artist was destined to a life in music. “I remember my dad (Ellis Marsalis) playing piano at the house, and me laying underneath the piano as a child, listening to him play. After briefly trying bass and drums, in sixth grade I gravitated towards the trombone, which was an extension of my personality.” Early influences included J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Al Grey, Tyree Glenn, Tommy Dorsey and Ellington’s trombone masters. Marsalis attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts high school, was classically trained at the Eastern Music Festival and Tanglewood Institute, and majored in both performance and audio production at Berklee College of Music. He earned a master’s degree in jazz performance at the University of Louisville and was conferred a doctorate by New England College.
About the time that he first started playing trombone, Marsalis was already greatly interested in the recording process: “Branford showed me how to create a feedback loop on a reel to reel machine and I was hooked! When I was in seventh grade, Wynton challenged me to create home recordings of him that had the same quality as trumpet virtuoso Maurice Andre’s classical studio recordings. It was all trial and error and I discovered a process and logic that I still use while recording today.”
Delfeayo recorded demo tapes for his brothers and schoolmates and served an internship at (pianist Allen Toussaint’s) Sea Saint Studio. From the age of 17 until the present, he has produced over 100 recordings for major artists including Harry Connick Jr, Spike Lee, Terence Blanchard, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and his father and brothers. Marsalis is an exceptional trombonist who has toured internationally with his own groups, as well as those led by five renowned bandleaders.
“Art Blakey taught me patience and purpose in soloing; Abdullah Ibrahim’s sense of harmony is prevalent in much of my music; Slide Hampton inspired me with his extraordinary command of the trombone and the language of jazz, and Max Roach played with conviction and dexterity all the time. Elvin Jones (who is featured on Delfeayo’s 2006 album, Minions Dominion) taught me about humanity, expressing myself through music, and most importantly, how to keep time.”
The lessons of these legendary artists can be heard throughout Delfeayo’s compositions and improvisations today.
As a composer and arranger, Delfeayo has always shown a flair for the dramatic. His debut album Pontius Pilate’s Decision (1992) was inspired by biblical tales, and 2010’s stunning Sweet Thunder gives the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn suite of the same name a modern-day makeover. Rather than merely recreating the classic work, which is comprised of musical depictions of characters from William Shakespeare’s plays, Marsalis took the work as a point of departure for his octet, creating fresh and new music with inspired performances. Sweet Thunder earned a place on numerous top Albums of the Year lists and wide critical acclaim including 4 stars in USA Today and 5 stars in the Financial Times. Marsalis also created an original theatrical jazz production, “Sweet Thunder: Duke & Shak,” which toured widely in 2011.
He recently served as Music Producer for the film “Bolden!,” a mythical account of the life of Buddy Bolden, the first Cornet King of New Orleans. Among Delfeayo’s seven albums as a leader are the 1997 quintet date Musashi, which was praised by the All Music Guide for its “passionate originals… willingness to take chances and stretch himself and the result is consistently stirring post-bop music.”
The Last Southern Gentlemen (2014) is his first album-length collaboration with his father, Ellis. Incorporating Delfeayo’s writings—including an essay on the sociological/historical themes that define the recording, commentary on the music, and original stories, children’s tales and poetry—The Last Southern Gentlemen saw New Orleans jazz royalty come together for an album of swinging playing and sociological heft. The recording earned rave reviews including 4.5 stars from Monarch Magazine. As Jennifer Odell writes in DownBeat, “Throughout the album, the performers prioritize warmth, tranquility and restraint while imbuing melodies and solos with the lyrical sentiments at the heart of the original music.” And Marc Myers of JazzWax writes, “Marsalis exhibits a beautiful tone throughout as he’s accompanied by his father and pianist Ellis Marsalis, bassist John Clayton and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith. A contemplative, embracing release from top to bottom.”
Marsalis has also been long involved in work as an educator. To inspire New Orleans youth through arts education, Delfeayo founded the Uptown Music Theatre in 2000 and has implemented its Kidstown After School in three New Orleans grammar schools. In 2014, he took the Uptown Jazz Orchestra to Africa to perform at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival. In addition, he has composed over 100 songs that help introduce kids to jazz through musical theatre and has reached over 5,000 students nationally with his Swinging with the Cool School soft introduction to jazz workshops.