Healthy competition

Master trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, of the world-famous Marsalis family, wishes the sibling rivalry between him and his three brothers could be far more intense. Competition is important, he feels, to sharpen musical skills.

“I find that the way you develop the most is through competition. And if you have somebody that you want to better, it makes you better. It hasn’t happened as much since we’ve been older, but I am trying to bring that rivalry back.”

Their father is Ellis Marsalis, a pianist and educator. Then there are the sons; besides Delfeayo there are Wynton, a trumpeter and composer and musical director of the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra; Branford, a saxophonist and one of the stars at last year’s Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival; and Jason, a drummer and the youngest in the family, who will be performing with Delfeayo at this year’s Joy of Jazz festival.

In a telephone interview from New Orleans, Marsalis expressed the joy of visiting the “mother country” for the first time and performing before South African audiences. He also looked forward to hearing South African musicians. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

Marsalis said fans can expect two different sets when they perform at the Dance Factory on August 24 and 25. “We are going to play all the music from my first CD, Pontius Pilate’s Decision, and at the second concert we will do music from my newest CD, Minions Dominion on Troubadour Jass and it will be riveting because my youngest brother Jason will be on drums.”

A mighty proud Marsalis raved about Jason’s drumming prowess and described him as “one of the great minds that we have out here on drums in American music.”

Marsalis has been hard at work these past months on a biopic about New Orleans jazz musician Buddy Bolden. Buddy became the most popular musician in New Orleans by 1900, and an influence on later cornetists, but by 1906 he was slowly going insane and ended up in the Jackson Mental Institute where he remained forgotten for his final 24 years. Anthony Mackie portrays Buddy Bolden and Dan Preisker directs.

On this project, Marsalis produced the soundtrack, written by Wynton, and served as musical director. “I was very happy that somebody chose to do a film about Buddy Bolden,” Marsalis added.

“Wynton did a phenomenal job composing the soundtrack. It was right up his alley. Some people don’t like the idea that we might be tradionalists, but this type of event can only be told by somebody who has an understanding and knowledge of tradition and a love for modern music.”

During his early years, Marsalis worked with South Africa’s Abdullah Ibrahim, but admits that had he been a little older he would have been in a position to appreciate and contribute more.

“I find that the kind of emotion we have in our music is very similar. He is a very passionate individual and that’s what comes across in his music. And he comes from the old school, which I like.”

Marsalis studied trombone from the age of 13 and attended the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts high school.

Classically trained, Marsalis produced his first recording at 17 and has since produced more than 75 more for major labels — several of which received Grammy Awards. In 1996 his production skills earned him a 3M Visionary Award.

As a noted trombonist he has toured with such legendary figures as Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Slide Hampton and Max Roach, as well as taking his own modern jazz ensemble on the road.

He enjoys touring, where he gets to see new places and meet new people, and adds with a chuckle: “Fewer people would get divorced if they travelled. It’s much better than being in the house all the time.”

Asked to comment on the general state of American music, Marsalis observed that the desire to create something new has tilted towards European influences and away from what he considers the African element. “The rhythmic swing component,” he said. “Which is actually American-based but coming from the African tradition was giving way to European influences, and I think the folk are kind of losing the path.”

He also feels there is less collaboration between the older musicians and the younger generation today, and there should be more of a “give-and-take” situation. “All of my favourite recordings, which happen to feature members of my family include the older and the younger generations. The older musician has that experience and that knowledge and just the calm. The younger musician has that energy and that reckless abandon. And when you combine the two they keep each other in check.”

Asked what message he would give a person wanting to become a musician.he replied succinctly: “Love music.”

And that, possibly, sums up Marsalis’s take on life.

The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz takes place from August 23 to 25. Book at Computicket. Visit:

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Peter Feldman
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