Interview with Jason Marsalis – October 2016

jason-marsalis-blue-malletsJason Marsalis is one of the true bona fide jazz players who will be performing at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival next weekend. He will be appearing on Sunday afternoon at the Everyman Theatre with his quartet. Jason is known for being a vibraphone player as well as a drummer but on this occasion he says he has no plans to play the drums.

Jason Marsalis is a fine musician coming out of the New Orleans tradition. Although he had a lot to live up to by following his two older brothers, Branford and Wynton he was still most fortunate to have the guidance of his Father the legendary pianist Ellis Marsalis to help him in his earlier years. I had a chat with Jason during the week and got some of his interesting ideas on where the music is at in the 21st century.

In July this year I moved with my own family to Orleans in France. I spend most of my time touring but I am also working on writing material for my next album. When we come to Cork we will be performing a mix of material from my previous albums but naturally the album I released earlier this year “Heirs of the Crescent City” will have a big say on the playlist”

 You have a regular stateside band so who will be appearing with you in Cork?

“There are a lot of fine musicians in Europe and I like the idea of playing with different musicians for different concerts or projects. Sam Watts will be on Piano, Alex Davis will be on Bass and Shane Forbes will play Drums. These are a bunch of guys from the UK that I have been touring with in Europe.“

 How did you decide to have these particular musicians play with you?

jason-marsalis-on-vibesThey believe in the music I believe in, first and foremost. The music I am playing draws from a lot of places but it is based in the Swing element of the music” Unfortunately not every one is interested in that element of the music but the guys I have, they are! And they really believe in it. The music I am bringing to the table they really enjoy playing. The swing element when they play it doesn’t sound old it sounds modern, it sounds like something that is happening today”

 There was often a noticeable difference between an American Drummer and a European drummer. The American plays with a bit more swing, is this a fair observation?

“That might be changing though” Jason Laughs “here’s why. You have to know about music from 2000 onwards and what has happened in the States especially with the younger musicians in their twenty’s. Some of them don’t have the strongest groove, honestly, there is a lot of folks that felt they have to do something different with the music, which is ridiculous, but lets play along… so they felt they had to do something different with the music and so they eliminated the swing element all together. So this goes on for 15 years and then you end up nowadays with a lot of drummers who don’t want to deal with swing at all and when you hear them play it doesn’t really sound that great because they are not really working on it.

At the same time you have musicians from Sweden “I mean they can Play! Fredrik Kronkvist – Alto Sax is one of the guys from Europe who is really interesting I met Soren Moller a pianist from Denmark while in New York. Soren had some gigs he wanted me to play on, then we ended up making a record, then it was after that I heard Fredrick and said that these guys are doing stuff that is better then I can hear in the States”

 Getting back to his own music I start asking Jason about his two instruments. I want to know how he views his ability on the Vibes compared to the drums?

“I am a lot better on vibes now although I am very proficient on drums because I have played it longer. When I was a kid I started on the drums. I use to play a lot with my Father when I was in high school and up to this day he is the one member of my family I have played with most”


Jason, Wynton and Branford Marsalis

 Wynton and Branford are sixteen and seventeen years older then Jason. He suggests that they don’t often get a chance to collaborate or play together these days.

“We all have different lives and I am out on the road leading my own projects.”

 In terms of his influences Art Blakey is high on Jason’s list.

“ Blakey was definitely one, that album Moanin’ was the first album I can remember listening to. I was always very interested to follow the band additions to the Messengers. Ironically I never got to meet him but my brothers got to play with him. Other drummers were Max Roach, he was one, Papa Jo Jones he was one and even Billy Cobham at a later stage was one.

I did get to play with Lionel Hampton although at the time I didn’t quite understand his music. He was a huge influence on me. When I started to play the vibes I really investigated his music especially for the rhythm and groove elements. Lionel along with Milt Jackson and the recently deceased Bobby Hutcherson were the big three vibes players for me.

 I asked Jason what music he was listening to at the moment? Who had he got on his iPod?

 “That’s a good question because nowadays music is so accessible. Lately I was listening to an album from George Duke call Feel. It was an album he did back in 1974 on the MPS label.

 “To finish I would like to say that I hope the people in Cork, Ireland enjoy our show and have fun listening to what we have to play.

 Jason Marsalis and his quartet will be at The Everyman Theatre on Sunday afternoon, October 30th at 2.30pm as part of a double bill with The Dick Oates Allstars. 

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