Sunday, August 29, 2010
JAMMING WITH BRANFORD
Branford Marsalis brought his soprano around to my gig with Lars Edegran's band at Preservation Hall last night and we had a ball. Branford is in town for the Katrina anniversary (he played in a commemorative second line yesterday--see photo). His little brother Jason was playing drums with us and Branford came to cheer him on. During the last set, we asked Branford to sit in, which he graciously agreed to do. I was curious to see what he would do in a traditional setting, since he is known mainly as a modern player and rates with the best of them. From the first bar of the first tune, "Up a Lazy River," I realized two things: 1) Branford has listened to an awful lot of "old time stuff," and 2) he plays with the kind of drive and passion that only emerge when your heart is in the music. On every tune we played, including Dixieland workhorses like "Tiger Rag" and down-and-dirty blues like "Saint James Infirmary," Branford brought something fresh and exciting to his solos. We all know he is a world-class technician on the saxophone, but what I learned to my delight was that he has a sound and playing style that are deeply rooted in the tradition and show, in particular, that he has listened to a lot of old school reedmen like Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard and Johnny Dodds. A lot of younger jazz musicians (and I still count Branford as young at age 50) scorn the jazz pioneers as being primitive, corny and irrelevant to where the music is going today. Branford—who can paddle most of their behinds in any style—disagrees. "That's where it all comes from," he told me after the session, "all of it." I hugged him and thanked him for caring enough about the jazz tradition of this city to learn from the old masters and spread their message. I could say the same about his little brother Jason, for my money the best young drummer in the world [sic]. Jason can play his butt off with all the modern guys, but when he's playing with us at the Hall, I'm hearing Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton and Minor Hall...and Jason Marsalis. What a kick!