Jason Marsalis
* March 04, 1977
United States
From a tender young age it was clear that Jason Marsalis had what it took to be great. Jason is the son of pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores, and the youngest sibling of Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo. Together, the four brothers and their patriarch Ellis, comprise New Orleans venerable first family of jazz.

Ellis and Dolores began to cultivate Jason’s interest in music at age three, with the purchase of a toy set of drums. Jason is fond of telling the story of a game he and his parents would play with the drums. “When I was three, my parents bought me a toy drum set and the used to introduce me to an
imaginary audience. They would say, ‘Ladies and gentleman introducing the fabulous Jason!’ and I would come out and start banging away much to my parents delight. I too enjoyed it to the point that I started to go up to my parents unsolicited and say, ‘Dad, introduce me again!’”

By age six, not only had Jason gotten his first real drum set, but he was also taking lessons from the legendary New Orleans drummer James Black. At age seven he was sitting in with his father’s jazz group, as well as playingwith his trombonist brother Delfeayo. Jason was progressing so rapidly as a drummer that in 1984 his father started using him consistently on engagements. Jason was starting to become a seasoned road veteran before the age of nine, even traveling to the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston for older brother Delfeayo’s recital.

Though Jason had also taken up violin at age five, drums remained his primary focus throughout his grade school years. However, in his last year living in Richmond, VA,it was as a member of a junior youth orchestra that he first discovered the percussion section. The following year, Jason gave up the violin and focused exclusively on percussion. In 1991, he auditioned and was accepted to the acclaimed New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts High School (NOCCA). Throughout his high school years he continued to hone his skills by playing gigs with his father and brothers, as well as studying orchestral percussion techniques at the venerable Eastern Music Festival. Shortly after graduation from NOCCA in 1995, Marsalis ascended to the drum throne of a new group lead by virtuoso pianist and former sideman for Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts. Despite a demanding touring schedule with Roberts, Marsalis furthered his educational goals by attending Loyola University in New Orleans, as well as studying composition with notable classical composer, Roger Dickerson. While Marsalis made appearances with such international jazz luminaries as Joe Henderson and Lionel Hampton, he was visible on the New Orleans scene working with a diverse cross section of bands from Casa Samba (Brazilian), Neslort (jazz fusion) Summer Stages (children’s theater), Dr. Michael White (traditional jazz) and many others. It was in 1998 that he co-founded the Latin-jazz group Los Hombres Calientes. While recording two albums with the group, Marsalis also produced two albums under his own name, Year of the Drummer (1998) and Music in Motion (2000), as well as producing reissues and current recordings of his father on their self-owned label, ELM Records.

In 2000, Jason left the Los Hombres group to attain more focus with the Marcus Roberts trio. It was around that time the Marsalis started to play the vibraphone on gigs in New Orleans. This evolved in yet another chapter in Marsalis’ career as he recorded on the vibes with clarinetist Tim Laughlin and drummer Shannon Powell while starting to lead his own band on vibes. In 2005, Marsalis’ made a recording of George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” with the Marcus Roberts Trio and the Saito Kinen orchestra. It was a project that involved fusing jazz and classical music and it was an important moment for the Trio. While this exciting event was taking place in Tokyo, Japan, it was marred by the events happening in his hometown, Hurricane Katrina. Even though his career took a slight hit after that event and living in Brooklyn for a year, Jason returned to New Orleans in 2007 to put the pieces back together. After returning to New Orleans in 2007, his reach with the types of bands widened considerably. Early that year he recorded with John Ellis and Doublewide on a well received album entitled “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow”. He also recorded and produced an album of Thelonious Monk’s music with his father entitled “An Open Letter to Thelonious”. In January of 2008, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) called for him to start teaching the students. He also started working on the traditional jazz scene with musicians such as Lars Edegran and Tommy Sancton at Preservation Hall and Palm Court Jazz Cafe. It was in April of 2008 that Marsalis was asked to play the vibraphone with the legendary Lionel Hampton Orchestra at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans. In fall of that year, he was on a double-bill tour with Double-wide and a jazz-fusion group from Denton, Texas, Snarky Puppy. After that tour, Marsalis would make guest appearances with the group and has developed a following amongst the groups fans.

In 2009, the Marsalis Family would receive the NEA Jazz Masters award. In June of that year, the family would appear at the White House and the Kennedy Center to do a tribute show to their father. The concert was made into an album entitled, “Music Redeems”. Later that year, Marsalis would release his first new album in 9 years and his debut album on vibes, “Music Update”. In 2010, the bassist from the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Christian Fabien, called him to participate in a recording session with drummer Ed Littlefield and pianist Reuel Lubag. The made two records, Christian’s “West Coast Session” and Ed’s “Walking Between Worlds”. The latter would include folk songs from the leader’s native Alaskan Tlingit tribe from his hometown of Sitka, Alaska. That project inspired the group to be named the Native Jazz Quartet, a group that would arrange folk songs into jazz tunes. Their first recording of that concept was “NJQ Stories”, recorded in 2012. Marsalis was involved in another genrebreaking collaboration as the Marcus Roberts Trio released an album with banjoist Bela Fleck. The combination of jazz and bluegrass was entitled “Across the Imaginary Divide” and the unit toured successfully that year.

2013 was a monumental year in which Marsalis released his next recording as a leader on vibes entitled “In a World of Mallets”. The album went to number 1 on the CMJ Radio Charts and also won an Offbeat Magazine award, a New Orleans music magazine, for best Contemporary Jazz Album. Marsalis also participated in a session produced by Bill Cosby by playing vibes for music used in Cosby’s Comedy Central special, “Far From Finished”. There was even recordings from the drum kit as Marcus Roberts released three recordings that year. Two with Wynton Marsalis, “Together Again – In the Studio” and “Together Again – Live in Concert”, and the ambitious original trio suite from Roberts, “From Rags to Rhythm”.

- Below bio taken from basinstreetrecords.com.

Music is always in motion,” states Jason Marsalis, and whenever he’s behind the drum kit or a vibraphone, the music moves with graceful swing and crackling intensity, hurtling away from the familiar into fresh, exciting territory, like a bullet train headed from New Orleans to Chicago and on to destinations unknown.

Music in Motion, Marsalis’ second recording as a leader/composer, portrays this express journey from the past and the present to the future of jazz. The fuel? High-grade, premium rhythm, of course, supplied not only by the twenty-three year old drummer, but also by his team of young engineers: John Ellis (tenor sax), Derek Douget (alto & soprano sax), Jonathan Lefcoski (piano) and Peter Harris (bass). This record taps into the rhythmic potential of all these instruments, as well as new compositional avenues created by incorporating unusual rhythms into the jazz idiom, which keeps the music chugging briskly through seventy-four minutes of sinuous original material.

The track “Maracatu de Modernizar,” for example, is “based upon a northeastern Brazilian dance rhythm put inot a modern jazz context,” says Marsalis. Similarly, the track “Seven-Ay Pocky Way” utilizes a New Orleans second-line groove in 7/4 time, but Marsalis makes a distinction between two types of second-line music: “The traditional style, composed and performed by Paul Barbarin, Jelly Roll Morton, Baby Dodds, and Louis Armstrong, and the funk based second-line of the Mardi Gras Indians, the Wild Magnolias, the Meters, and so forth. ‘Seven-Ay’ is straight out of the Wild Magnolias tradition.”

Tradition, of course, is something Marsalis understands deeply. Not only is he a part of the famous New Orleans jazz tradition, which has created innumerable legendary drummers, such as Warren “Baby” Dodds, Ed Blackwell, James Black and Herlin Riley, he belongs to a renowned musical family; his father Ellis and older brothers Wynton, Branford, and Delfeayo have dramatically influenced the jazz world for almost two decades.

Jason is no exception, possessing the technical virtuosity, innate rhythmic aplomb and the compositional ingenuity associated with his forbearers. But deep roots haven’t prevented him from also developing a refreshingly progressive approach, fueled by eclectic influences (he’s just a likely to reference Igor Stravinsky, Tito Puente and Billy Cobham as Max Roach and Art Blakey) and diverse professional associations in his native New Orleans.

In the last several years, besides studying classical percussion at Loyola University, he’s worked as a sideman in contexts ranging from his father’s modern trio and other local straight-ahead combos to funk fusion bands, a Brazilian percussion ensemble, and even a Celtic group. He’s also joined acclaimed pianist Marcus Roberts’ trio, a partnership fostering creative growth in Marsalis which Roberts recently described as a “spectacular…He’s shaped his own vocabulary far beyond anything I could have shown him.”

In addition, Marsalis co-founded Los Hombres Calientes, a unique cross-cultural group which fuses Latin, Afro-Cuban, African and other styles with modern jazz to create a gourmet New Orleans gumbo. This group has released two groundbreaking recordings, both on Basin Street Records, and, thanks to consistently dazzling live performances, continues to make waves on the international music scene.

Marsalis’ debut recording with his own band, The Year of the Drummer (Basin Street Records), which came out in late ’98, reflected this wide spectrum of influences, as well as the drummer’s knack for incorporating atypical compositions and experimental nuances, such as layered drum over-dubbing and unusual tempos and time signatures. Music In Motion takes these elements to the next level, aided by a band which has developed a tighter, more invigoration rapport, allowing for cohesive sojourns into more challenging terrain.

Marsalis describes the track “It Came from the Planet Nebtoon,” for example, as “our version of group oriented improvisation without changes (in nebulous fashion). The lineage of neb goes from Ornette Coleman’s ‘Free,” to Herbie Hancock’s ‘Madness,’ to Wynton’s ‘Knozz Moe King,’ to name a few, and is still growing. Even though the compositional form is AABA, once the solos start, just hold on to your, uh…well, hold on to something and go fro what you know!”

Of course, there is more straight forward material on the record, such as the tender ballad “On the First Occasion,” or the gentle excursions “Short Story #1,” “Treasure” and “The Sweeper.” But there are also many surprises in store for the listener, such as the short interludes at the end of several tracks where Marsalis’ drums accompany a mesmerizing metallic tonal vibration, which, if you listen closely, is actually a voice from a computer program saying “Music is in motion all the time, always moving, developing…” Deftly woven drum over-dubs on “Discipline Strikes Again” create a fascination network of interlocking rhythmic layers, portraying what Marsalis might sound like with a dozen hands and feet. And a hidden last track consists of an extraordinarily adroit whistling solo, in which Marsalis draws from a vast library of jazz melodies.

For Marsalis, all of these diverse styles, moods, textures and playful investigations are necessary to keep jazz vital as it continues its journey into the next century. “I want to bring a lot of new ideas into jazz, and expand on the tradition,” he says. “If jazz is to keep moving forward, all of the musical styles in jazz history have to be advanced while including musical styles outside the jazz realm. Now that is Music in Motion.
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