Seeing one of Jazz’ masters like Branford Marsalis perform is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I had the honor of watching jazz great Marsalis at George Mason Performing Arts Center Saturday night. Marsalis and his quartet played mostly songs from their new album Four MFs Playin’ Tunes.
Marsalis is a renowned saxophonist and composer. Marsalis is a three time Grammy winner, a 2010 Tony nominee and 2010 Drama Desk Award winner for the music for the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences. He has released more than 20 recordings, including his most recent, 2012’s Four MFs Playin’ Tunes.
I overheard an audience member comment how Marsalis has incredible breath control and my professional musician friend, said, “His sound is pure.” We got to watch and hear a genius play that night.
The musicians were: Joey Calderazzo on piano; Eric Revis on bass; Justin Faulkner on drums, and Mr. Marsalis on saxophone. Calderazzo was seated on the left and had his back to the audience, so we could see his fancy finger work. Marsalis was front and center and the bass player behind him. On the right was drummer Faulkner, who shared the spotlight with all the musicians. It was nice to see he wasn’t hidden in the back like many drummers I have seen in other concerts.
The well-dressed quartet came on stage in suits and ties as if they were going to a recording studio, joking and laughing with each other. Marsalis, dressed in a tan suit and aqua-blue tie, looked up and said, “Oh hello!” The audience laughed. He joked how the concert hall was built in 1990, but yet there are no aisles for people sitting in the middle, so “you all are stuck there. Stuck!” During one of the songs, Marsalis was laughing so hard from the on-stage banter that he struggled to start a song, but he quickly recovered. It was so much fun watching the musicians having such a good time playing together, Marsalis also shared this was the last east coast performance until the quartet heads next to his hometown, New Orleans.
The songs ranged from fast paced to ballads. Marsalis joked he can never end a show with a ballad. The drummer was a maniac on the drums. During the songs, Marsalis would play his piece then would silently slip behind the bass player to let his quartet shine while he waited his turn to come back to play. His return was always greeted with applause.
Out of the gate, on the first song it was a fast, up-tempo song, called “Mighty Sword.” The piano started off then Marsalis joined the piano copying its notes, and the drummer, Faulkner, was flying at the speed of light. I was afraid he was going to wear himself out after the first song! He definitely stole the show along with Marsalis. All the musicians are elite in their own right for sure, but that drummer mesmerized me. He used his drumstick in different ways from making knocking noises, to crashing noises to cymbal noises. What a talented musician he is!
Next the tempo slowed down with “Maestra.” This is a mellow and complex song. I enjoyed the piano player getting into it, who started off the song plucking piano strings inside the piano and then kneeling of the bench. And Revis chimed in with an amazing bass solo.
Next came “Teo” by Thelonious Monk who Marsalis called a “fine, fine composer.” Revis again played an amazing bass solo. The Irving Berlin classic-“Cheek to Cheek”-fast and upbeat!
My favorite of the 8-set evening was the final song-“St. James Infirmary.” Marsalis explained that he composer is unknown, but I recognized this song and it was fun tapping my foot to it. It has a heavy New Orleans sound and it is a dirge like song.”It’s about a man who found out his true love has died.” During the song, Marsalis also threw in a quick line from Les Miserables.
An Evening with Branford Marsalis was a great night of cool jazz and fantastic musicians.
Running Time: Two hours with no intermission.
An Evening with Branford Marsalis was performed at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts-4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA for one night only on April 12, 2014. For future events, check their events calendar.
Branford Marsalis Quartet’s website.