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Music legends, past and present, take center stage this week

7th December 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Branford Marsalis Quartet + Kurt Elling – Four Big Nights

It is difficult to believe that the last time saxophonist Branford Marsalis headlined at Snug Harbor, New Orleans most prestigious modern jazz mecca, was circa 1984. At that time, Marsalis, who appears at the club for a unprecedented four-night stand (December 10 through December 13), co-led a group that was put together by the late Earl Turbinton and included the legendary “Big” Nick Nicholas. Dubbed “Three Generations of Jazz Saxophone,” Turbinton’s aim, it is said, was to illustrate how influences shape the jazz world. Nicholas’ blowing (he’s the guy taking the sax solo on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca”) affected Turbinton and thus the heritage was passed on to Marsalis.

Of course, Marsalis, a New Orleans native now residing in North Carolina, has stood on stage at the Frenchmen Street club since then but only to sit in most often with his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis. For these dates, the three-time, Grammy-winning saxophonist is bringing in his entire, highly-regarded Branford Marsalis Quartet with longtime pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. The world-renowned vocalist Kurt Elling will join the group as a special guest. Elling, a Chicago native who also claims multiple awards, is truly a dynamic jazz singer and noted for his unique vocalese and scatting. The musicians are all coming to New Orleans to record an album.



Considering that in 2009 Elling released an album dedicated to the teaming of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane and vocalist Billy Hartman and the resulting classic album, his appreciation of the matching of sax and voice should make his performance with Marsalis an especially good one. This will mark the first time for the two musicians to enter a studio together and it also represents a rare occasion that Marsalis has utilized a vocalist. Incidentally, on Elling’s first album, 1995’s Close Your Eyes on Blue Note, he featured two saxophonists, the great Von Freeman and Chicago native, now New Orleans resident Ed Petersen who is a professor at the University of New Orleans.

Marsalis, one of the most highly regarded jazz saxophonists of his era, recently released The Branford Marsalis Quartet Performs Coltrane’s A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam in honor of the 30th anniversary of saxophonist John Coltrane’s masterpiece. Marsalis is also an accomplished classical musician and continues to perform and record in the genre.

The arrival of the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Kurt Elling at Snug Harbor’s intimate music room is cause for celebration. Showtimes are 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Paul Simon and Friends Pay Tribute

In 1985, producer, composer, pianist and vocalist Allen Toussaint and vocalist Aaron Neville established the non-profit organization New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness (NOAAHH). In part, the idea was inspired by the recording “We Are the World.” Written by superstars Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones, the song was dramatically sung by some 47 prominent vocalists including Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and Diana Ross. Sales from that 1985 project, which in today’s world would be described as having “gone viral” hugely benefited the U.S.A. for Africa Foundation.



In keeping with that spirit of humanity and sharing, a concert to benefit NOAAHH was planned as well as a recording that would feature some 30 or so of New Orleans’ finest musicians. It was a diverse group of artists who arrived at Toussaint’s studio back in 1985 to record “Give Today for Tomorrow,” which was naturally led and produced by Toussaint and co-written by he, Sid Berger and Alan Huard. Rhythm and blues artists were highly represented by the likes of co-founder Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas, Jessie Hill, Oliver “Who Shot the La La?” Morgan, Clarence “Frogman” Henry and the Aubrey Twins. Coming from a wealth of other genres were Pete Fountain, Harold Dejan, the Pfister Sisters and more. It was a love fest.

The 30th anniversary of the founding of NOAAHH was to be celebrated with a benefit concert teaming two of music’s legends, Toussaint and composer, singer and guitarist Paul Simon. Sadly, the world lost the genius and geniality of Allen Toussaint who died on November 10, 2015. The benefit performance, “A Tribute to Allen Toussaint featuring Paul Simon and Friends, will take place on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at LePetit Theatre, 616 St. Peter Street. Simon will be bringing in his own seven-piece group and a band of local artists, the Allen Toussaint Combo, filled with many musicians who played and/or recorded with Toussaint will be featured. They include guitarist Renard Poche, bassist Roland Guerin, pianist Larry Sieberth and drummer Herman LeBeaux. Some of the special guests for the event will be vocalists Davell Crawford, John Boutte, Cyril Neville and Deacon John all of whom demonstrated their love for Toussaint and moved those in attendance at his tribute at the Orpheum Theatre.

Allen Toussaint gave the wonderful gift that keeps on giving – his music.

Drumming Dynamos

What happens when conga player Alexey Marti and drummer Herlin Riley share a stage? The answer: a rhythmic explosion. These percussion dynamos, who meet up at the Prime Example on Thursday, December 10, 2015, both hail from locales where rhythm rules – Marti from Cuba and Riley from New Orleans. Marti leads the group on this night with bassist Pat Casey, trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown, saxophonist Brent Rose, pianist Alton Johnson and vocalist Michaela Harrison. Showtimes are 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

This article originally published in the December 7, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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