By Stephanie Summers
STORRS — Grammy-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis has played with everyone from Art Blakey and Miles Davis to Sting and the Grateful Dead, and he’s led The Tonight Show Band. Now this NEA Jazz Master and his top-notch jazz quartet will stop at Jorgensen on Feb. 7. at 7:30 p.m. in “An Evening with Branford Marsalis.”
The quartet’s new album Four MFs Playin’ Tunes recently won the iTunes Best Instrumental Jazz Album of 2012. In this new work, Marsalis and his tight-knit quartet, enhanced anew by young drummer Justin Faulkner, play selflessly in service of each song. Compositions include two original works by each of the veterans in the group – Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo and bassist Eric Revis – a cover of Thelonious Monk’s classic “Teo” and the 1930 standard, “My Ideal.”
The deft way the recording flows puts Marsalis in mind of the one-day wonders of Blue Note-style recording sessions. But more time was taken here. Marsalis says, “I feel blessed to have marvelously talented musicians in this band that can play very difficult tunes and hook them up and make it sound easy. This recording is a perfect example. They always hook it up.”
Joey Calderazzo met Marsalis, Berklee roommate of his brother Gene, and collaborated with him on his first album, In the Door, produced in 1990 by Michael Brecker. Calderazzo toured with Brecker’s quintet in his early days. Calderazzo joined the Branford Marsalis Quartet when its previous pianist Kenny Kirkland died in 1998. His compositions and sympatico playing with new drummer Faulkner on the latest album have attracted kudos in the jazz world. Calderazzo has toured Europe as a piano soloist, leads a jazz trio and records on the Marsalis Music label, on which he and Marsalis released their first duo album, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, in 2011.
Bassist and composer Eric Revis ascended on the jazz scene when he backed the great Betty Carter in the mid-1990s. He joined the Marsalis Quartet in 1997. Revis released Tales of the Stuttering Mime, his debut album as a leader, in 2004, and in 2012 released Parallax, with a quartet he brought together for New York club dates in 2009 that includes Ken Vandermark on tenor sax, Jason Moran on piano and Jeff “Tain” Waits on drums. Revis studied under patriarch Ellis Marsalis at the University of New Orleans.
As a 16-year-old, drummer Justin Faulkner played a one-night appearance with the Marsalis Quartet in 2007 and joined the group in earnest in 2009 to replace the 25-year veteran Waits.
Marsalis, first born of the stunningly talented musical brotherhood that includes Jason, Wynton, Ellis III and Delfeayo, received the 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in a group with his siblings and father, Ellis.
The three-time Grammy winner has mastered all voices of the sax and comfortably moves between jazz, rock and classical genres.
His album Creation, released in 2001, closely connected him to classical music. He has played as a feature soloist with leading orchestras in Chicago, Detroit and Düsseldorf and with the Boston Pops.
In 2008 he toured the United States with Philharmonia Brasileira playing solo sax and orchestra compositions by Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. In 2009 he and quartet members joined the North Carolina Symphony to record American Spectrum, and in 2010 Marsalis debuted in Central Park with the New York Philharmonic.
He appeared in Spike Lee’s School Daze in 1988 and coined the signature line, “You’re damned skippy,” meaning “damned right.” In 2010 he was nominated for Drama Desk and Tony awards for his original score in the revival of August Wilson’s Fences on Broadway. Marsalis also was asked to score the 2011 Broadway premiere of The Mountaintop starring Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett.
Last May, Marsalis received an honorary doctor of music degree from the University of North Carolina and has had appointments at Michigan State, San Francisco State and North Carolina Central University. In June, he and fellow New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. were honored for their post-Katrina work in the Musicians’ Village of New Orleans, which included the centerpiece Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, named for his father. Marsalis also performed the national anthem at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
Beyond all this, Marsalis has introduced his Marsalis Jams, including an ongoing series at Berklee College of Music, in an effort to bring leading jazz ensembles into education circles.