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Jason Marsalis 

With pianist Ellis Marsalis and his famous sons, Wynton (trumpet), Branford (saxophone), Delfeayo (trombone), and Jason (drums/vibes), the Marsalis family of New Orleans can stake a claim as the first family of jazz. But if that conjures up images of a father and his sons jamming in the living room, well... that's just not how it was.

Jason Marsalis, who brings his Vibes Quartet to Kilbourn Hall Saturday, June 21, is the youngest of the sons, separated by 17 years from Branford, the oldest. Both Wynton and Branford were already touring when Jason was getting started. Today the brothers have careers and families and they don't get together often. "We see each other when we can," says Jason. "We're aware of what each-other is doing."

Marsalis is amused at how the jazz press has covered the family over the years, including the tension between Wynton and Branford.

For instance, when Branford left Wynton's band to join pop star Sting three decades ago, and Wynton criticized him, Jason says, the press played up a sibling rivalry. The truth, he says, is: "Branford was having trouble with his solo career, and he had to break out. But when Branford broke out, Wynton's band was in shambles. People don't know about that."

People also might not know Marsalis as a vibes player. A formidable drummer in the Marcus Roberts Trio, Los Hombres Calientes (which he co-founded), and his own bands, Marsalis got his first set of vibes in the early 1990's when he was 14.

"I was moving in the direction of classical percussion, but my practicing was inconsistent," says Marsalis. "In the year 2000, I decided I really needed to play this instrument. I started going out playing gigs. I couldn't really play then, but I knew that I had to do this. It would get better bit by bit. Seven years later, I had a band that I was touring with, and I started writing music for it."

Now he not only solos beautifully on the instrument, but he sometimes uses the difficult four-mallet technique.

"Four mallets is a pain in the ass," says Marsalis. "It is not easy. Most vibraphonists use two mallets for solo; if they want to do chords, they use four. Some guys, like Gary Burton, use four all the time. I use it when playing behind soloists. It's about harmony at that point."

He admires vibes players of the past like Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, but he also praises Burton, especially his albums from the 1960's.

There are dozens of videos of Marsalis playing drums or vibes on YouTube, but none of these matches the number of views for a 2010 clip of Marsalis talking. For almost four minutes, Marsalis discusses a fictional organization called Jazz Nerds International. He talks about their lack of historical knowledge, their long and pretentious solos, and how boring they make the music.

He'd been thinking about it for a while.

"In 2000, I was not enjoying a lot of the new music at all," says Marsalis. "I was not being moved by it. I thought that a lot of it was music being hyped by jazz writers and jazz media, but I felt that the average person couldn't care less.

"There were younger musicians that I knew who were into that, but they didn't know much about the older records. Meanwhile, the elements of the music that were understood were now debatable. I'm thinking, why are we debating listening to Lester Young?

"A lot of music coming out of New York bored me. A lot of the swing was taken out of the music. A lot of the groove was taken out of the music. It made the 1970's look like a traditionalist era."

Unlike his brother Wynton, who has also stirred up controversy with his views about the less-traditional directions jazz has taken over the last half-century, Marsalis does not dismiss the fusion music of the 1970's. In fact, Return To Forever's "Romantic Warrior" is one of his favorite albums.

"The 1970's guys knew a lot about this music, even though they went in different directions," says Marsalis. "Herbie [Hancock], Chick Corea, even Jaco Pastorius knew what the history of the music was about and knew how to use it in their own ways. That's what separates Return To Forever, Weather Report, and even The Mahavishnu Orchestra from a lot of the stuff that came later.

"When you got to 2000, that stopped happening and all of a sudden, you started to hear guys saying, 'Well, Louis Armstrong's music isn't relevant anymore.'"

But more recently, Marsalis has backed off the video's hard position. "What's different now," he says, "is that there's other music that I find inspiring, musicians like Jon Batiste and Snarky Puppy."

Jason Marsalis and his Vibes Quartet performs Saturday, June 21, 6 and 10 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall at Eastman School of Music, 26 Gibbs Street. Tickets are $25, or you can use your club pass. Jasonmarsalis.com.

In This Guide...

    Jazz Festival Guide 2014

    CITY Newspaper's guide to the biggest music festival in Rochester! For more coverage, check our website every day of the festival for reviews, blogs, photos and more!

    Festival Information

    The 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival Friday, June 20-Saturday, June 28

    Friday, June 20 - Schedule

    4:30 p.m.: Hilton High School Jazz Band City of Rochester Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 5:15 p.m.: Canandaigua High School Jazz Band City of Rochester Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

    I called up Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's trumpeter Glen "The Kid" Marhevka to discuss his band, its brand of swing, its longevity in the swing scene, its hepcat haberdashery, and its impact on swing. That's right — swing, swing, and more swing.

    Friday, June 20 - Musician Bios

    Akiko Tsuruga Quartet When the Lou Donaldson Quartet played the XRIJF a few years ago, the audience couldn't help but notice a second star on the stage. Behind the B-3 organ playing one great solo after another was Osaka, Japan, native Akiko Tsuruga.

    Saturday, June 21 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: Brighton High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:00 p.m.: Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre (SOLD OUT)

    Saturday, June 21 - Musician Bios

    78 RPM Big Band Starting out as Oktoberfest band The Happy Wanderers, back in 1973, the 16-piece 78 RPM Big Band is based in classic big band, but often branches out into unique versions of contemporary cuts. (JC) 78rpmband.com

    Sunday, June 22 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: West Irondequoit High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:30 p.m.: Newark High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Cécile McLorin Salvant

    If you go to hear Cécile McLorin Salvant at Kilbourn Hall, you might find yourself squirming in your seat. McLorin Salvant has no qualms about singing songs like "You Bring Out The Savage In Me," a tune few have dared to touch since Valaida Snow sang it in the 1930's."I've had time to delve into the history of early 20th-century American music, vaudeville, minstrel shows, coon songs, and some jungle music," McLorin Salvant says.

    Sunday, June 22 - Musician Bios

    Benedikt Jahnel Trio With titles of tunes like "Equilibrium" and "Modular Concepts," you might think the Benedikt Jahnel Trio is too cerebral to enjoy the wonder of jazz. On the contrary, the German-born pianist is a joyous player, with a shimmering, melodic sound and a dynamic touch.

    Monday, June 23 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: John Nyerges Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: John Sneider Student Workshop Eastman School of Music (Room 120) (FREE)

    Vijay Iyer

    If you visit the website of pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, you will be greeted with a blurred portrait of a man, vaguely recognizable as Iyer, dashing through an urban landscape. It's a fitting visual metaphor for the frenetic musical journey Iyer has taken over the past two decades.

    Monday, June 23 - Musician Bios

    Bonerama No, it's not a Vanessa Del Rio flick, it's a four-trombone-powered outfit from New Orleans that makes Phil Spector's "wall of sound" seem like a cardboard fence. This 'bone barrage is the brass band equivalent of a muscle car with a horny teenager at the wheel.

    Tuesday, June 24 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Gabe Condon Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Sophie Bancroft & Tom Lyne Duo Student Workshop Eastman School of Music Ray Wright Room (Room 120) (FREE)

    Louis Hayes

    Louis Hayes was just 19 and living on Detroit's west side when his reputation caught up with him. Pianist Horace Silver, fresh out of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, had heard about the young drummer.

    Tuesday, June 24 - Musician Bios

    Blind Boy Paxton Despite his abbreviated age, Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton is a master of pre-war, acoustic blues. We're talking the storied sounds of Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, and Bessie Smith — to name a few — wrought by a multi-instrumentalist in his mid-20's.

    Wednesday, June 25 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Mel Henderson and Paradigm Shift Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Jonathan Gee Eastman School of Music RAY WRIGHT ROOM (Room 120)

    Diane Schuur

    Through the snap, crackle, and pop of a long distance phone call, and suffering from jet lag, Diane Schuur's voice is still absolutely beautiful. She has just returned from an engagement in Osaka, Japan.

    Wednesday, June 25 - Musician Bios

    5Head Rochester madcap ska skanksters 5Head are full of pants-optional hi-jinx and contagious back beat that starts at your feet and ends with you attempting dance moves that would have put Fred Astaire in traction. This band features lighthearted fun played by some of the best musicians this town has.

    Thursday, June 26 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Nate Rawls Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Ian Shaw Eastman School of Music (Room 120) (FREE)

    Thursday, June 26 - Musician Bios

    Anders Hagberg Quartet If you caught Yggdrasil in one of its appearances at the XRIJF, you've heard the wonderful range of sounds Swedish musician Anders Hagberg coaxes out of his soprano saxophone and flutes. When he plays the gigantic contrabass flute, it's a thrilling journey, filled with percussive breathing and scat-singing, and sounds like the workings of several musicians.

    Friday, June 27 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Vince Ercolamento Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Pat LaBarbera Quartet Eastman School of Music Ray Wright Room (Room 120) (FREE)

    Friday, June 27 - Musician Bios

    Bill Frisell's Guitar In the Space Age Every time Bill Frisell has appeared here, it's been with his eyes on the sonic future; sounds and progressions rarely, if ever heard. This time around, he's got his eye on the origins of his instrument.

    Saturday, June 28 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: MCC Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:30 p.m.: Webster Schroeder High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    George Thorogood

    You wanna survive in showbiz? Wanna last in this rock 'n' roll racket?

    Saturday, June 28 - Musician Bios

    Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys Chuck Mead burst on the scene with the three-time Grammy-nominated retro-hillbilly outfit BR549. With the band officially on hiatus, Mead has focused on a solo career and producing the Broadway hit "Million Dollar Quartet."

    Club Pass Schedule Chart

    View the chart (web-sized) | Download the chart (print-sized)

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