Editor’s Note: “Takin’ Five With” is a monthly feature in KMHD’s monthly e-newsletter, JazzNotes. Each month, Deborah DeMoss Smith (host of the Bridge on Tuesdays from 10-Noon) catches up with a different artist of note. To subscribe to KMHD’s JazzNote, just click the link on our homepage. -MF
A potent trombonist, composer, educator and record producer, New Orleans jazz man Delfeayo Marsalis, of the famed Marsalis family, recently performed in Portland. Between sets, he sat down to take five with Deborah, host of KMHD’s Tuesday AM Edition of The Bridge.
1. What would a parade be without the trombone, especially in New Orleans? Without the trombone parades would be shallow bunches of nothingness, people walking around wondering why they’re not in a good mood, why they’re not grooving, and where exactly is that slide trombone that lets you know that everything is going to be all right.
2. Your influences include trombonists J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller, but you can only choose one to sit down to talk and play with. Which one would you choose? I would ask Mr. Johnson to sit down with Mr. Fuller and play with him, and I’d observe. Because whenever you’re around two people, and one has studied with the other — yet has his own unique sound — it’s interesting to find what he was learning. So what I’d ask Curtis would be something different that what Curtis would ask J.J., so I’d ask them to recreate their methodology.
3. Has being a record producer affected how you record your own music? I find I’m not as able to relax playing as much as I’d like in the studio, ’cause I’m always thinking about the final product. I remember Branford saying one time, “Boy, how great it would be to go to a concert and not be a musician, where you could hear the most awful stuff and love it to death and say, ‘Oh, this is so great!’” So sometimes I wish I didn’t have a producer’s ear, ’cause I’m hearing every single thing and I’m ready to stop the tape, and I’m thinking how I’m going to fix this and any little thing. Sometimes I realize how fortunate my brothers [Branford, Wynton, Jason] and my dad [Ellis] and the individuals I produced were that I was there for them and I could tell them that everything was cool — except we need to fix these two bars there — and not having someone else do that.
4. New Orleans music is really about joy, isn’t it? Celebration! Par-tee! We use any excuse to have a good time down there in New Orleans. It probably started with the Second Line, with the idea that you bury someone, but they’re going on to a better place, so you want to celebrate the time that you had to spend with them. It’s really a great tradition and I think more people around the world would benefit from being respectful in mourning but also being able to accept what the reality is.
5. What makes you so quirky? What do you mean? I’m not quirky at all (laughs). But you know it’s taken awhile to just let it fly all the time. I have a younger brother who has autism named Mboya and because of his inabilities to learn I’ve dedicated a lot of my time working with younger people, The Uptown Music Theater [founded in 2000 by Delfeayo] and I’ve volunteered with Children’s Hospital over the years. I think it’s always important to be around youngsters and try to inspire them — then they inspire me!
Bonus! 6. What are some of the misconceptions about you and your brothers? I would say many don’t understand how everything in my family has worked and the kind of impact I’ve had because I’m a record producer. Wynton is most well-known and Branford is well known after that, but when Wynton makes his records, even now though I don’t work for him anymore, he’s not thinking what does Terrence Blanchard think or Nicholas Payton or any of these guys, he’s wondering what does Delfeayo think. Because I set the bar high as for as the production quality. It took me a long time to realize to the degree which my brothers relied on me. I was the little brother, so I helped them out; but not so long ago that I realized that they were really looking to me and trusting my judgment on a lot of things, so some interesting information on how my family works.
For the full edition of November’s JazzNotes click here.