A Conversation with Jason Marsalis
By Claudia Vallejo
Click aqui para español- > Una conversación con Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis is the youngest of the Marsalis, considered the first Jazz family in New Orleans and the United States: Branford, saxophonist, Wynton, trumpeter, Delfeayo, trombonist, and Jason, drummer.
Jason started to play drums at the tender age of seven with his father, Ellis Marsalis Jr., the great New Orleans piano player and educator. He died a year ago, on April 1st, 2020, from Covid-19 complications.
We asked Jason about his new album (his seventh) and his view of New Orleans’ musical scene during these difficult times, but we mainly talked to him about his father.
Are you preparing a new album?
I am preparing a different kind of album, music for relaxation and meditations. It was after the pandemic that I decided to play on the vibes of music of that nature. The recording is finished. I just must get the artwork and master recording together. But at some point this year, I would release it via download.
How do you see New Orleans’ musical scene during the pandemic?
It is not the greatest financially because it is very limited. But, musicians will figure out a way to keep the tradition. New Orleans will figure out a way to support creativity and preserve its culture. That is why you have even musicians from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra played downtown on Frenchmen Street on the balcony of “Dat Dog.”
You were busy playing, touring, and recording before March 2020. How has this time affected your career?
Everything came to a stop. I had to figure out other ways and other things to do. I have more of an online presence. I have been doing more postings of videos. I just joined the popular application Tik Tok, and I have been teaching online. I cannot tour, but I have been able to figure out other things.
This pandemic has hit close to your heart, are there any memories you could share with us about your father?
I spent so many years with him playing music, and I learned so much from him over time. It can be hard to pinpoint a single moment per se. I have these different memories of him. He always let me know when a drummer was coming to town who will give a clinic, and we will say, “alright, let’s go!”
I think that there are revelations that I have in talking to other people about my father (laughs). We did a recording, “The New Orleans Collection.” I spoke to the session’s producer, and he said that my father surprised him because he was always listening to something. He was not confined to one era. He always was into music played by young people. Often, the older average musician is only interested in their peers’ music or generation, but that was not my father. He believed in music, but he believed in young people playing the music to keep the music going.
This is kind of a funny memory: We were on a family vacation, December of 97, and we were in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a nice town! Dad and I were walking by this club, and we saw this sign: “appearing guitarist Charlie Hunter.” We were so excited: “yeah, Charlie Hunter is here!” We looked again and realized we had missed him by one night (laughs.) We were so upset! We could not believe it!
Does keeping the legacy of your father put a lot of pressure on your shoulders?
No, it does not! Keeping his legacy is something that I want to do. There are recordings of his that I have that will get released over the upcoming years. At the same time, we will be collecting things as a family: new recordings, papers, or even lessons. I had a conversation recently with Bradford (older brother who plays saxophone) about some recordings and classes that he taught ages ago. We have not decided what to do with them yet, but we will preserve these things. The knowledge and music that he had is not something that will be forgotten, and it is something that we will pass on in different ways.
I know that you played at Snug Harbor recently. How did it feel to be on stage again?
It was great to play in that room again. I grew up playing in that room. It was a bit surreal to be playing there and my father not being around. I played with him in that room since I was seven years old. But it was still great playing there, and that’s something I am looking forward to doing more in the future.
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