Career delayed by Hurricane Katrina, brother Jason back on track with vibes, drums
by Ashante Infantry
January 10, 2008
His home only suffered minor damage, but 2005’s Hurricane Katrina had a more consequential impact on Jason Marsalis’s career.
The drummer-vibist, the youngest of the four performing Marsalis brothers, had big plans that fall for the record label he runs with his pianist-educator dad.
“He was going to put a record out, I was going to come out with something; Katrina just wiped all that out,” said Marsalis, 30, in a recent phone interview from his renovated New Orleans home.
Even if the devastating storm hadn’t uprooted them – Marsalis to Jacksonville, Fla., then New York, his parents to Baton Rouge, La. – and focused their attention and finances elsewhere, recording just wasn’t feasible.
“Musicians and engineers that I was going to use, they were all over the place. The studio we used to record at was gone. Fortunately, none of the music got lost, but that kind of delayed things for a few years.”
With only a couple CDs under his own name, Marsalis, who has proven an adept sideman, accompanying the likes of pianist Marcus Roberts, saxist John Ellis and trombonist brother Delfeayo, makes his Toronto headlining debut at Trane Studio tomorrow night to kick off the inaugural Fair Trade Organic Coffee Jazz Concert Series.
The musician, who teaches fulltime at the renowned New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, began playing drums professionally at 14 and has also been performing on vibes since 2000.
“It was actually my father’s idea to explore it, because it was melodic percussion. It’s a very challenging instrument. If you miss one note it sticks out a lot more than any other instrument.”
He’ll play two separate Toronto shows, one on drums, the other on vibes, in sets comprised of standards and originals.
“One of the things I’m going to try to develop over time is music that has not been played on vibes, but sounds great on the instrument,” he said, citing compositions by drummer Winard Harper and a Brazilian musician.
The Crescent City resident credits his hometown for nurturing his musical explorations.
“In New Orleans, I could just start doing a gig every Monday and this is when I was not good at all. I could just do a gig at a small place on a Monday night with not a lot of publicity, no major reviews … just start playing, and then after while I started gigging with other people in the city.”
He describes a small, vibrant music enclave that he’s never felt the need to decamp for bigger parts to benefit his music or career.
“There was always a lot of opportunity in New Orleans for me. Plus, I was already travelling a lot anyway, so I was never interested in living somewhere else,” he says.
“I’m going to be honest, and this is probably controversial, but someone needs to say it: Really, New York being the big time as far as jazz music is concerned is actually over, because the major labels aren’t signing jazz and a lot of the jazz legends that were in New York, unfortunately, have died off now.
“It’s a great city and there’s a lot of music, but it’s not what it used to be. Ironically enough though, New Orleans is a better learning town. The community is a little smaller and it’s easier to get around and there’s other music that you can learn, like a lot of the traditional jazz music, R&B, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music. Those kinds of things go on here. New Orleans has always been a great learning town.”