SFJAZZ, San Francisco, California

Ellis and Jason Marsalis performing at SFJAZZ in April 2011

Ellis and Jason Marsalis performing at SFJAZZ in April 2011. Photo by James Knox, courtesy of SFJAZZ

As part of the 2011 Spring Season of SFJAZZ, San Francisco’s renowned jazz festival, Ellis Marsalis and his quartet performed on April 17, 2011, through the NEA Jazz Masters Live program. Surrounded by the elegant chandeliers and brilliantly colored murals of San Francisco’s 916-seat Herbst Theatre at the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center, Marsalis performed two 45-minute sets covering much from his 2008 album tribute to Thelonious Monk as well as old New Orleans favorites such as Joe “King” Oliver’s “Doctor Jazz.”

The set, highlights of which were several piano solo pieces by Marsalis, also featured his son Jason—also an NEA Jazz Master—on vibraphone rather than his usual instrument, the drums. Other members of the quartet included Derek Douget on saxophone and Jason Steward on bass. One of the memorable performances of the concert was Marsalis’ seven-minute solo rendition of Monk’s “Round Midnight,” which received an enthusiastic response from the audience. Jason Marsalis’ performance on vibraphone rather than drums added an unusual texture to the songs that provided different interpretations of the standards the group played.

SFJAZZ hosted a pre-performance talk with Ellis Marsalis moderated by fellow NEA Jazz Master Dan Morgenstern an hour before the show. Free to all ticket holders of the evening’s show, the talk featured an interactive and enriching discussion on Marsalis’ musical background, his experiences as a father and music educator, and his evolution as an artist. Marsalis talked candidly about experiences in the 1950s and ‘60s jazz scene of New Orleans, transitioning from tenor saxophone to piano, and recording his first jazz sessions. He also spoke about the impact his career as a teacher had on the jazz tradition, including an account of mentoring a young and very talented Harry Connick, Jr. At the end of the discussion, audience members took full advantage of the opportunity to ask them questions.

More than one million people have attended SFJAZZ concerts since its start in 1983, and more than 10,000 musicians have performed—including almost half the NEA Jazz Masters.