CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – The Marsalis family of New Orleans is often referred to as the “First Family of Jazz.” The sons of pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores are among the world’s greatest jazz musicians, with trumpet player Wynton, saxophonist Branford and trombone player Delfeayo.
The couple’s youngest son, percussionist Jason Marsalis, has lately been grabbing some of the limelight with his work on his acclaimed albums “Year of the Drummer,” “Music in Motion” and “Music Update.”
“On all his albums, he has always done a few drum set solos, and he’ll do them in different styles,” David Steinquest, Austin Peay State University professor of music, said. “It might have a real New Orleans second line drumming sound, or a real African kind of quality to it. And what’s really interesting is for the last few years, he’s been playing the vibraphone. He’s so good on both.”
At 7:30 p.m. on March 31, the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet will visit Clarksville to headline the 51st Mid-South Jazz Festival at APSU. That concert is sponsored by Clarksville Community Concert Association, with the support of the Austin Peay State University Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, The Leaf-Chronicle and the Clarksville Arts and Heritage Development Council.
The New York Times described the young Marsalis as “an excellent musician” producing “records that are always worth hearing.” The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Those who value serious musicianship, sensitive phrasemaking and thoroughly idiomatic performances of a broad span of repertoire will find (his) work deeply satisfying.”
The Mid-South Jazz Festival is a three-day event in the APSU Music/Mass Communication Building Concert Hall that was founded in 1961 as a way of bringing jazz musicians to Clarksville to work with APSU students. It has since morphed in the last 26 years, under Steinquest’s leadership, into one of the region’s most successful, professional jazz experiences. Luminaries such as the Joel Frahm Quartet, pianist Fred Hersch and even Jason Marsalis’ older brother Delfeayo have visited the University over the years as part of the festival.
“We wanted it to have that totally professional experience,” Steinquest said. “This may be the only time a lot of our students see a professional jazz group. It’s even hard to find that in Nashville. If you don’t go to New York or Los Angeles, you don’t get to see these people.”
The festival begins on Thursday, March 29, with a 7:30 p.m. performance by APSU’s Jazz Combo. That concert is free, and will pay tribute to Saturday nights’ headliner act and his family.
“The thing that I think is going to be really cool about this is I ripped tunes from Marsalis recordings, which is what comprises our program this year,” Steinquest said. “I guess there are six tunes I’ve taken from three different albums Jason has done. There’s one tune by Ellis, his dad, a great piano player. One by Wynton, one by Branford and one by Delfeayo. The whole program is compositions by members of the Marsalis family. It’s really interesting how different they all are.”
At 7:30 p.m. on Friday night, March 30, the APSU Jazz Collegians and the Cumberland Jazz Project, a community band, will host a free evening of Big Band Music at the concert hall.
“We’re going to be playing some basic tunes, a Buddy Rich tune and a couple of arrangements by Tom Kubis,” Richard Steffen, APSU professor of music and head of the Jazz Collegians, said. “Both bands playing on Friday night are really good. We’ve been working toward this since January.”
On Saturday night, the festival closes with the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet. Tickets for that performance are $25 a person, $5 for students and free for APSU students.
“It’s insane that you can come to campus and see one of the Marsalis Family,” Steinquest said.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.clarksvillemusic.org or by phone at 931-552-6093. For more information, contact the APSU Department of Music at 221-7818.