Delfeayo Marsalis was at his New Orleans home, shutting out the Mardi Gras-ending Fat Tuesday celebration going on throughout the Crescent City.
“This is the day of all the parades and parties, all that stuff,” he said Tuesday morning. “That means, for me, it’s a day to get some work done.”
That work included talking for a few minutes about his upcoming trip to Lincoln, where he’ll perform at the Lied Center for Performing Arts Thursday with his Uptown Jazz Orchestra, transporting the sounds that were echoing around the streets 1,000 miles north.
“We bring most of what people love about New Orleans,” Marsalis said. “We bring the songs, the feelings, the celebratory attitude. The only thing we don’t bring is the cuisine. We have everything, brass band music, early Louis Armstrong-style jazz, maybe bebop and party music. We call it jazz, but there’s pop and funk and everything New Orleans in it.”
Because it’s from New Orleans, Marsalis said, the Uptown Jazz Orchestra’s music is something of a gumbo, drawing on the blues-based swing at the heart of mainstream jazz and coming from players who grew up on Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown, not straight jazz cats.
“The real New Orleans sound is funky,” Marsalis said. “It’s funk based, it’s not bebop. It goes back to the African drums and the rhythms. It feels different.”
And it will sound different than the recordings or sheet music performances of the often familiar songs. The 16-piece Uptown Jazz Orchestra is definitely not a repertory band.
“Some folks want to play Duke Ellington music the way he played it,” Marsalis said. “I have no interest in that at all. … If you go to see a concert of Beethoven’s music, that’s what it’s going to be. The tempo may be a little faster or a little slower, but it’s going to be Beethoven’s music, the way it is written. In jazz, we like to prepare ourselves to change it up.”
We, in this case, includes Marsalis, who leads the band on his trombone.
The younger brother of Wynton and Branford Marsalis, sons of New Orleans pianist and teacher Ellis Marsalis, little Delfeayo was drawn to the family profession as a boy when he chose his primary instrument.
“The trombone kind of picked me,” Marsalis said. “It fits my personality. In a jazz band, the trumpet generally plays the lead, that takes a certain mindset. Wynton is perfect for that. The saxophone has to harmonize with the trumpet and sometimes clashes with it. That was perfect for Branford. The trombone comes in between what those two are doing. If they’re harmonizing, you have to show the rough part. If they’re arguing, you have to come in and say ‘everything’s going to be cool.’ The trombones are the peacekeepers. That was me.”
At the same time, he was finding his way around the horn with the slide, Delfeayo also began what has become the second major element in his career -- producing recordings. That, again, was a family affair.
“It was a practical matter,” he said. “Branford and Wynton were at home at the time for their college audition tapes and I was around to record them. They needed somebody to push the red button.
“Then Wynton was always challenging me. Before him, the great trumpeter was Maurice Andre. He’d play Maurice Andre records and ask ‘why don’t these tapes sound like that?’ Well, I was recording on $50 worth of Radio Shack equipment. I didn’t know anything about reverb or anything else. Why was I not getting the sound? That has become a journey.”
Delfeayo Marsalis, who studied performance and audio production at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, became a sought-after producer, working on albums by his father, older brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard and many more.
He’s also got a master’s degree in jazz performance and worked in the bands of Ray Charles, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. He recorded his debut album “Pontius Pilate’s Decision” in 1992 and has been making solo records since.
Marsalis’s new record is called “Party Music.”
“We’re playing songs from that,” he said. “It’s a real funky kind of a groove. It’s a good time. People leave the shows and say they can’t believe jazz is that much fun.”