Jason Marsalis to perform at Annenberg

March 6, 2012

Written by Rita Charleston

The Philadelphia Tribune

Jason Marsalis, jazz drummer and vibraphonist and a member of the famous New Orleans Marsalis jazz musical family, will be coming to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts March 17.

The youngest son of Delores Ferdinand Marsalis and Ellis Marsalis Jr., and brother of Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo and Mboya Kinyatta, the youngest Marsalis has not only inherited the virtuosity and compositional skills associated with the Marsalis family, but has also developed a distinctive polyrhythmic drumming style.

“I started taking piano lessons when I was about four years old,” says Marsalis. “Then I was on to the violin when I was five, and the following year I started taking up the drums. But I will tell you that my parents never pushed me at all. In fact, my mother, who comes from a very musical family herself, said it seemed like ever since I was a baby, music was just something I always wanted to do.”

He explains that when he first started playing the violin, it was hard to play. “And I wasn’t the most serious musician, but I did like playing it. But years later, when I was about 12, a lot of things happened. The instrument got more difficult, and I was losing interest and also getting more interested in classical percussion.”

That happened, mainly, he adds, because he joined his school’s student orchestra and that was the first orchestra he was in that actually had a percussion section.

He says, “I was upset that I wasn’t in the percussion section because that’s where I really wanted to be. The violin was getting more and more difficult as far as playing second position, and I was getting less and less interested in playing it. I wanted to pursue percussion, and so when we moved back to New Orleans from Virginia where we had lived for a couple of years, I decided I was not going to play the violin anymore.”

He made the switch and says that once he started on the drums, playing jazz was the thing he loved the most, adding he that he loved listening to it and knew it was something he wanted to play as well.

Later, his father brought home a vibraphone for him, and the current Jason Marsalis was born.

But even as he grew, Marsalis says he never felt any pressure at all from his family to succeed in the music business. “The only time there was any pressure is if I was doing music I didn’t want to do and was doing it only to please someone else. My aim is, and has always been, to play the most creative music I can that can reach out and communicate to lots of different people. And on the drums, I like opening up all kinds of possibilities, demonstrating that it doesn’t have to be a limited instrument.”

Today, Marsalis says in concert he often alternates between the vibraphone and the drums. In 2009, he released his first album as a leader on the vibes titled “Music Update.” His next album is in the works, and he says he hopes to release it next fall.

A bandleader, record producer and occasional sideman, Marsalis, along with his father and brothers, are group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award. He is also featured in the non-fiction film on New Orleans Jazz Culture, “Tradition is a Temple.”

Acknowledging he’s been very fortunate in life, Marsalis admits that one of the best things about being Jason Marsalis is having three wonderful daughters and a wife who is very supportive of everything he does.

“I’m also very fortunate to have a very supportive family,” he concludes. “I think of myself as a privileged person who has had the opportunity to play with many great musicians and now use the information I’ve gotten to pass on to others.”

For times and ticket information, call (215) 898-3900.

The Philadelphia Tribune