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Another Marsalis heard from

Trombonist Delfeayo steps out from the large shadows cast by his famous older siblings.

January 06, 2007|Howard Reich | Chicago Tribune

For roughly two decades, the name "Marsalis" practically has been synonymous with jazz, thanks to the work of trumpeter Wynton and saxophonist Branford, his elder brothers.

But there's another Marsalis who may be on the verge of attaining wide recognition: trombonist Delfeayo (pronounced DEL-fee-oh).

Though not the youngest musician in the family (that would be another brother, drummer Jason), Delfeayo Marsalis, 41, ranks among the more accomplished jazz instrumentalists today -- even if the general public hardly knows it. Having spent much of his career in a glass booth -- thriving as a producer of recordings by his elder brothers and others -- the younger Marsalis hasn't received a fraction of the attention he deserves as a virtuoso trombonist.

But that may be changing. With "Minions Dominion" (Troubadour Jass) -- recorded a few years ago and recently released -- to his credit and a national tour, Marsalis finally is stepping wholly into the spotlight.

"I think this is the turning point," says Marsalis, speaking from his home in New Orleans. "The first 10 or 12 years of my career were dedicated to Branford, and the eight years after that to Wynton, and I learned a tremendous amount. Now I'm ready to deal with it."

Having launched his recording career as bandleader with "Pontius Pilate's Decision" in 1992 and followed it with "Musashi" in 1997, Marsalis has been silent for nearly a decade, at least as a featured recording artist.

With "Minions Dominion" he comes out swinging, offering sleekly arranged original compositions -- as well as a couple of standards -- featuring such estimable players as brother Branford, New Orleanian saxophonist Donald Harrison, veteran pianist Mulgrew Miller and the late drum legend Elvin Jones.

Marsalis regards "Minions Dominion" as a reaffirmation of his back-to-the-roots musical philosophy. Uninterested in inventing new jazz languages, he prefers to refine the eternal, All-American verities of the music, placing particular emphasis on swing rhythm and robust-but-accessible solos.

"With the European influence on the music these days, there are not as many guys that are really dedicated to swinging," says Marsalis. "Now the guys who want to create this new sound and have this new music, that's great. But I much would prefer to bring new elements to that basic American sound. I'm not trying to create a hybrid new music.... Straight ahead -- that's where I'm coming from."

Marsalis can't say exactly why he's transitioning from producing to performing, but his father, the noted jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, has a theory.

"When people get to be 40, they have to make certain decisions -- 40 is like a turning point," says Ellis Marsalis, observing that the fourth of his six sons passed the milestone in July 2005.

"I feel happy about the direction Delfeayo is going in," the father adds. "Before, it never occurred to me to wonder: What would it be like to have two brothers ahead of you, Wynton and Branford, playing jazz, and then you're trying to play jazz too?"

The implication, clearly, is that it could not have been easy following in the wake of elder brothers who have become internationally admired artists.

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