Delfayo Marsalis comes from a famous family of Jazz players, and credits them with inspiring and challenging his music. He’s also well known for his work with music academics and inspiring kids. During his visit to Maui as part of the Maui Jazz and Blues Fest he’ll do a workshop with Maui’s own Benny Uyetake.
We recently caught up with Marsalis for some insight to teaching, Jazz and the trombone.
MAUITIME: You’ve been described as “one of the best, most imaginative trombonists of your generation.” What’s your advice to the next generation of Jazz musicians?
DELFAYO MARSALIS: Love music and don’t be mired down by the institutional approach. I would say academic, but [Louis] Armstrong, [Charlie] Parker and [Thelonious] Monk were about as scholarly as they come. What has always made Jazz great is the diversity of views and opinions by great soloists and bands. Listen and learn!
MT: I read that you’ve composed more than 80 songs that help introduce kids to Jazz. What’s your vision with these programs?
MARSALIS: To provide quality arts education for American negroes was the initial aim, but at this point I’d like to introduce as many students as possible from every background to the type of training I received in high school. New Orleans, like much of America, but especially the South, is a difficult proposition for poor folks.
MT: What are your hopes for the future of Jazz?
MARSALIS: That more students bring back the chivalry in manners in their sounds that was at the heart of its greatest players. Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Parker… all these guys were extreme gentlemen and their music gives testimony. In a sense, Jazz can provide sanity in this insanely irreverent society, but it will be difficult because all signs lead in other directions.
MT: I read that you felt like the trombone was an extension of your personality. What do you mean?
MARSALIS: In the New Orleans Jazz band, the trumpet plays the lead, the clarinet or saxophonist plays harmony sometimes and fights with the trumpet the rest of the time–upset because they’re not the lead instrument. The trombone has to make them both sound good, keep the peace and act as the bridge between the rhythm section and the other horns (playing tuba or bass parts while tailgating). To that end, the instrument suits my personality perfectly.
MT: How many trombones have you gone through?
MARSALIS: Not more than eight.
MT: As a native of New Orleans, how do you think that has contributed to your Jazz career?
MARSALIS: New Orleans musicians sound different from those from anywhere else in the world. It’s a combination of the celebrating and the melodic solo construction. We like for people to enjoy our music more than many Jazz musicians who play for other musicians. Over the years, I’ve stepped up the entertainment aspect of my presentations, too, as that’s what people come to New Orleans to experience.
MT: Was there ever a time during your musical education when you felt like throwing in the towel?
MARSALIS: Not really. Graduate school was tough because instead of taking the easy route and focus on Jazz courses, I signed up for the classical ones, not realizing how difficult it would be to maintain that level of focus after 20-plus years. There have been rough patches in general over the years, but not to the degree that I considering closing shop.
MT: You’ve toured extensively. What are three things Mr. Marsalis must have on the road?
MARSALIS: A swinging drummer, a bathtub and hot tea.
MT: Who or what do you attribute your talent to?
MARSALIS: The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts–the high school where every nationally known musician after 1975 out of New Orleans attended. It’s changed a lot over the years, but it was the best possible educational situation I can imagine.
MT: Your early years were filled with trial and error. Do you think that is a necessary process?
MARSALIS: Early years? It’s a process that I’m still working diligently to perfect!
MT: Maui’s Jazz scene isn’t like anything like New Orleans’. What draws you out here to the islands?
MARSALIS: Have horn will travel! Parts of Hawaii remind me of New Orleans in that it has its own uniquely rich culture. It’s different, but probably similar. I get a good vibe from the island and its people.
MT: What does the next year hold for Delfeayo Marsalis?
MARSALIS: I’m releasing my first quartet recording with my dad, John Clayton and “Smitty” Smith, as well as my first children’s book, No Cell Phone Day! Tourzzing and hopefully more composing–I’ve been slipping in that department. Hopefully I’ll be returning to Hawaii a couple of times, as well.