There is always something about watching live music inside a church that’s just special, independent of whatever is actually going on there. Part of it is the aesthetics, of course; the interior design tends to lend a certain majestic feeling to whatever is going on there. Such feeling resonates among musicians and audiences alike, leaving all involved inspired to make the most of the experience from their own perspective. But the real key is in the acoustics; the music sounds richer and fuller than it would in most other settings. Bad music sounds decent, decent music sounds good, and good music sounds great.
So what happens when you have truly great music in a place like that? Find out on Friday night, Sept. 29, when ace trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis leads a crackling-hot unit, comprising pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist David Pulphus and drummer Jasmine Best, to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, kicking off Riverside Fine Arts Series' new season. (The intermission and post-show reception feature an exhibition of new silk paintings by Nena Tahil.) Surely the building’s designers, now long gone, never conceived of the place as a locus of live music, let alone live music of this style. But if they could hear it, odds are quite good that they would be as pleased as everyone else.
Marsalis was born into jazz royalty in 1965, the third of six sons born in New Orleans to the pianist Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores. He and his brothers were all child prodigies, whose prodigious output and pugnacious pedagogy essentially laid the foundation upon which jazz music returned to commercial and critical prominence, beginning in the early 1980s. The lion’s share of hype is rightly apportioned to oldest brother Branford, an iconic tenor saxophonist of ferociously diverse tastes (he got David S. Ware signed to Columbia, and he also led the Tonight Show Band under Jay Leno). And then there’s Wynton, who’s probably the single most famous living jazzman, a singular force on trumpet from day one who morphed into the new-school Leonard Bernstein as leader of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
Delfeayo had already made his name as a sideman for masters like Ray Charles, Art Blakey and Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand, father of Jean Grey), as well as contemporaries like Donald Harrison, Harry Connick Jr. and Jacksonville’s own Marcus Roberts. But his legacy was built on the strength of his first album, 1992’s (Novus), a meditation on the death of Jesus that remains a top-five selection within the family’s vast collected catalogue, which numbers well beyond 100 albums.
Since releasing on Troubadour Jazz in 2014, Delfeayo has emerged as an orchestral composer whose work rivals even Wynton’s LCJO itself. Indeed, both have figured prominently in the revitalization of the big-band jazz scene, which is probably stronger today than it’s been in at least 30 years. Last year, he and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra came forth with , an early commentary on the nascent Age of Trump, a hilarious yet pointed set-piece reminiscent of peak-era Charles Mingus.
There is a golden opportunity to see one of the world’s elite jazzmen on hallowed ground—a can’t-miss experience for the cognoscenti—and those who just like good music.
It will be a busy weekend for Mr. Marsalis, a University of Louisville grad who also studied at Berklee and earned his doctorate from New England College. On Saturday, he hosts the Youth Jazz Experience at Eugene Butler Middle School, a joint effort with that school’s Young Women’s & Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YWYMLA) and 100 Black Men of Jacksonville.
The YWYMLA is part of the Duval County Public School system and is divided into single-gender settings for a specific focus on leadership development,” writes Charles Griggs, the Southern District Representative of 100 Black Men. “The school’s male portion of single-gender emphasis makes for an excellent mentoring match for the J100, as we are particularly (but not exclusively) focused on young men.
Bassist/singer Lawrence Buckner will be the music director on this occasion, and he’ll be joined by a team of local musicians that includes the esteemed Dr. Longineu Parsons. “We share a passion for his art, its historical context, and connection to academic readiness,” writes Griggs. “Mr. Marsalis has a deep commitment to preserving the history of jazz and also communicating its impact on today’s music culture to young people. We both felt we could create a dynamic opportunity for dialogue and demonstration with youth that includes performance and participation that might inspire future musicians, and narrow the connection to history.
DELFEAYO MARSALIS QUARTET 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 1100 Stockton St., $35