Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the recipients of its Jazz Master Fellowship for 2011. Among those receiving the nation’s highest honor in jazz are Hubert Laws, David Liebman, Johnny Mandel – and the Marsalis Family, marking the first time a group award has been presented in the program’s 29 years.
I’ll say this: Wynton’s an accomplished speaker/presenter and performer, but we’re not always on the same page. I found his record with Willie Nelson, Two Men With the Blues, to be a lively and refreshing entry into the man’s discography. Others despised it. More collaborations like this, please. I’ll take it any day over Blood on the Fields or Portrait of Wynton Marsalis.
Perhaps what’s even more controversial or debatable (to some) is the programming he’s curating just a few hours north of here at Jazz at Lincoln Center, but I’m not gonna go there now…
I did have the opportunity to meet Ellis Marsalis once, and hear him perform solo at the American Jazz Museum’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, perhaps the highlight of the whole event. An Open Letter to Thelonious is a solid record.
I also dig Branford Marsalis’ Romare Bearden Revealed, which also features brothers Delfeayo and Jason, as it thumps along nicely with tunes like Ellington’s “I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue (With the Sole of My Shoe),” “Jungle Blues” and “Carolina Shout.”
Ironically, my favorite cut on the record is the one without Marsalis – or any other musicians: guitarist Doug Wamble’s solo take on “Autumn Lamp,” where he coaxes some of the most earthy, bluesy tones out of a resonator I’ve heard.
Regardless of my mixed reception of the Marsalis’ work, it’s nice to see the whole clan honored. But they’ll have to split the $25,000 Fellowship Award five ways…but again, people aren’t in the business of jazz for the money, are they?
[see the Marsalis family take on "Struttin' With Some BBQ" below]