Jazz from the source

The Shared Sound Festival takes place in New Orleans’s twin city, Rosh Ha’ayin.

Jason Marsalis. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jason Marsalis.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Jewish Agency has maintained a busy activity schedule since its establishment more than 80 years ago, including acting as the de facto government of the Jewish Yishuv prior to 1948. For some years now it has been busy nurturing bonds with Israel among members of Jewish communities around the globe through its Partnership2Gether initiative – formerly Partnership 2000 – which twins towns in Israel with Diaspora communities.
Rosh Ha’ayin’s US counterpart is New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz. For the past four years, that confluence has spawned the Shared Sound Jazz Festival, the fifth edition of which will take place in Rosh Ha’ayin on April 5 and 6. The festival musical purview has gradually expanded over the years beyond the strictly defined boundaries of the titular genre, with fiery pop-rock singer Margalit Tzan’ani in this year’s lineup, as well as veteran singersongwriter Yoni Rechter, who will front a large combo.
The headliner at this year’s bash is drummer-vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, who not only comes from the right place of the world, but he also hails from one of New Orleans’s most respected jazz families. The clan includes renowned 81-year-old pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, 55-year-old saxophonist-composer Branford Marsalis, 54-year-old megastar trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and 50-year-old trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis.
The 39-year-old Jason Marsalis will perform here alongside band members bassist Martin Masakowski and pianist Matt Lemmler. Both hail from New Orleans, and both share Marsalis’s love of traditional jazz and his strong connection with the roots of the music.
“Matt knows a lot of those [traditional jazz] standards and tunes and repertoire,” says Marsalis, adding that, robust ties with the cradle of the genre notwithstanding, the trio’s output also references the here and now.
“Matt also writes a lot of interesting arrangements. Matt and I have worked together quite a bit.”
Marsalis also fronts an outfit called The 21st Century Trad Band.
Some might be forgiven for wondering about the connection between contemporary times and the music that emerged in the Deep South more than a century ago. Presumably, Marsalis feeds off those historic roots but also infuses his work with current energies and sensibilities. The percussionist says he goes along with the blend mindset but also rails against the commercial pigeonholing approach to art.
“What inspired the idea [of the trad band] was the debate about what you call old and new,” he explains. “I truly believe that it’s all about pop culture. There was a time when jazz was a more popular music and a more fashionable music. There was great [jazz] music being played in the 1960s but audiences’ attentions went elsewhere, towards rock music – the British invasion, with The Beatles and all that.”
Some members of the jazz fraternity, including some of its most stellar performers, such as Miles Davis, sought to incorporate that mindset in their oeuvre and to maintain a contemporary competitive edge. But as far as Marsalis is concerned, traditional jazz is as vibrant and exciting today as it was back in New Orleans of the 1920s and 1930s.
“No one ever refers to that music [pop and rock] as old,” he notes. “But it is old. It came out 40 or 50 years ago. There’s a [fusion] band – guys I’m good friends with – called Snarky Puppy. It’s funny because that band is a throwback to the 1970s, but no one will ever say that.”
Marsalis may also have noted that few would ever place the likes of Bach, Beethoven or Mozart in the “oldie” category, despite the fact that their music was created centuries ago.
Marsalis is perfectly happy to connect with the sounds and rhythms that spread out from his hometown many years ago.
“In New York, you’re always hearing about what’s the next new thing. You don’t really hear that in New Orleans. When the Mardi Gras season comes around, no one says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that old [traditional jazz artist] Professor Longhair stuff. We don’t want to hear that anymore. For the people, it’s just part of the music. It’s a part of the culture,” he asserts.
Marsalis has been part of the music and the culture for quite some time. Naturally, with his familial background, he got an early start on his instrumental path.
“When I was three, my parents bought me a toy drum set, and they used to introduce me to an imaginary audience,” he recalls.
“They would say, ‘Ladies and gentleman, introducing the fabulous Jason!’ and I would come out and start banging away, much to my parents’ delight. I, too, enjoyed it to the point that I started to go up to my parents unsolicited and say, ‘Dad, introduce me again!’” Marsalis has maintained an eclectic approach to the profession, honing his skills as a student at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts High School (NOCCA) and later with such luminaries as saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummervibraphonist doyen Lionel Hampton. He worked in numerous combos, including Brazilian music band Casa Samba, the Neslort jazz fusion group, the children’s theater ensemble Summer Stages and with traditional jazz exponent Dr.
Michael White. In 1998 he co-founded the Latin-jazz group Los Hombres Calientes.
He continues to ply his own course through the rich seams of the tradition, which augurs well for catering for all tastes in Rosh Ha’ayin.
And speaking of catering, the twin cities program also features some classic culinary endeavor, with celebrated New Orleans chefs Zachary Engel and Brian Landry titillating the taste buds during the two-day event.
For tickets and more information: 1-700-502-250 and http://www.makombalev.org.il/