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Delfeayo Marsalis brings his Uptown Jazz Orchestra to St. Cecilia

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Delfeayo Marsalis
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Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra

Delfeayo Marsalis & Uptown Jazz Orchestra play St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids on Thursday, April 14 at 7:30pm.

Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra will bring New Orleans style celebration to St. Cecilia Music Center this Thursday, April 18th at 7:30pm…Delfeayo Marsalis is a member of the Marsalis jazz family, all of whom received an NEA Jazz Master award in 2011. The Uptown Jazz Orchestra plays traditional New Orleans hot jazz, contemporary funk and soul and blues with tinges of hip hop. They’ll bring the party to Grand Rapids. The most recent album Jazz Party came out in Feb. 2020 just before the pandemic, which took the life of father Ellis Marsalis, one of the earliest victims of the virus in the jazz community.

I spoke to Delfeayo Marsalis by phone and asked him if this is album tour that he wasn’t able to continue due to the global pandemic…

Marsalis: Yes. We had a couple of dates but we are always excited to play New Orleans music and especially a lot of Mardi Gras centric.
And that's just a party and a good time.

WGVU: You formed The Uptown Jazz Orchestra in 2008. Was that also connected to the Uptown Music Theater that you formed in 2000?

Marsalis: No, they have different functions. The Music Theater, of course, is for kids and getting the kids into musical theater
We formed the Uptown Orchestra just for the purpose of playing Ellington's version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.
We rehearsed a lot and then right after the performance the guys in the band were like we should just keep this going
and that's how it started. We've morphed into a different kind of a band since then. You know, back then it was more what
would you consider traditional big band sound. Now we've got a lot of the street music and we've got vocals and we're trying to change it up.

WGVU: Well, the perception of New Orleans music in terms of jazz has as quite evolved in the public eye and ears over the last 20 years?

Marsalis. Yes...well, New Orleans is known as a party town. So, you know...the early music was the foundation for all American music.
But what we do now, yeah, you hear, the party in the street, the street sound.

WGVU: And to what degree do you have members of the band bring in ideas and arrangements?

Marsalis: Well, I encourage guys to bring things in. We have our trumpeter Andrew Baham, who is from the 9th Ward...
and now he does most of the arranging... Roger Lewis, who we call the dirty old man...
He's the only founding member of the band that's still around...he brought in more of the brass band sound.
But I like to just keep it open and check out what everybody's listening to and try to see what we can do to bring as many different
styles and sounds that we can.

WGVU: So in terms of the compositions on Jazz Party you've got "Dr. Hardgroove", dedicated to Roy Hargrove, and
"Raid On The Mingus House Party"...talk about these compositions.

Marsalis: You know, we like to make up songs on the spot... "Raid On Mingus House Party" was a song we just spontaneously came up with at
a gig in Minneapolis, Minnesota...it captures the vibe of the Uptown Jazz Orchestra...everybody has a voice, and then
we come together, really what you would say is the democratic sound. I studied a lot of classical music, so if you get to Beethoven and Bach
they might have four or five melodic ideas going, but we have nine or ten. It just shows how we think a certain kind of way together.

WGVU: You also use vocals in a very interesting way, you have the more traditional jazz vocals and also incorporate some hip-hop and spoken word.

Marsalis: Right, so we had Dr. Brice Miller and brought in the song "So New Orleans" and that's a great song, we like to have that party atmosphere,
it's always great. And "Mboya's Midnight Cocktail" is kind of a fantasy about my younger brother, who has autism.
He's non-verbal, so the set-up for that is, he's sitting down at a bar and the bartender thinks that the fact that he's non-verbal, that he's playing
a hard-to-get role...so it's all about her description about what's going on in her mind... so that's a fun song that we like play...

WGVU: What can we expect next from the Uptown Jazz Orchestra?

Marsalis: Our next one is going to be mostly Mardi Gras music, if not all Mardis Gras music...and that's such a great sound, and that's what people
love about New Orleans... that's kind of the direction that we're going in. Sort of like what you hear with Jon Batiste, he's got that blues and
James Brown elements...that's a great combination.

WGVU: Give us an idea of what Grand Rapids should expect with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra at St. Cecilia?

Marsalis: Be ready to have a party all night long.