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Published: Thursday, 1/26/2006

Delfeayo steps into spotlight

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Delfeayo Marsalis Delfeayo Marsalis
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Being part of a musical dynasty has its advantages. But is has its disadvantages, too.

Delfeayo Marsalis, who will perform Sunday at the Toledo Zoo Indoor Theater, said that for years he preferred the behind-the-scenes role of record producer, in part because the work was away from the shadow of his famous father, Ellis, and big brothers Wynton and Branford.

"I think there are many pros to being part of the Marsalis family, and there are some cons. But the pros outweigh the cons," Delfeayo said in a phone interview this week.

The 40-year-old jazz trombonist will co-headline Sunday's show with fellow New Orleans jazz artist Maurice Brown, in a concert being billed as "Rusty Monroe Presents: What Is Cool Is Hot."

First off, Marsalis said his home and business fared well in the Katrina catastrophe. "If it's uptown, it's OK. If it's downtown, it was bad. I'm uptown," he said.

Marsalis is thoroughly enjoying his "second career" as a performer after 20 years of focusing on production work, starting when he was just 17.

He has produced over 100 albums, including award-winning discs by such notable artists as Harry Connick, Jr., Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and Marcus Roberts.

In addition, Delfeayo has produced recordings for his father Ellis, who plays piano; brother Wynton, the trumpet king, brother Branford, a saxophonist and former leader of The Tonight Show Band, and filmmaker Spike Lee.

"Most people start off as a player, then eventually get into production," Delfeayo said. "To use a sports metaphor, they usually play, then become a coach, and then the manager. But I did it in the other order."

He started studying trombone at age 13, was classically trained at the Eastern Music Festival and Tanglewood Institute, and won a number of prestigious awards as a classical musician.

He went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, earning degrees in both performance and production. He recently earned a master's in jazz performance from the University of Louisville.

Delfeayo made his debut as a band leader in 1992 with "Pontius Pilate's Decision," on RCA, of which he remains proud even though it was not a big seller.

"It's my favorite, no question," he said. "It was one of the true jazz gems of the '90s. But the situation wasn't really right for people to appreciate it, to get access to it. It's just a great record, even for people who don't like jazz. To me, it's similar to [Miles Davis'] 'Kind of Blue,' because you can give it someone who's not familiar with jazz and they can still enjoy it."

His latest disc was recorded in 2003 and is due for release sometime this year. It features Branford and Donald Harrison on saxophones, Mulgrew Miller on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and one of Delfeayo's mentors, Elvin Jones, the prolific drummer who died in 2003 and is well known for his work with Miles Davis.

"Elvin and I had a similar passion for the music," Delfeayo said. "A lot of times you have guys who are excellent players, who are really proficient. But Elvin was looking to me to provide more for the music. I hate to use the term 'visionary,' but he was looking for me to be something similar for my generation, to provide a vision for the music that had a certain kind of passion, and seriousness, and love, all those things at the axis of the music."

Trumpeter Maurice Brown, 25, whose debut disc, "Hip to Bop," has earned high praise from jazz critics around the country, credits a seminar at age 16 with Wynton Marsalis as inspiring and encouraging him to pursue a jazz career. He has become a regular at New Orlean's Snug Harbor jazz club and considers a 2001 performance with Elvin Jones as a career highlight.

Also performing Sunday will be local jazz stars including Ramona Collins, Jeff Halsey, Gene Parker, The Murphys Trio, Kelly Broadway, Mark Kieswetter, Marion Hayden, Tommy Gearhart, Andre Wright, and Ursula Walker and Buddy Budson.

Rusty Monroe Presents: What Is Cool Is Hot starts at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the Toledo Zoo Indoor Theatre. A limited number of tickets are available for $25 from the Toledo Jazz Society, 419-241-5299.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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