When Delfeayo Marsalis was last in Toledo two years ago, the music was an exercise in elegance and virtuosic jazz sophistication.
He was at the ornate Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle on Valentine’s Day performing his Sweet Thunder show that mixed the music of Louis Armstrong with the words of Shakespeare.
When he plays here this week, expect something considerably different. This time he’s bringing the funk.
“This is going to be more like the way we jam in New Orleans and more like what we do with our uptown jazz orchestra where we play with riffs and create our own spontaneous arrangements on the spot,” he said. “We can really expand the New Orleans sound.”
Adding to the Crescent City vibe will be a Cajun dinner where concert-goers who pay extra for the event at the Best Western Premier Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Toledo can eat authentic New Orleans food at a buffet-style dinner.
The blow-out with the jazz trombonist and his band featuring saxophone player Victor Goines, drummer Winard Harper, and other players is part of a special event presented by the Art Tatum Jazz Society.
In addition to his music, he will speak Thursday night at the museum.
While he’s in Toledo, Marsalis, a member of America’s first family of jazz that includes father Ellis, Sr., and brothers Wynton, Branford, and Jason Marsalis, will visit the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library Thursday to read his children’s book No Cell Phone Day.
The book is the result of his effort to promote “old school” interaction by children and their parents. He said the impetus for it was the direct result of a decision he made about four years ago with his then 8-year-old daughter.
“One day I just decided that we would actually have a no cell phone day and she was much more excited about it than me,” he said, laughing.
Marsalis said that as a busy musician and educator he felt like he wasn’t spending enough time with his daughter.
“It’s based on the true story of what we did. We planned it out in advance and just said what are the different things we can do. We went to the aquarium and the park and she was telling everyone. As she was saying then, ‘We’re having a no cell-a-phone day,’” Marsalis said.
Education is a key component of Marsalis’ work and he frequently collaborates on projects with the Uptown Music Theatre in New Orleans and plays with younger musicians.
“One idea that is prevalent in New Orleans is apprenticeship and the older person being responsible for the younger person,” he said.
He told an anecdote about a great uncle who was well into his 80s when Marsalis was 10 years old. The old man was a laborer who did construction work and chiseled tomb stones, but he imparted lessons on the boy who was destined to be an artist that stuck with him.
“He took it upon himself to show me what his skills were and I guess to bring me into the fold,” Marsalis, 48, said.
Providing mentorship and listening to what young musicians have to say is an important element of the jazz experience, he said. But there are limits and times when the grown-up has to draw the line.
“You want to learn from what the youngsters are doing, but you also have to let them understand that you’re the adult. And the example that I would use is that when my jazz orchestra goes to play we wear suits. I love to wear a suit when I play — I love the look of it — and when we go to a school and some of the younger guys will try to convince me that we should try to wear jeans and maybe a button-up shirt or maybe a T-shirt because we really need to reach the people where they are, we need to approach the students kind of on their level, and I say, ‘Man that is the worst mistake you can make as adult.’”
Playing with soul
A recurrent theme in Marsalis’ work is the unfortunate trend in jazz that puts a heavy emphasis on perfect technique and instrumental proficiency at the expense of emotion and soul. His next CD will be released in October and it features him playing with his pianist father Ellis Marsalis, Sr., and two other musicians.
Called “The Last Southern Gentlemen,” it will explore the gentility and social decorum that were present in the South in the late 18th century and early 19th century. At the same time, the music expresses the roots of jazz and its emphasis on being an art form that was designed for the general public.
“It was a relationship with the people on a real level. That’s the idea, to bring back that and say you don’t only have to play music that regular people don’t understand, which I think is the jazz man’s curse for college musicians today,” he said.
Meanwhile, he and his daughter are planning another no cell phone day sometime soon and he instituted a mini-technology ban on her and a group of cousins who were visiting this summer.
Nothing major, but when they go on an outing with him he makes them keep the electronics at home. Uncle Delfeayo’s lessons also are popular with their parents.
“The idea today for kids is that everything is boring. I’m telling them, ‘Man, you can’t be excited and riveted every particular moment.’ And playing video games in itself is pretty boring in its own way,” he said, chuckling.
“It’s something that I practice with them and I tell the parents that they’re not going to have access to their cell phones for the next three hours. And the parents are always like, ‘Good.’”
Admission to Wednesday night’s Party Like It’s Mardi Gras New Orleans Jazz and Food at the Great Western Premier Grand Plaza Hotel, 444 N. Summit St., will be $55 for Art Tatum Jazz Society members and $65 for nonmembers and will feature music and a buffet of New Orleans-style food. Tickets for an after-show champagne reception with Marsalis are $75 for members and $85 for nonmembers. For ticket information, go to www.arttatumjazzsociety.com. Doors open at 7 p.m.
The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library will host Marsalis’ reading “No Cell Phone Day” at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Children’s Library at the Main Library, 325 Michigan St. This event is free and open to the public. He also will read the book at the museum at 2 p.m. Thursday and later will be at the museum at 7 in the Great Gallery to give a talk entitled Be Creative, It’s Cool Like Jazz.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.