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Vibing Out: Jason Marsalis at Cafe Pink House

In Music
MARSALIS’ MALLETS: The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet performs during San Jose Jazz’s Holiday Concert Series.

MARSALIS’ MALLETS: The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet performs during San Jose Jazz’s Holiday Concert Series.

Years ago, vibraphonist Jason Marsalis flew up to Seattle to play a studio session with Christian Fabian and Ed Littlefield. Months later, while on an Alaskan radio show, he learned from Littlefield’s answer to the host that they had recorded modernized versions of folk songs by the Tlingit Native American tribe.

“And I’m sitting there like, I didn’t know that’s what that was,” he says, laughing. “I just came in and played. Those kind of sessions can be a blur. Jazz is based on folk music and blues. However, jazz is a music that is also open to other cultures. That just was an organic moment. A lot of these things just happen.”

Marsalis hails from one of New Orleans’ royal jazz families. His grandfather, father and three older brothers are all accomplished musicians. In high school, his father encouraged Marsalis to shift from the drums to the vibraphone, a pleasing, but oft-overlooked instrument.

“It’s melodic and it’s rhythmic,” he says. “It’s in between a horn and piano. After a while, I started to get ideas of what I wanted my music to sound like. And so then I started to follow that.”

Marsalis has been performing live with his father since he was 7 years old. He’s collaborated with bluegrass artists, played world music and jammed with popular fusion group Snarky Puppy.

Today, he leads the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet. The group’s most recent album, 21st Century Trad Band, showcases Marsalis’ dazzling vibes skills, and seeks to bring “the 20th century into the 21st.” He hits whimsy on “The Man with Two Left Feet” and noir-ish intrigue on “Nights in Brooklyn.” On “BP Shakedown,” he flits between darkness and hope in an instrumental protest against the Deepwater Horizon spill that spewed 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. He outros with Texas Rep. Joe Barton apologizing to British Petroleum.

“I was living in New Orleans when that oil spill took place,” he says. “And, it’s funny, honestly, my thought was, ‘Oh, this again?’ There’s been all kinds of oil spills that happen. And they just keep happening, because these companies want to skirt regulations. They obviously don’t really care.”

Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet
Dec 15, 7:30pm, $35-$38
Cafe Pink House, Saratoga

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