Story by Phillip WellsFriday the 13th-- Yeah I know, it's the day where everyone is supposed to have bad luck. On this particular Friday the 13th the opposite occurred and I had good luck, because I had tickets to go see the Branford Marsalis Quartet perform at the Chicago Symphony Center. Even though I'm still pretty new to listening to Jazz, I was swept off my feet for the entire hour and forty-five minute concert. Just as I expected, Branford delivered a nonstop performance that had me and the rest of the audience in attendance in appreciative awe from start to finish.
I didn't know what to expect. I'm from the generation of Rap, R&B, and Hip-Hop. I always thought Jazz was "old peoples' music." Jazz was music that I thought had no relevance given that the majority of people from my generation have never even listened to Jazz. Allowed that, I'm studying Jazz and its development, which added to me actually enjoying the performance even more. Experience-wise, I can't describe the performance adequately in words but describing what I saw and heard is a better fit than just saying I had a good time. Imagine a near-crowded auditorium with a 1920s feel decked out in red carpet, dim lighting, four levels of balconies, and a stage front and center. Then imagine the lights darkening completely except for the stage lights shining on a well-dressed saxophonist (Marsalis) and his ensemble consisting of other well-dressed men playing the piano (Joey Calerazzo), bass (Eric Revis), and drums (Jeff "Tain" Watts).
As soon as the first note of a cut from his new album, "Braggtown," was played, my heart dropped and I was instantly hypnotized by the way Branford played his saxophone. Then, near the middle of the performance, Branford switched to soprano saxophone reminding me of Sidney Bechet in his heyday for an instant. One moment Marsalis played the saxophone, then the next he's switching to a soprano solo while directing the members of his ensemble to do their own solos. Right to the end, I was so overwhelmed that words couldn't describe what I had just witnessed, and by the time my brian could relay what I had experienced, I was outside headed for the train where the echoes of Jazz seemed to be all around me. Outside on the street, a performer sat in his wheelchair outside Symphony Center playing the trombone, and when I turned the corner another street performer played the saxophone by the stairs of the Adams and Wabash L station. This tells me Jazz is everywhere and still has relevance in music today.
Branford Marsalis and his quartet's performance created an everlasting impact on me, not only because it was my first concert, but also because I felt a sense of closeness to the performers and their vigor for music. After watching some of the footage of performances generations before my time in the Perspectives in Jazz class at Malcolm X College, I realized that a lot of the performances of the past occurred in big auditoriums such as the Chicago Symphony Center, which not many mainstream performers can accomplish anymore. I can honestly say, like Classical music, Jazz, after years of transformation is a perserved musical form that is still housed in these grand auditoriums and everywhere in our present world. I felt a sense of history being played in my ears with this being one of the oldest genres of music that is still vital today. Jazz is alive and well and Branford Marsalis and his band definitely proved this at the Symphony Center.
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