Jazz & John Brown

Delfeayo Marsalis to perform at Harpers Ferry

Delfeayo Marsalis to perform at Harpers Ferry

October 15, 2009|By JULIE E. GREENE

·Highlights of John Brown 150th Commemoration

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Delfeayo Marsalis' family obviously has a strong musical background.

His father is legendary jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis and two of his brothers, Wynton and Branford, are well-known musicians.

"My family believes strongly in history," as well as education, Delfeayo Marsalis said during a recent phone interview.

So, for Marsalis, it's an honor to be invited to participate in this weekend's John Brown 150th Commemoration at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

A participant in the park's Niagara Movement Centennial event in August 2006, Marsalis was asked to compose a piece for the Brown commemoration.


The result is "Tattered Souls," a jazz production that incorporates Stephen Vincent Benet's Pulitzer-prize-winning poem, "John Brown's Body," through spoken word and lyrics, said Marsalis, 44, of New Orleans.

Marsalis will conduct a group of musicians and a spoken-word artist he has assembled for the occasion; he will also play trombone for the piece.

"Tattered Souls" will be performed 3:30 p.m. Saturday off Shenandoah Street in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park's Lower Town.

In Benet's book-length poem, the poet is done with Brown by the end of the second part, Marsalis said. For this production, Marsalis switched it around so we're with Brown at the end of the piece, when Brown is raiding Harpers Ferry.

Abolitionist Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry "was one of the noble events in history that was necessary," Marsalis said. "He's one of those rare examples of a person who would sacrifice his life for what he believed in. It's an honor to be involved ..."

In "Tattered Souls," there's the country fiddle sound of the South, a gospel element, blues, and more modern undertones for some of the more political actions, Marsalis said. There's also humor, as the piece pokes fun at some politicians.

"I really wanted to capture all of the different flavors of the country at the time," Marsalis said of

Marsalis also is bringing about 20 children from his Uptown Music Theatre program in New Orleans. On Saturday at 11:30 a.m., the youths will perform two children's musicals - about Harriet Tubman and Althea Gibson - written by Marsalis.

The Uptown Music Theatre gives children in underserved communities exposure to the arts, said Marsalis, who founded the theater in 2000.

On Monday and Tuesday, Marsalis will bring his Swinging With the Cool School program into Jefferson and Washington high schools. Through the program, Marsalis teaches youths about jazz music.

For Marsalis, his instrument of choice is the trombone. Brother Wynton plays the trumpet, brother Branford the saxophone, and brother Jason the drums.

"We all picked instruments that were indicative of our personality," Marsalis said. The traditional New Orleans trumpet plays lead, the sax makes the trumpet sound good, and the trombone makes the trumpet and sax sound good, he said, and serves as a bridge between the rhythm and horn sections.

"I think my temperament suits the trombone. You have to be real mild-mannered," Marsalis said.

Marsalis' musical education has continued through his adulthood.

In 2004, he earned a master's degree in jazz performance.

What made him go back to school in his late 30s?

After playing with drummer Elvin Jones on and off for at least six years, Marsalis used a return to school to help him shift gears.

Out of that education experience came "Sweet Thunder (Duke and Shak)," a CD coming out in early 2010. For the album, Marsalis adapted Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "Such Sweet Thunder" for an octet. "Such Sweet Thunder" is a suite of jazz compositions based on Shakespearean themes and characters. Marsalis extended the melodic material and added improvisational sections, keeping the spirit and tonality of the original, he said.

"School is an excellent opportunity to regroup and explore," Marsalis said.

"Tattered Souls" performance

Trombonist and conductor - Delfeayo Marsalis

Saxophonist - Mark Gross

Violinist and singer - Amanda Shaw

Pianist - Victor "Red" Atkins

Standup bassist - David Pulphus

Drummer - Herlin Riley

Harmonica player - Lucy Gross

Spoken word artist - Michael Ellison

If you go ...

WHAT: Premiere performance of "Tattered Souls," a jazz production by composer and arranger Delfeayo Marsalis with Marsalis conducting and playing trombone.

WHEN: 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17

WHERE: Lower Town off Shenandoah Street, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

COST: Free admission

MORE: For more information, call 304-535-6029 or go to

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