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Jason Marsalis

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Jason Marsalis
Marsalis in 2010
Marsalis in 2010
Background information
Born (1977-03-04) March 4, 1977 (age 47)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Instrument(s)Drums, vibraphone
Years active1990-present[1]
LabelsBasin Street

Jason Marsalis (born March 4, 1977) is an American jazz drummer, vibraphone player, composer, producer, band leader, and member of the Marsalis family of musicians. He is the youngest son of Dolores Ferdinand Marsalis and the late Ellis Marsalis, Jr.

Musical career[edit]

Marsalis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Dolores (née Ferdinand) and Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr., a pianist and music professor.[2] His brothers are Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis III (1964), Delfeayo Marsalis, and Mboya Kenyatta (1971). Branford, Wynton, and Delfeayo are also jazz musicians.

At age 6, Marsalis took lessons from legendary New Orleans drummer James Black.[3] As a teenager, he made his recording debut on Delfeayo Marsalis's 1992 release, Pontius Pilate’s Decision.[3]

Marsalis graduated from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and studied percussion at Loyola University New Orleans.[4] He worked as a sideman in mainstream jazz, funk, and jazz fusion groups (Neslort and Snarky Puppy); a Brazilian percussion ensemble (Casa Samba); and played Celtic music with Beth Patterson.[5][1] He introduced percussionist Bill Summers to trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, and they founded Los Hombres Calientes. Marsalis has also played with John Ellis, Dr. Michael White, and the Marsalis family. Marsalis regularly performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as leader and sideman.

Marsalis has had a long professional career and collaboration with pianist Marcus Roberts. In 1994 at the age of 17 he toured as a member of the Marcus Roberts Trio performing selections from Roberts' Gershwin for Lovers.[6] In 2022 he continues performing with Marcus Roberts as a member of the trio and Robert's Modern Jazz Generation.[7] In a program of Duke Ellington songs at Carnegie Hall with Marcus Roberts, bassist Rodney Jordan, vocalist Catherine Russell, and the American Symphony Orchestra, critic Seth Colter Walls writes "The drumming by Marsalis was likewise individual in character, particularly during "Three Black Kings." (At one point, he made a simple-sounding pattern progressively complex in its syncopations, until he stirred the crowd to applause.)"[8]

At the age of 21, Marsalis released his first record as leader, The Year of the Drummer. "On this impressive debut, his quintet puts together a highly coordinated spin on blues motifs and Caribbean figures. The music is vivacious as it makes its move; all sorts of fresh ideas concerning tempo fill the air."[9]

Los Angeles Times’ writer Don Heckman reviewed Marsalis’s second record, the 2000 release, Music in Motion, and described it as "impressive," "the opportunity to display his technique in everything from brushwork and hard-driving jazz to offbeat meters and Brazilian rhythms...with ease," and "purposeful, intelligent drumming."[10] The record's cover photograph is of Jason standing on the tracks of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad along Leake Avenue in New Orleans.

In 2009, Marsalis released his first album as a leader on vibraphone, entitled Music Update. The album received 4.5 out of 5 stars in DownBeat magazine. Writing in The New York Times, critic Ben Ratliff said that Marsalis was "an excellent musician trying out something risky without embarrassment."[11]

In 2013, Marsalis released his second vibraphone record, In a World of Mallets, as the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet. The quartet consisted of Austin Johnson (piano), Will Goble (bass), and Dave Potter (drums), and each contributed one song to the record and most of the other songs were composed by Marsalis. Marsalis plays marimba, glockenspiel, tubular bells, vibraphone, and xylophone. The record peaked at #1 in JazzWeek's chart.[12] In a review by Britt Robson in JazzTimes -- "In a World of Mallets highlights the growth of Jason Marsalis as a full-fledged vibraphonist" and "..captures the guileless mischief and playful impulsiveness of Marsalis’ personality, and inspires him into a spirited yet still multifaceted performance."[13] In the liner notes Marsalis writes "a debt of gratitude is owed to the original members of the percussion ensemble M'Boom". He dedicates one of his songs, Blues Can Be Abstract, Too, to "all musicians and music students who believe that blues is a primitive old form in which no modern music can be explored."

Drummers Marsalis, Herlin Riley, and Shannon Powell play together as The New Orleans Groovemasters.[14] During a 2020 performance at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in New Orleans, Marsalis's father Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr. sat in on three songs with the Groovemasters. Herlin Riley commented about the performance in International Musician, "Ellis Marsalis passed away on April 1st [2020] from the coronavirus. In hindsight, that March 3 [2020] performance was a special moment at the close of his life and career. He played with his longtime friend (Germaine Bazzle), his youngest son, and in the venue that bears his name and was built in his honor."[15]

The Jason Marsalis Signature Series Vibe Mallets are the first mallets Marimba One designed specifically for the vibraphone. Marsalis is a Marimba One artist and plays the One Vibe.[16]


On June 29, 2003 Seiji Ozawa conducted the Berlin Philharmonic with the Marcus Roberts Trio at the Waldbühne in Berlin. They performed the music of George Gershwin and one piece each by Marcus Roberts and Paul Lincke. EuroArts released the concert on Blu-Ray and DVD in 2021 as Ozawa: A Gershwin Night - Waldbühne Berlin. The video includes a 19-minute documentary, They got Rhythm, about the origin of the performance and includes footage of rehearsals and interviews of Marsalis, Seiji Ozawa, Marcus Roberts, and bassist Roland Guerin.

Marsalis is one of the artists featured in Tradition is a Temple: The Modern Masters of New Orleans, a 2013 documentary film about New Orleans.

In 2022 Music Pictures: New Orleans had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and after the premiere Marsalis performed for the attendees. The documentary is about elder and master musicians of New Orleans, and Marsalis's father, Ellis Marsalis, Jr. is featured. The documentary includes footage of Marsalis and his father recording and footage of one of his father's last live performances at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro where Marsalis was headlining.[17]

One of the stories in the 2023 Grammy award-winning film Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story features Ellis Marsalis playing with his sons Jason, Branford, Wynton, and Delfeayo in the Jazz Test at the 2019 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. At the time, Ellis was 84 years old. This might have been the last time the Marsalis family musicians played together publicly. Ellis passed away less than one year later. All five Marsalis musicians were interviewed and told vignettes about Jazz Fest including Jason recalling meeting Miles Davis at eight years old.

Personal life[edit]

Marsalis was raised Catholic.[18]

Awards and honors[edit]

National Endowment for the Arts[edit]

Marsalis and his brothers Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and their father Ellis were named NEA Jazz Masters in 2011.[19]

OffBeat's Best of The Beat Awards[edit]

Year Category Work nominated Result Ref.
1999 Best Drummer Won [20]
2013 Best Contemporary Jazz Album In a World of Mallets Won [20]
2018 Best Contemporary Jazz Band or Performer Won [20]
2023 Best Other Instrumentalist (for vibraphone) Won [20]

Selected discography[edit]

Jason Marsalis, Aarhus, Denmark (2009)

As leader[edit]

As co-leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b Malhotra, Anita (May 2014). "Interview with Jason Marsalis". Artsmania. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  2. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, March 25, 2012
  3. ^ a b "The Marsalis Family (Ellis, Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason, Branford)". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 2022-08-31.
  4. ^ Wyckoff, Geraldine (2014-11-01). "Jason Marsalis' Eager Curiosity Drives The Constant Student". OffBeat Magazine. Retrieved 2022-07-31.
  5. ^ Dubreuil, Micah (2014-12-02). "Jason Marsalis on His Family Dynasty and Jazz As Open Architecture". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  6. ^ Yazigi, M.P. (October 30, 1994). "PLAYING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD". The New York Times. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  7. ^ Gruender, Martha (June 3, 2022). "Generation jazz: Marcus Roberts and band debut promising new composition". Tallahassee Democrat. Gannett Co., Inc. ProQuest. ProQuest 2672586106. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  8. ^ Colter Walls, Seth (March 25, 2022). "Review: An Orchestra Manages to Capture That Ellington Swing". The New York Times. Retrieved 2022-09-15.
  9. ^ Macnie, Jim (March 1999). "The group is mightier than the pen". Jazziz. 16 (3): 19. ProQuest 194482714. Retrieved 2022-08-13.
  10. ^ Heckman, Don (April 23, 2000). "JAZZ; Spotlight; A Welcome Array of Meatier Fare; Structured sounds from Grover Washington Jr., Brian Blade, Jason Marsalis and more". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-08-16.
  11. ^ Ratliff, Ben (July 22, 2009). "Offbeat, Nabokovian and West Coast Hip". The New York Times. Retrieved 2022-11-08.
  12. ^ "JazzWeek Top 100 Jazz 2013" (PDF). JazzWeek. Trefzger Media LLC. Retrieved 2022-11-08.
  13. ^ Robson, Britt (May 3, 2013). "In a World of Mallets: Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet". Madavor Media, LLC. Retrieved 2022-11-08.
  14. ^ Radanovich, John (2020-12-30). ""For All We Know," Jason Marsalis Talks About The Last Ellis Marsalis Recording". OffBeat Magazine. Retrieved 2022-08-02.
  15. ^ "HERLIN RILEY". International Musician. 118 (8): 12–14. August 2020. ProQuest 2458093585. Retrieved 2020-08-09.
  16. ^ "Marimba One Artists: Jason Marsalis". Marimba One. Retrieved 2022-08-03.
  18. ^ Bordelon, Christine (2020-01-16). "Ellis Marsalis influenced many of today's artists". Clarion Herald. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  19. ^ National Endowment for the Arts (June 24, 2010). "National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters". Washington: National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2010. For the first time in the program's 29-year history, in addition to four individual awards, the NEA will present a group award to the Marsalis family, New Orleans' venerable first family of jazz.
  20. ^ a b c d "Best of the Beat Award Winners: Complete List". OffBeat Magazine. 2011-09-08. Retrieved 2024-03-02.
  21. ^ Chinen, Nate (2016-11-24). "Are You Listenin'? New Holiday Albums From Sarah McLachlan and Others". The New York Times. Retrieved 2022-07-31.

External links[edit]