Branford Marsalis: Royal Garden Blues

For the title track of his album Royal Garden Blues, Branford Marsalis demonstrates how to re-invent a classic song. While he could have re-arranged the tune into something barely recognizable, he keeps the song intact and dutifully plays the theme from beginning to end before jumping into his improvisation. Pianist Larry Willis drops out as soon as the theme ends, and Marsalis (with the amazing rhythm team of Ron Carter and Al Foster) launches into a free-bop solo. Without the piano, Marsalis implies all sorts of extended harmony that would have surprised the original composers. Marsalis uses bits of the melody all through his solo and displays incredible control on the straight horn. Willis' single-line solo is much more straight-forward, but still offers stretching of the harmonies. Foster is full of fireworks throughout the performance, while Carter's interactions are quite subtle. The biggest shock is when the tune comes back at the end: the improvisations have been so adventurous that if the theme had been edited out on each end and the recording given an original title, jazz fans and critics would have argued endlessly about the harmonic source of the piece.

September 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Sharkey Bonano: Royal Garden Blues

The celebrated maestro Arturo Toscanini, according to legend, once invited Sharkey Bonano to a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic, asked him to play for the orchestra, and afterwards berated his trumpeters because they couldn't get as big and beautiful sound from their horns as the lowly jazz musician. I'm not sure if this ever happened, but Bonano certainly had a full-bodied tone, perfectly suited for New Orleans lead playing, which requires the trumpeter to cut through the layers of counterpoint, both working the melody line and swinging the band at the same time. Fans sometimes dismissed his musicianship because of his on-stage antics and skills as an entertainer. On this live recording, he is clapping and exhorting and setting the festive tone from the bandstand. But he works over "Royal Garden Blues" but good, and clarinetist Bujie Centobie gets in some hot licks too. Good enough for Toscanini; good enough for me.

August 19, 2009 · 0 comments


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