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Jazz Master

By Terry Rayburn Mitchell, '93

Branford Marsalis plays the saxophone on stage with other musicians.

Branford Marsalis, one of the world's most admired jazz and classical musicians, hit all the right notes when he appeared this fall with Whitworth's outstanding jazz ensemble at Spokane's Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. In the immortal words of Whitworth President Emeritus Bill Robinson, Marsalis and the ensemble blew the roof off the joint.

Marsalis, a saxophonist, composer, bandleader and educator who has been named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, is the head of Marsalis Music, through which he produces projects for himself and for some of the jazz world's best and most promising artists. The threetime Grammy winner and Tony nominee is the oldest son of Ellis Marsalis and the brother of Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis, all music virtuosos. A remarkably versatile performer, Branford Marsalis has toured with classical orchestras and with Sting, and he has jammed on National Public Radio as well as on The Tonight Show.

Marsalis' interest in helping other musicians is a part of his legacy. Here at Whitworth, he held a jazz clinic/master class including students from the university's acclaimed jazz program and several hundred music students from around the area. After that event, saxophonist Max Bennett, '17, told Jazz Ensemble I Director Dan Keberle, "Marsalis is a jazz purist and very opinionated, but he knows what he's talking about." Bennett went on to say that Marsalis had told him and the other players, "If you want to sound like John Coltrane, then you'd better listen to the jazz players that Coltrane listened to, because John Coltrane didn't grow up listening to a recording of himself 20 years in the future!"

Under Keberle's direction, the award-winning Whitworth Jazz Ensemble has welcomed to campus a number of jazz legends over the years. Such luminaries as Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Arturo Sandoval and Pat Matheny have graced the Whitworth stage during Keberle's 28-year tenure. And this fall, Whitworth hit the jackpot with Marsalis, whose work is known and loved by jazz aficionados throughout the world.