Symphony Center Presents Jazz Series Review – A Tribute To Greatness

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This year the Symphony Center Presents season is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Jazz Series.  How you might ask?  Well, they are still bringing in the very best jazz performers to perform in Orchestra Hall, but new this year they have commissioned local musicians to compose and perform original music.  On Friday, November 2nd, the Jazz Series celebrated both ways: first Chicago-based pianist and composer Reginald R. Robinson premiered an original work and then the great Branford Marsalis Quartet took the stage.

Reginald R. Robinson (on piano) premiered A Tribute to the Great James Reese Europe. Photo by T. Rosenberg

First up was the world premiere performance of A Tribute to the Great James Reese Europe.  The commissioned work was written and performed by Reginald R. Robinson in tribute to the ragtime pioneer James Reese Europe, who was a leading figure in the music scene of New York City in the 1910s.  Europe was known for playing multiple styles of music, which was evident in Robinson’s tribute to him.  The composition contained a New Orleans style ragtime song, a tango, a one-step and a maxixe.

It was really neat to see a local musician premiere a composition on the stage of Orchestra Hall.  Adding to the emotion of the night was Robinson telling the audience that while he was writing the music, his mother passed away.  Robinson said that she listened to a bit of the composition before she died and told him to “knock them dead.”  And that he did.  The entirety of the performance was lively and fun, but none more than at the end when the entire band got up, while still playing, marched around and eventually marched right off stage.

After that, the Jazz Series brought out the legendary Branford Marsalis Quartet.  Marsalis and his band have long been recognized as the standard by which every other jazz quartet is measured.   And Friday night was them just showing off.

Branford Marsalis Quartet were just showing off. Photo by T. Rosenberg

They opened with “The Dance of the Evil Toys” which was written by bassist Eric Revis.  It was a jazz masterpiece where each musician – Revis on upright bass, Joey Calderazzo on piano, Justin Faulkner on drums and Branford Marsalis on saxophone – was working in their own world, but still operating as a group, perhaps communicating telepathically?  The result of these masterful musicians jamming away was an on the edge of your seat ride as thrilling as a roller coaster.  When the last note was played the audience erupted in applause in appreciation of the journey they had just been on.  And the Branford Marsalis Quartet was just getting warmed up!

The rest of their performance was just as invigorating.  Seeing musicians of this caliber is not unusual, especially at a place like Orchestra Hall.  But there was more to Friday night than that.  Not only are the Branford Marsalis Quartet the best technically, but they are also given free rein to test the limits of the music.  At times the music was quiet, at other times bombastic.  The band could be wild, and the band could be tender.  All the while guided by Marsalis’ brilliant horn.  They have such a big musical vocabulary that the sounds they produce are other worldly.

Seeing the Branford Marsalis Quartet is to watch a masterclass in jazz music.

For more information, go to:cso jazz series

Photos by:  Todd Rosenberg



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