Delfeayo Marsalis to Bring Ellington to Mondavi Center

The greatest playwright of the English language will meet some of today's finest jazz musicians when Delfeayo Marsalis and his band bring Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder to the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis. The work, a 12-part suite inspired by the poetry and plays William Shakespeare, which has been called "one of the most remarkable orchestral pieces in all of American music by critic A.B. Spellman, will be played by an eight-piece band in arrangements written by Marsalis, the trombone-wielding member of jazz's first family.

The event will begin at 8 pm on October 9, in the Mondavi Center's Jackson Hall on the UC Davis campus. The event is presented as part of the Mondavi Center's 90.0 KXJZ Jackson Hall Jazz series. There will be a Pre-performance Lecture featuring John Abigana, music director at Woodland High School, in the Mondavi Center's Studio Theatre beginning at 7 pm.

Delfeayo Marsalis, a Grammy Award-winning producer and an expert trombonist who brings both classical training and New Orleans funk to his playing, will be fondly remembered by Mondavi Center audiences for his March 2007 performances given with his quintet in the Studio Theatre. The Davis Enterprise reviewed one of the group's sets as "a truly fierce performance, " concluding that "these guys delivered the goods and left the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation." The band assembled for the upcoming Such Sweet Thunder concert includes at least one holdover from the 2007 performances, pianist Victor "Red" Atkins, as well as newcomers trumpeter Tiger Okoshi, alto saxophonist Mark Gross, baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, and drummer Jason Marsalis, Delfeayo's younger brother. The octet will also include a tenor saxophonist and bassist.

The son of renowned jazz pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis and brother of famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, and drummer Jason Marsalis, Defeayo (pronounced "DEL-fee-oh") first gained national attention as a record producer, working his first sessions at age 17 and going on to produce albums by artists including Harry Connick, Jr., Marcus Roberts, and Ellis, Branford, and Wynton Marsalis. Recent years have found him focusing more on performance and achieving acclaim as a musician to match his achievements as a producer

"Delfeayo Marsalis ranks among the more accomplished jazz instrumentalists today-even if the general public hardly knows it, " wrote the Chicago Tribune. "Having spent much of his career in a glass booth-thriving as a producer of recordings by his elder brothers and others-the younger Marsalis hasn't received a fraction of the attention he deserves as a virtuoso trombonist."

Marsalis began studying trombone at age 13, and attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts high school. He was classically trained at the Eastern Music Festival and Tanglewood Institute. In 1983, Marsalis performed Gordon Jacob's Trombone Concerto with the New Orleans Philharmonic and received the Outstanding Performance Award from the Jefferson Performing Arts Society for his presentation of Benedetto Marcello's Sonata in F major. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music, majoring in both performance and audio production, and went on to produce more than 75 major-label recordings-several of which have received Grammy Awards and nominations. As a trombonist, Marsalis has toured internationally with legendary artists such as Art Blakey, Abdullah Ibrahim, Elvin Jones, Slide Hampton, and Max Roach, as well as his own groups.

A mainstay on the New Orleans scene, he has released three solo albums to critical acclaim, Pontius Pilate's Decision in 1992, Musashi in 1997, and Minions Dominion in September 2006. His scores have set the backdrop for the ABC mini-series, Moon over Miami, the documentaries Streetcar Mysteries, 112th & Central, an off-Broadway production Girl Gone, and the New Orleans Ballet presentations of Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire and Glass Menagerie.

Having studied both orchestration and Shakespeare at the graduate level, Marsalis is an ideal interpreter to approach Such Sweet Thunder. Originally written for the Duke Ellington Orchestra-at the time a 14-piece band-Such Sweet Thunder will be performed in Marsalis' orchestrations, which are arranged for eight musicians.

Composed in 1957 by Duke Ellington (1899-1974), often thought to be the greatest of all jazz composers, and his frequent collaborator and artistic partner Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) following a series of performances by Ellington and his orchestra at the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival, the suite is intended both as a long-form composition and as a series of miniatures that can be played individually. With a title taken from one of Puck's lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream-"I never heard so musical a discord, such sweet thunder-the work includes portraits of characters such as Hamlet ("Madness in Great Ones") and Lady Macbeth ("Lady Mac") and depictions of famous scenes such as the "What fools these mortals be" episode of A Midsummer Night's Dream ("Up and Down").

Critics have rated the suite as one of the great achievements of the latter part of Ellington's career. "The wit and sagacity of his nod to Will Shakespeare makes for one of the most delightful of all Ellington records, " the Penguin Guide to Jazz wrote of the original recording. "Sweet, swinging, perfect Ellingtonia."

Delfeayo Marsalis' performance of Such Sweet Thunder is part of the Mondavi Center's Season of Shakespeare, a set of Shakespeare-related performances, films, and lectures taking place over the course of the 2008-09 season. For more information about Season of Shakespeare, please visit

"Inspired by the poems and plays of William Shakespeare, Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder is a masterful work, filled with emotionally engaging musical portraits and swinging celebrations of Shakespeare scenes, " said Mondavi Center Executive Director Don Roth. "Hearing this remarkable suite played by Delfeayo Marsalis and his octet promises to be a highlight of our 90.9 KXJZ Jackson Hall Jazz series."

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