Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brotherly Jazz

            Jazz groups consisting of brothers are a common trend in jazz.  Whether or not the biological bond leads to a more creative environment, I wouldn’t dare to say.  What I will say is that these brotherly groups have contributed to some of the most renowned recordings, compositions, and live performances in jazz history.

            Perhaps one of the most well known families in jazz today is the Marsalis family.  Branford, Wynton, Jason, Delfeayo, and Ellis Marsalis III are the sons of Ellis Marsalis Jr.  Ellis Jr., an accomplished jazz pianist and music professor himself, passed on the candle to his four sons.  All four sons have successful careers all their own, independent of each other.  However, the four brothers have played together on occasion and continue to carry on their father’s legacy.  Wynton, a trumpeter, has become a leading figure in jazz academia and performance.  He is currently the Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and a very accomplished performer.  Branford is most noted for his work as a jazz saxophonist and for starting the record label aptly named Marsalis Music.  Delfeayo has a successful career as a jazz trombonist while Jason, the youngest of the four, is an accomplished drummer.  The four brothers do not usually tour together but have at times collaborated on selected projects.  Most recently they recorded Music Redeems, a live engagement at the Kennedy Center to benefit the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.  In 2003, the family recorded the album Marsalis Family: a Jazz Celebration.  However, the earliest version of the group appeared in 1982 with the album entitled Fathers and Sons, though Jason and Delfeayo were too young to be included.
            Another famous brother based group is the Brecker Brothers.  Saxophonist Michael and trumpeter Randy teamed up in the 1970s and recorded throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s.  They both embarked on separate careers as well.  Randy was an original member of the group Blood, Sweat, and Tears, while Brecker can be heard on numerous mainstream jazz and mainstream rock recordings.  Michael also was a member of the Saturday Night Live Band in the early 1980s.  The brothers also recorded together as the Brecker Brothers as well as sidemen for each other’s solo groups.  Unfortunately, the jazz community lost Michael Brecker to a form of leukemia on January 13, 2007.  Randy Brecker is still performing and carrying on the legacy he started with his brother.

           Stepping back a few more years, the Adderley brothers appear on the scene.  Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nathaniel became figures in the jazz scene as early as 1955.  As the previously discussed brother groups have also done, Cannonball and Nat led separate careers as well as careers together.  Cannonball started his first quintet in the early 1950s with his brother.  However, it was not until after Cannonball’s stint with Miles Davis that Cannonball gained the acclaim that allowed his second attempt at a quintet with his brother to flourish.  Cannonball Adderley died at the young age of 47 of a stroke.  After his brother’s death in 1975, Nat continued his career performing and recording with many notable figures in jazz.  Like his brother, Nat also suffered from a long battle with diabetes.  On January 2, 2000, he passed due to complications from the disease.

The name Jones is a highly celebrated name in jazz.  Elvin, Hank, and Thad Jones are most often celebrated as musicians for their solo careers.  Elvin, a drummer, is remembered for his work with figures like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner, and Wayne Shorter.  Hank’s piano work with Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Lester Young, and Wes Montgomery earned him the reputation as one of the most celebrated musicians in jazz.  Thad Jones was probably most known for his work as a composer, arranger, and band leader. His first major step in his career was as a trumpeter and composer/arranger for the Count Basie Orchestra.  He went on to form his own group, the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra.  Hank and Elvin played together on albums with other noted artists, but the three brothers did not record all together until 1958.  Nevertheless, they recorded quite often in other bands as sidemen on the same albums.  Elvin Jones died on May 18, 2004 of heart failure in New Jersey.  Thad passed on August 21, 1986 at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Hank Jones died most recently on May 16, 2010 in a hospice facility in Manhattan.
One of the most influential brother groups in jazz was comprised of the Heath brothers.  Jimmy (tenor saxophone,) Albert “Tootie” (drums,) and Percy (bass) formed the Heath Brothers band in 1975.  It lasted for roughly three years until Tootie left in 1978.  Percy and Jimmy continued the group with Akira Tana as Tootie’s replacement.  In 1982, Tootie returned to the group.  Jimmy and Tootie continue the group today, hiring sidemen on an as needed basis.  Percy Heath, an early member of the Modern Jazz Quartet, passed away of bone cancer on April 28, 2005, two days short of his 82nd birthday.  One of the last times the three brothers were recorded together was on a DVD Brotherly Jazz: The Heath Brothers in 2004.  While Jimmy and Tootie continue playing together, they also perform separately.  Both brothers also lead their own careers as educators.  Tootie Heath is currently the producer and leader of The Whole Drum Truth, a jazz drum ensemble.  Jimmy has his own big band that he continues to tour with, performing his compositions and tunes that span the history of jazz.
            Jimmy Heath can be seen during a six day engagement at the Blue Note Jazz Club from October 23rd through the 28th.   Mr. Heath will be celebrating his 86th birthday on October 25th during his stint at the “Jazz Capital of the World.”  His stay will feature Heath’s performance of his own compositions framed and supported by the masterful playing of the Jimmy Heath Big Band.