Branford Marsalis and Berklee Join Forces

By 
Nick Balkin
March 19, 2008
Miguel Zenón
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Marsalis Music, the Cambridge, MA-based record label founded by Branford Marsalis, has joined forces with Berklee College of Music to bring Marsalis Jams to Cafe 939, Berklee's student-run, all-ages music venue and coffee house. The program, an innovative combination of concert performance, jam session, and classroom interaction will be presented periodically during the college's academic semesters as Marsalis Berklee Jams. Launching the initiative will be the quartet of Berklee alumnus and Marsalis Music artist Miguel Zenón on April 2-3. These will be the first concerts in the Cafe 939 space. Tickets for the evening programs are $15.00 and are on sale now on ticketmaster.com and at the Berklee Performance Center box office, 136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston.

The Miguel Zenón Quartet will launch Marsalis Berklee Jams with two public events featuring brief sets by the quartet that will segue into jam sessions on Wednesday April 2, and Thursday, April 3, at 8:00 p.m. Participation in the jam sessions will be open to all Berklee students. During the day, the quartet will present two master classes open to Berklee students only.

"This is 180 degrees from the typical jazz residency," notes Marsalis Music Creative Consultant and Marsalis Jams Director Bob Blumenthal. "Instead of having established individual musicians perform with student ensembles, Marsalis Berklee Jams allows music students to perform with and learn from working bands. While the program is a proven success in a wide range of high school and college settings, the degree of student and faculty talent and commitment at Berklee will allow us to take both the educational and performance components of the Jams to another level."

Marsalis Jams was conceived by Branford Marsalis as an initiative to provide meaningful interaction between established musical ensembles and dedicated student musicians at the high school and college levels. These consist of mini-residencies that include classroom interaction and culminate in performance/jam sessions in which the visiting band follows an opening set of its own music by inviting student musicians on stage to play. Marsalis Jams provides a rare opportunity for students to play with working groups and opens a window into the music's creative process for members of the audience. Since 2003, the program has been successfully presented in colleges and high schools in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Texas.

The Miguel Zenón Quartet, which won raves from students, educators, and listeners when it brought Marsalis Jams to two Miami high schools in 2006, is one of the most impressive ensembles to emerge in the jazz world in the past decade. It is led by award-winning alto saxophonist/composer Miguel Zenón, voted Best New Artist of 2006 in the JazzTimes Critics Poll and a multiple winner of the Rising Star award for alto saxophonists in the Down Beat Critics Poll. Zenón's Quartet also features pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole. The Quartet's visit to Zenón's alma mater coincides with the April 1 release of his third Marsalis Music album, Awake, in which his band is augmented on some tracks by a string quartet and three horns.

The Miguel Zenón Quartet will return to Boston for a full concert performance of the music from Awake on Thursday, May 1 at the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center, 85 West Newton Street, South End, Boston. Ticket information is available at claboston.org or 617 92701707 and 617 927-1739.

Cafe 939, located at 939 Boylston Street, is a state-of-the-art venue designed to showcase emerging student talent, local artists, and national acts that seek a more intimate space in which to perform and connect with their fans. The 200-person capacity, all-ages venue is open to the general public and features high-end PA and lighting systems, video and DVD capabilities, and flexible seating. Music business/management majors are responsible for the booking, marketing, publicity, and promotion of all shows in this almost completely student-run operation. Berklee students also work as ushers, as box office clerks, and in the stage crew.