From a tender young age it was clear that Jason Marsalis had what it took to be great. Jason is the son of pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis and his wife Dolores, and the youngest sibling of Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo. Together, the four brothers and their patriarch Ellis, comprise New Orleans venerable first family of jazz. Ellis and Dolores began to cultivate Jason's interest in music at age three, with the purchase of a toy set of drums. By age six, not only had Jason gotten his first real drum set, but he was also taking lessons from the legendary New Orleans drummer James Black. At age seven he was sitting in with his father's jazz group, as well as playing with his trombonist brother Delfeayo. Jason was progressing so rapidly as a drummer that in 1984 his father started using him consistently on engagements.
Throughout his high school years he continued to hone his skills by playing gigs with his father and brothers, as well as studying orchestral percussion techniques at the venerable Eastern Music Festival. Shortly after graduation from NOCCA in 1995, Marsalis ascended to the drum throne of a new group lead by virtuoso pianist and former sideman for Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts. Despite a demanding touring schedule with Roberts, Marsalis furthered his educational goals by attending Loyola University in New Orleans, as well as studying composition with notable classical composer, Roger Dickerson. While Marsalis made appearances with such international jazz luminaries as Joe Henderson and Lionel Hampton, he was visible on the New Orleans scene working with a diverse cross section of bands from Casa Samba (Brazilian), Neslort (jazz fusion) Summer Stages (children's theater), Dr. Michael White (traditional jazz) and many others.
In 2009, the Marsalis Family would receive the NEA Jazz Masters award. In June of that year, the family would appear at the White House and the Kennedy Center to do a tribute show to their father. The concert was made into an album entitled, "Music Redeems". Later that year, Marsalis would release his first new album in 9 years and his debut album on vibes, "Music Update". In 2010, the bassist from the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Christian Fabien, called him to participate in a recording session with drummer Ed Littlefield and pianist Reuel Lubag. The made two records, Christian's "West Coast Session" and Ed's "Walking Between Worlds". The latter would include folk songs from the leader's native Alaskan Tlingit tribe from his hometown of Sitka, Alaska. That project inspired the group to be named the Native Jazz Quartet, a group that would arrange folk songs into jazz tunes. Their first recording of that concept was "NJQ Stories", recorded in 2012. Also in 2012, Marsalis was involved in another genre-breaking collaboration as the Marcus Roberts Trio released an album with banjoist Bela Fleck. The combination of jazz and bluegrass was entitled "Across the Imaginary Divide" and the unit toured successfully that year. Marsalis also managed to do a performance on various percussion at the 2012 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans with Aretha Franklin.
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