The Branford Marsalis Quartet ‘jazzed’ up the PAC

Ashley Barletta, News editor

On Feb. 1, the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts and Culture (MIAC) welcomed highly acclaimed saxophonist Branford Marsalis and his quartet. Students, faculty and people of the Mercyhurst community filled the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center for “An Evening with Branford Marsalis.” I was one of the students fortunate enough to have attended the concert.

Marsalis enjoys expressing himself through jazz music and has been pushing the boundaries of what jazz is ever since the quartet was formed in 1986. Marsalis not only plays music, but he has also composed music for “Mo’ Better Blues,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” He has also taught music at Michigan State, San Francisco State and North Carolina Central University.

Marsalis opened the concert by saying “the lake is frozen solid.” He and the other members of the quartet had a sense of humor and expressed that onstage to all of us who were there. It was refreshing to me as an audience member because this was my first time at a jazz concert, and I did not know what to expect.

The evening was complete with solos by pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. Marsalis claims he does not remember what they played, but jazz is all about taking something and making it your own, which is definitely one of the strong suits of the quartet.

A big part of the history of jazz is the fact that jazz musicians do not mess up; they simply take the song they are playing in a new direction. As exemplified by Marsalis’ quartet, one of the members began to play his instrument a little differently and the rest would follow. There were even times during each song that Marsalis would step back and let Calderazzo, Revis and Faulkner play for a while, giving them a chance to demonstrate their musical skills.

The music played by the quartet was by no means traditional. Marsalis is well-known for the risks he takes to make his music stand out. Nobody would imagine a set of drums in a jazz quartet, but Faulkner held nothing back when he played them. The stage lights changed color according to the tone of each song the quartet played. When there was high energy, the lights were golden and sometimes even reddish. When the music slowed down and became more melancholy, the lights above shone blue.

The songs that were played throughout the evening last-ed much longer than the usual three-minute songs most of us are used to listening to. These songs had a buildup of intensity as they progressed, with the moments of the highest intensity usually surrounding a solo from one of the musicians. The buildup was long, and the release happened very suddenly. The audience quickly learned that this release did not necessarily mean the end of the song, but we all applauded in the middle of each song anyway.

A good time was had by all on the evening of Feb. 1. I am thankful that I have now experienced live jazz music, and that MIAC is able to bring in the amazing artists that they do. To check out what the quartet is up to, or listen to them play, visit and YouTube. Miss out on this opportunity? Stay up-to-date with MIAC events on their website at