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A World Premiere for Kalamazoo

Branford Marsalis

The Marsalis Residency:

In the summer of 2021, Branford Marsalis performed in Kalamazoo for a Symphony summer performance at the Gilmore Car Museum. So began a multi-year residency project that would include the creation of a brand-new Musical Storybook, “Jammin’ in Kalamazoo,” and the commission of an orchestral work written by Marsalis to premiere in March 2024.

The KSO residency was centered around two major events:

  • The creation of a new Musical Storybook, titled “Jammin’ In Kalamazoo,” which premiered on September 19, 2023. This premiere is followed by the publication of a book and audio recording to be shared with Kalamazoo educators;
  • The world premiere performance of a commissioned piece for orchestra to be premiered by the Symphony and conducted by Maestro Julian Kuerti on March 23, 2024. 

Branford Marsalis Talks about his Kalamazoo Suite

As this piece started to take shape, I noticed that all of the movements could be associated with dance.

The first movement goes in many different directions, from melancholy to a blues-based 19th Century strut, then back to melancholy again. The original melody was written as a saxophone-piano duet, which I then expanded to full orchestra.

The second movement is reminiscent of a waltz, while not employing the actual rhythm of Vienna. It is also the movement that best represents the jazz sensibility. The violins state the melody (the call), and the responses come from other parts of the orchestra. The return of the violins is a variation on the theme, which reminds me of a traditional jazz solo that’s based on the melody, and not the harmony, as is the modern approach. Again, the orchestra responds to the “solo” at various points, similar to the way a rhythm section reacts to a soloist.

The third movement represents emotional loss. The title, Vannama, represents the traditional dance of Sri Lanka. While the movement bears no sonic resemblance to the traditional dances, it is meant to tell a story that may have an emotional resonance.

The last movement popped into my head, and I spent three weeks trying not to write it. But everything else I tried didn’t work, and I eventually had to accept what my brain was forcing me to do. I was always curious about writing a piece of music that deals with popular rhythms, as found in this movement, without resorting to the affectations and clichés that are often associated with musicians playing pieces outside of their chosen styles.

Hear Kalamazoo Suite for the first time on Saturday, March 23, with the Kalamazoo Symphony!

Click here to learn more about the Symphony's upcoming concert, Journeys: Shostakovich, Ravel, Marsalis

Tags: masterworks, World Premiere