A man strides to the center of the dark stage, confident in his shiny gray suit. He sings, “I’m not promising the moon/I’m not promising a rainbow/Just a practical solution/To a solitary life…” A man in a vest and tie appears next to the first and echoes the singer’s sentiment without words, the plaintive cry of his saxophone filling the room.These two musicians will soon grace the stage of Sauder Hall. Vocalist Kurt Elling and saxophonist Branford Marsalis are touring in support of their Grammy-nominated jazz collaboration Upward Spiral. Marsalis and Elling will joined by the other three members of Marsalis’s quartet.
Many people know Marsalis through Branford’s acclaimed brother Wynton, but Branford himself is not without acclaim. In addition to producing over 30 albums, Branford Marsalis has played with several well-known acts such as Sting (of The Police), Phil Collins, The Grateful Dead and Dave Matthews Band.
Jacob Penner, a senior at Goshen and an active member of GC’s Lavender Jazz ensemble, is excited for a chance to see Marsalis play again, especially because of the synergy of the group.
“I did see this quartet play in Wichita during high school,” said Penner. “It’s the same quartet–the same people that have stayed together for several years now. That’s not something that happens all that often–in jazz, at least. They’re really tight and they feed off each other.”
Kurt Elling also has an impressive résumé, including eight Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Album and international jazz awards from Scotland, Holland and the U.K.
Brian Mast, managing director at the Music Center, said he first saw Elling at a conference in Manhattan.
“I heard him at Birdland Jazz Club and he’s fantastic,” said Mast. “His quartet was amazing; his audience rapport was amazing; it was great to see him live, and so he’s been on our radar for several years.”
When Mast heard of Elling’s collaboration with Branford Marsalis, he thought it was a great pairing because both artists are so skilled in their respective fields.
“You have Branford Marsalis–jazz people know that name–and you have Kurt Elling–jazz vocalists know that name. So to have these two artists together, hopefully you’re drawing in a larger crowd.”
Penner agrees that the combination of vocal and instrumental jazz will make for an engaging show.
“The saxophone and the baritone: that’s a pairing that’s shown up before in jazz history. I think it’s a really special combination of instruments,” he said.
Regardless of the instrumentation, Penner is looking forward to the emotion and energy of the musicians during their performance.
“What I like most about live jazz is watching the communication that happens onstage,” said Penner. “They’re visually communicating with each other, but so much of it is just through ear and it’s as much fun to watch as it is to listen to.”
Kurt Elling and the Branford Marsalis Quartet will perform this coming Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Sauder Hall. $10 student rush tickets will be available through the Welcome Center or at the Music Center box office right before the show.