Known for his "technical excellence, inventive mind and frequent touches of humor," (said Los Angeles Times critic Leonard Feather), Marsalis was called "one of the best, most imaginative and musical of the trombonists of his generation," by Philip Elwood of the San Francisco Examiner.
In January 2011, Delfeayo and the Marsalis family (including father Ellis and brothers Branford, Wynton and Jason) earned the nation's highest jazz honor: a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award.
Born in New Orleans, Marsalis, now 47, was destined to a life in music.
"I remember my dad playing piano at the house, and me laying underneath the piano as a child, listening to him play," Delfeayo recalls. "After briefly trying bass and drums, in sixth grade I gravitated towards the trombone, which was an extension of my personality.
It was a perfect fit, Marsalis told JazzPolice.com.
"The trombone was meant for me," he says. "It fit my personality. The job of the trombone is to make sure everyone gets along, that the trumpet and sax get along. The trumpet is the lead in a New Orleans band, and the sax's job is to make the trumpet sound good; and the trombone makes sure both of them sound good!"
Marsalis' early influences and inspirations included J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Al Grey, Tyree Glenn and Tommy Dorsey. After attending the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts high school, he received classical jazz and music training at the Eastern Music Festival and Tanglewood Institute, and majored in both performance and audio production at Berklee College of Music. He went on to earn a Master's of Art degree in jazz performance from the University of Louisville and a doctorate from New England College
Unlike many musicians who turn to producing later in their careers, Marsalis had a head and a heart for the recording process early on -- as young as fifth or sixth grade.
"My brother Branford showed me how to create a feedback loop on a reel-to-reel machine. At that time there was a real need in the family for demo tapes. In fact, I was recording Wynton when he was in high school. When I was in seventh grade, he challenged me to have his demo tape sound on the same level as Maurice Andre's classical studio recordings. It was all trial and error, and I learned a great deal."
Since age 17, Marsalis has produced more than 100 records for major artists including Harry Connick Jr., Marcus Roberts, Spike Lee, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Roberts, Adam Makowicz, Nicholas Payton, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the projects of Ellis, Branford and Wynton Marsalis.
In addition to earning many accolades, fans and even Grammy awards for his productions, Marsalis has made quite a name for himself as a band leader. His first three albums as a band leader have earned wide praise among fans and critics alike: "Pontius Pilate's Decision" (1992), "Musashi" (1997) and "Minions Dominion" (2006). His January 2011 release "Sweet Thunder," his most ambitious project yet, is a modern interpretation of the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn suite "Such Sweet Thunder." Rather than merely recreating the classic work, which is comprised of musical depictions of characters from William Shakespeare's plays, Marsalis took the work as a point of departure for his octet, creating fresh and new music inspired by the original suite.
"In some ways Sweet Thunder started for me in the seventh grade when I wrote a paper on my great uncle Wellman Braud, who played with Duke Ellington in the 1920s. While attending the University of Louisville, I wrote a thesis paper on Ellington and Shakespeare," Marsalis explains.
"For this project, I went to the Smithsonian and studied the original copies of the music for Such Sweet Thunder. I didn't want to just play what Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote in 1957, but to imagine what they might have written if they were here today, more than 50 years later. To me this is jazz opera without the vocals, telling a story with the dramatic music."
But despite all this talent and the accolades he's earned, Marsalis is probably most popular and best-known as an exceptional trombonist who has toured internationally with five renowned bandleaders: Art Blakey, Abdullah Ibrahim, Slide Hampton, Max Roach and Elvin Jones.
During a tour with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, he was filmed as part of the Ken Burns documentary, "Jazz," and he was an integral part of "Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration," a DVD that assembled all of the musical Marsalis' for the first time and was featured on PBS.
Marsalis and his Quintet perform Saturday, Sept. 22 at The Aud beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, available at www.theaud.org or by calling 888-695-0888, start at $15 in advance for balcony seating and $20 for floor seating; ticket prices go up $5 per on the day of the show.