My Dinner with Delfeayo (with “Jam” for Dessert)

I sat at my day job desk last Wednesday morning doing, as Prince would say, “Something close to nothing, but different than the day before”, when my cell phone rang. I didn’t immediately recognize the number but I decided to answer anyway.

“Brother Davenport” the pleasant voice on the other end said. “This is Delfeayo Marsalis”.

I was pleasantly surprised. 2011 NEA Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis and I had made a Twitter connection a few weeks earlier, in connection with his fine new album Sweet Thunder (Duke and Shak). We had exchanged numbers and chatted about getting together when his tour and stage show made a stop in Charlotte.  I had sincerely welcomed his invitation, but because I’ve been around this business long enough to know how quickly plans can change, I hadn’t been waiting by the phone. 

Delfeayo asked if was available to join him and his band at dinner that evening; and if I could recommend a place to have the meal. At that very moment, the BlackBerry on my hip began to buzz, reminding me of a meeting that I had on the other side of the office, starting in 5 minutes.  I had to quickly take my leave of Mr. Marsalis with a promise to text him back in about an hour with a suggestion for a restaurant that would seat all 15 of us and have some good vegetarian meal options; at 7 pm that evening.

My brain did double duty during that meeting; partly concentrating on the business at hand and partly thinking of a restaurant for tonight’s meal. I settled on Cantina 1511; a trendy, but slightly funky Mexican place. I texted Delfeayo; he confirmed and we were all set, or we were, until about 4:00 when plans changed unavoidably. We then reset for Thursday night at 8:00.

L to R : Delfeayo Marsalis, Mark Gross, Don Byron, during a performance of "Sweet Thunder (Duke and Shak)" - Photo by Michele R. White

Thursday night came and everyone met. Our party consisted of Delfeayo and most of the company of Sweet Thunder, plus two lovely ladies who loved jazz: Michele White of the Jazz Institute of Houston and her cousin Nicole.  Delfeayo greeted me warmly and thanked me for my efforts in support of the tour. We then sat down for a good meal and even better conversation about topics ranging from food, to families to chivalry (or the lack thereof, especially when it comes to a family style meal) and of course, jazz. There were many laughs, a few thought-provoking moments and one  communal groan, when saxophonist Mark “Preacherman” Gross stood up and told a long story, before leading us in a heartfelt toast. 

I thought the evening would end after dinner, but to my pleasant surprise, I was wrong. Delfeayo told me that a friend of one of the band members was playing as part of a piano trio at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, in Charlotte’s South End; and that they were heading over there to jam. Since world-class jazz musicians playing in Charlotte happens about as often as we get snowstorms, I jumped at the invitation to join them.

Mark "Preacherman" Gross at Sullivan's in Charlotte, NC 2/17/11 - Photo by Michele R. White

The trio was nestled in a corner of the steakhouse’s floor, by the bar, being ignored by almost every patron, as people sipped their cocktails and made conversation. Delfeayo and company exchanged a few pleasantries with the other musicians as they came in and began to inconspicuously unpack their horns. Only a few took notice as David Bryant slid on to the piano bench, replacing the house pianist.

Quietly, Marsalis counted off and he and Gross broke into the head of “Blue ‘n Boogie”. Soon, they were joined by trumpeter Lynn Grissett (remember that name jazz fans), in a formidable front line. The jaded bar customers and those on the adjacent outside patio began to take note. They were used to a jazz trio here and even an occasional horn player sitting in, but this was different. These cats were clearly not from around here. Delfeayo swung through a lively triple tongued solo, followed by a Bird-like statement from the “Preacherman”.

Nicole and Michele

The buzz was beginning to grow throughout the bar. I saw patrons ask the bustling wait staff about the identity of the guests, only to be answered with polite shrugs. By the time Grissett had finished cutting the air with his bell clear tones, and they wrapped up the number, things had become a bit more crowded.    

By now, bassist Dezron Douglas and Shaena Ryan, a gifted young Duke University grad, who usually plays baritone sax with Delfeayo, but tonight had brought her alto along, were ready for action. The rhythm section struck a few familiar chords and the horns broke into “Watermelon Man”, which brought a few “yeahs” from the growing throng. A few iPhones and other similar devices began to materialize in the hands of those on the perimeter. People knew that whoever these cats were, this was worth recording. I heard one person say to another, “I think that’s Wynton Marsalis” another then corrected him, saying “No. That’s his brother”.

Shaena Ryan at Sullivan’s in Charlotte, NC 2/17/11 – Photo by Michele R. White

Michele, Nicole and I soon found ourselves defending our ground; holding on to the spot of prime viewing space that we had staked out. As “Watermelon Man” came to a rousing conclusion, one satisfied patron shut off his iPhone video and declared “Boy! That was worth the price of admission, by itself!”

Before the crowd died down, Delfeayo’s trombone broke through with a burnished chorus of “It Never Entered My Mind”.  At this point, nothing else going on in Sullivan’s seemed to matter; a full-fledged jazz jam-session had broken out, on a Thursday night, in this upscale steakhouse.

As Delfeayo finished his solo, a well dressed, slightly inebriated gentleman walked right up to Marsalis on the “stage” placed his hand on Delfeayo’s shoulder and began a conversation, as Ms. Ryan soloed a few feet away. The ladies and I chuckled at this “breach of etiquette”, but it was so good to see relaxed jazz like this in Charlotte that for the moment, it seemed entirely appropriate…

Delfeayo Marsalis brings Sweet Thunder a theatrical jazz production featuring actor Kenneth Brown, Jr. and a jazz octet-Marsalis on trombone, Lynn Grissett on trumpet, Shaena Ryan on bari sax, Mark Gross on alto sax, Don Byron on tenor sax, David Bryant on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Winard Harper on drums; plus full stage set and costuming to 36 American cities and towns from January through May, 2011. The show is directed by John Grimsley with a script by Charles E. Gerber. For further information about upcoming dates and locations, visit Mr. Marsalis’ website: http:\\dmarsalis.com

Very sincere thanks to Michele White for the pictures that accompany this article. I realized early that we were witnessing Charlotte jazz history that night, but my camera couldn’t care less and died on me at the start of the jam session. Without Michele’s kindness, I would have no pictures to back up my words.

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4 Responses to “My Dinner with Delfeayo (with “Jam” for Dessert)”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Curtis Davenport, Curtis Davenport. Curtis Davenport said: New Blog Post My Dinner with Delfeayo (with “Jam” for Dessert): I sat at my day job desk last Wednesday morning… http://bit.ly/f3IfZu […]

  2. Paula Gallo Says:

    What a cool post Curt. Glad you got to meet Delfeayo! ~Paula

  3. Looks like a wonderful evening indeed! Love when cool things like this happen to awesome people!

    {{HUGS}}
    @spreadingJOY

  4. […] This will be the internationally acclaimed trombonist/producer/educator’s second appearance in Charlotte this year.  He was last with us in February for a series of educational workshops and concerts. He also took time out for a hot jam session at Sullivan’s in South End, which was documented in this blog.  […]

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