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Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

Ellis Marsalis

It’s doubtful that anyone ever attended one of the Rat Pack’s Vegas free-for-alls specifically to see Peter Lawford or Joey Bishop. Frank, Dean and Sammy were the big tickets. So it is with the three elder Marsalises-Ellis, Wynton and Branford-currently headlining an eight-city family tour. Trumpeter Wynton is the Sinatra of the group-hugely talented and famously temperamental, with a tendency toward sullenness; saxophonist Branford is Davis-popular yet slightly undervalued, and prone to clownish antics; patriarch/pianist Ellis is Martin-cool and self-assured, whose casualness belies the immensity of his talent.

It was the combined pull of Wynton, Branford and Ellis that recently attracted an SRO crowd to Toronto’s fabled (and acoustically-blessed) Massey Hall on an icy winter’s night. Polished, professional and occasionally profound, they fully lived up to their collective reputation as America’s first family of bespoke jazz-the musical equivalent of the Kennedys (but with better manners).

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