In 2002, when NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) jazz master saxophonist Branford Marsalis was asked why he was moving to Durham, North Carolina, after living in Brooklyn, New York, and Los Angeles for years, his reply was, “because it’s a place that has a sizable Black population, a Black university with a good jazz studies program (North Carolina Central University), and because there is an international airport nearby (RDU).” The pleasant and jovial Branford, an internationally known New Orleans native, led the house band on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for several years and has toured with Sting and many other well-known musical acts. The reasons listed above were probably why on an unseasonably warm Saturday night, a near-capacity smiling crowd showed up at Baldwin Auditorium on the campus of Duke University. They were treated to a first-class concert, clearly showing their happiness that Marsalis made that move in 2002.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet, which includes pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner, started the evening with a seriously swinging rendition of Rocky Mount native Thelonious Monk’s “Teo.” Marsalis’ solo on tenor saxophone was strong, rich in tone, and lifted the rhythm section up to a high, tight level that the band maintained throughout the entire concert. But it was the piano player, Calderazzo, who was the “star” of the show. His sound resembled renowned keyboardist Ahmad Jamal’s earthy, forceful, sophisticated style. He really showed off when the group played two familiar tunes: “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Your Bucket Got a Hole in It,” which featured Marsalis on soprano saxophone. The crowd loved it, and Calderazzo seemed to love it just as much as the audience did. He was also quite animated when he played, making noises, rising from his seat, and smiling while he performed.

“Your Bucket” was supposed to be the last selection of the evening, but the folks in Baldwin weren’t having that. Most of them gave the group a standing ovation and kept clapping until the quartet came back out on the stage for an encore. This time, Marsalis called tenor saxophonist Dr. Brian Horton, the brand new director of the Jazz Studies Department at North Carolina Central University to the stage. He also said that Calderazzo would be joined by his “piano teacher,” his young son, William. The group played Sonny Rollins’ straight-ahead smoker “Pent Up House.” Both saxophonists traded superb “licks,” as they say in the jazz world. Calderazzo also contributed an outstanding solo. Both Faulkner and Revis supplied steady, excellent foundation to what was the best tune of the night!

What a grand finale and an uplifting way to end the evening. Smiles galore were in the house, from the stage to the people in the seats. An evening with the Branford Marsalis Quartet was well worth the wait and turned out to be a perfect way to forget about the pandemic.