In his thought-provoking liner notes for The Last Southern Gentlemen, Delfeayo Marsalis quotes trumpeter King Oliver’s renowned drummer Baby Dodds saying, “Sometimes we played so softly you could hear the people’s feet dancing.”
The trombonist’s written words stand as an explanation to the title of the album that brings him together with his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith and bassist John Clayton. The quote also rings true for the music that the thoughtful trio presents.
Their sound is that of earlier eras, from the late 1930s through the 1950s, when a gentle side of jazz drew mainstream audiences.
The tunes, now jazz standards, were for the most part the popular songs of the day.
The trio takes on such classics as “She’s Funny That Way”—a tune strongly associated with vocalist Billie Holiday and saxophonist Lester Young and also done by such notables as pianist Errol Garner and singer Frank Sinatra—performed with a feeling of deep melancholy, Delfeayo’s trombone acts as the jazz-wise “voice” backed by rich, sympathetic accompaniment.
The album contains many quiet moments, such as 1937’s “My Romance” that opens with a bowed bass. From 1943 comes “Speak Low,” a welcome upbeat tune that gives Smith a chance to let his drums fly. Ellis responds with a stream of rapid-fire piano runs. The tune swings hard and fast, punctuated with some well-timed trombone interjections.
The Last Southern Gentlemen steps back in time while reminding us of the music’s timelessness.