“Death of the Patriarch”: Joanna Biggar on Ellis Marsalis
The latest installment of Joanna Biggar's blog details her meeting with the late great jazz musician.
"He talked to me of the history of jazz, evolving from its roots in plantation entertainment to minstrel shows to vaudeville “Music was an Africanized version of what the master was familiar with—like Irish jigs…When the slaves were playing for themselves, it was a different rhythmic component.” And he explained that as we closed out the 20th century, it was important to follow carefully the changes that occurred from Scott Joplin through Ellington, Monk, Gillespie and Miles Davis, “in order to get a real sense of who we are as a people.”
He went on to say that 1964 was a pivotal year for two reasons: the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Beatles arriving in America. “Passage of Civil Rights opened up a Pandora’s box not only for black people but for women.”
And the Beatles, he said, ended an era of “white males passing down (refined) jazz—Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie—to their children. For the first time white kids could get ‘black music’ through the Beatles, who acknowledged their debt to black music … by 1964 the lid was off.”
We talked of other things, too, including his amazing musical family, and the four of his six sons who became musicians: Wynton, the trumpet player; Branford, the saxophonist; Delfaeyo, the trombonist, composer and producer; and Jason, the drummer. Ellis shrugged off the suggestion that his family was anything special. “There are plenty of musical families in New Orleans,” he said. And if his family benefitted from any extraordinary genes, he said they surely came from his wife Dolores, who came from a stellar background of church music."
The first novel in Joanna Biggar’s Demoiselle Trilogy, That Paris Year, follows five smart, adventurous young women who arrive on the banks of the Seine in 1962 for their junior year abroad. What they get is an education of a different sort. J. J., the self-appointed chronicler of the group, tracks their adventures — intellectual, artistic, political, amorous — in those golden days prior to the Kennedy assassination.
Melanie’s Song picks up twelve years later, when one of the demoiselles goes missing. J.J., now a journalist, decides to uncover the fate of the missing Melanie Hart. Once the quietest and most obedient of the group, Melanie has left a trail of letters, journals, and postcards suggesting a psychotic break or a spiritual epiphany. Rumors abound — but what really happened? And where has Melanie gone?
This 2-for-1 bundle gives readers a chance to start from the beginning, tracking the evolution of five women friends through the tumultuous years of the 1960’s and 70’s. In these two books, Biggar intertwines cultural revolutions with personal and romantic upheavals, creating a portrait a unique time in history, and of five women prepared to take advantage of every liberty offered, every shackle removed.