Jazz is like a rich conversation, and you need an extensive vocabulary to play it. “It takes decades to develop,” said saxophonist Branford Marsalis, whose quartet will be headlining the 10th annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival on Saturday in Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.
Performing with him will be pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and percussionist Justin Faulkner.
Also performing will be Brooklyn-based jazz pianist Noah Haidu and his quintet, the National Philharmonic’s jazz quartet Songbook and local keyboardist Marcus Johnson, one of the outdoor event’s founders.
Participants are invited to bring chairs and arrive by public transportation if possible, as parking is limited, said organizers.
Marsalis said what the quartet will play will depend on the crowd’s response, but it is likely to include some music fomr the band’s latest album, “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes,” and possibly some songs by Thelonius Monk.
Marsalis grew up in a big family of musicians in music-rich New Orleans.
“So much of the learning is by ear,” said the saxophonist, who also studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Marsalis performed with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and his brother Wynton Marsalis’ quintet, and has also performed with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and Sonny Rollins.
“The beat in jazz is fluid … [and] the melodic exploration is incredible,” he said.
Musical director of the “The Tonight Show” from 1992 to 1995, he won a Grammy Award in 2000 for Best Jazz Instrumental for his album “Contemporary Jazz.” He was also nominated for a Tony award in 2011 for writing the music for “Fences.”
Marsalis said the title of the group’s latest CD was in reaction to album names that imply that jazz is something mystical.
“We just play the songs,” he said, as if jazz was something simple.
It takes years to master all the variations of notes possible in 12-tone scale, to create a musical vocabulary.
But learning is not the goal, it’s a means to an end. Then comes the job of turning the vocabulary into a conversation with the audience, a capacity not every musician has.
“They might pass the test but they’re not playing well,” he said.
The market for jazz isn’t big and never has been, but sales of recordings by Miles Davis and other great jazz musicians have persisted through the decades, he said.
“I just love to play,” said Marsalis.
“We don’t get upset, because we like [to do] it,” he said.
Also performing in Silver Spring will be Haidu, who will be playing with four other musicians.
Son of a big-time jazz fan, Haidu said he grew up listening to jazz. Later he went to Rutgers University in New Jersey where he came under the influence of jazz pianist Kenny Barron, who taught there.
Eager to perform, Haidu jammed with other musicians in Philadelphia before deciding to move to Brooklyn in the early 1990s.
Haidu described his first CD, “Slipstream,” as a “fun, approachable recording” and his second, “Momentum,” performed with a trio, as more intimate than the first.
When he composes, Haidu said he focuses on “modern harmonies,” which involves switching keys in unusual ways.
“It has to be done with a lot of care so that we can all work together,” he said about performing with fellow musicians.
Other performers at the event will include Johnson, who helped found the festival. He will be playing some of his own compositions, along with some contemporary jazz and hip-hop, something he describes as “instrumental R&B with a D.C. bounce.”
Some members of the National Philharmonic performing as the Songbook quartet will play a range of styles, including two contemporary jazz classics by Wayne Shorter called “Aung San Suu Kyi” (the Burmese activist) and “Footprints.”