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Branford Marsalis delights Descanso crowd

Josh Kleinbaum

When Branford Marsalis took the stage at the main lawn at Descanso

Gardens Thursday night, he paused to take in the surroundings.

“This is beautiful,” Marsalis said. “If I knew this was here when


I lived [in Los Angeles], I probably would’ve pitched a tent.”

For the next 90 minutes, Marsalis and his quartet thrilled an

intimate audience with breathtaking jazz, from the fast-paced,

roaring beat of “Mr. J.J. (J.J. Was His Name)” to open the set, to


the lovely, emotional ballad “Eternal,” a love song written for his


With Marsalis’ quartet providing the score and the gardens’

nightlife providing the lyrics, Descanso’s first foray into big-time

music came off without a hitch, providing an enchanting, romantic

evening for the patrons gathered in front of the stage on blankets

and lawn chairs.

For $35 to $40, music lovers were treated to world-class jazz in


the most intimate of settings. In between songs, Marsalis mixed in

some of the wit that earned him the job of Jay Leno’s first musical

director on “The Tonight Show.” Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Leno’s

drummer, even sat in on one song.

When Descanso Gardens officials planned the Music and Moonlight

series, they hoped the concerts would expand Descanso’s reach,

introducing new audiences to the garden. Thursday, they got at least

one new fan in Marsalis. With more concerts like this, they should


not have a problem getting more.