Vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, folksinger Sam Amidon kick off Olin Arts Alive

Jason Marsalis, the vibraphone-playing member of New Orleans’ first family of jazz, and Vermont-born folksinger Sam Amidon launch the 2013-14 Olin Arts Alive music series at Bates College with separate concerts in early September.

The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall, 75 Russell St.

Amidon performs on Tuesday, Sept. 10, also in the Olin Concert Hall. The Maine country songwriter Wesley Allen Hartley and his band Traveling Trees open at 7:30 p.m.

Admission for Marsalis is $18. To reserve tickets for either concert, please visit Free Marsalis tickets are available for the first 100 seniors or students. Please reserve via

Amidon admission is $12. For more information, please contact 207-786-6163.

Jason Marsalis

Jason Marsalis.

Jason Marsalis.

The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet is touring in support of the first official release by the band, In a World of Mallets, issued in February on Basin Street Records.

From a young age it was clear that Marsalis had the goods. He is the son of pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis and the youngest sibling of jazz notables Wynton, Branford and Delfeayo. Together, the four brothers and Ellis comprise New Orleans’ venerable first family of jazz.

Jason Marsalis is well-known as a drummer, working with his father’s trio as well as the Marcus Roberts trio — two of the most demanding settings in modern jazz. Since 2000, he has also been a mainstay on the New Orleans scene as a bandleader and vibraphonist. Rounding out the Marsalis Vibes Quartet are Austin Johnson on piano, Will Goble on bass and Dave Potter on drums.

Marsalis, wrote a New York Times reviewer, “makes infrequent…self-produced records that are always worth hearing … Jazz often wants to be acceptably cool. Here there’s a sense of an excellent musician trying out something risky without embarrassment.” On World of Mallets, he steps behind marimba, glockenspiel, tubular bells, vibraphone and xylophone with a healthy mix of original compositions, work by his up-and-coming band members, and dedications to former jazz greats.

Sam Amidon

Bright Sunny South, Amidon’s fourth CD and Nonesuch debut, is “a lonesome record,” says the singer and multi-instrumentalist. The folk songs, shape-note hymns and country ballads that he

performs deal with the darkest, most fundamental issues. Yet there is beauty and comfort in these time-tested words and melodies and in Amidon’s simple, emotionally direct delivery.

These songs constitute a patchwork portrait of Amidon himself, each representing a facet of his history, travels and discoveries. Witness his version of “Weeping Mary,” a shape-note hymn his parents, Peter and Mary Alice Amidon, recorded with the Vermont-based Word of Mouth Chorus for Nonesuch Records in 1977.

Amidon is known for reworking traditional melodies into striking new forms. He delivers these songs in a plainspoken voice that encompasses sadness and stoicism, vulnerability and wisdom. As a writer for Pitchfork said, “his interpretations are so singular that it stops mattering how (or if) they existed before.”

Folksinger Sam Amidon. Photo credit: Terry Magson.

Folksinger Sam Amidon. Photo credit: Terry Magson.

Amidon started out on fiddle and picked up guitar during a sojourn in New York City. If his foundation is in folk music, he brings influences ranging from free jazz to avant-garde to Irish to Bartok. He also incorporates storytelling and movement, particularly a kind of intense “liturgical” dancing, into his shows, and has appeared at experimental venues like Chelsea’s The Kitchen as well as on more conventional folk stages.

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