Branford Marsalis

Former “Tonight Show” bandleader and Grammy-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis will perform in Waco this fall.

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis will perform next fall with the Waco Symphony Orchestra, but Waco jazz fans may hear a new side to him: his classical side.

The orchestra’s recently announced 2019-20 season features Marsalis performing Nov. 14 with the orchestra. Although best known for his work in jazz and pop, as well as a short stint as “The Tonight Show” band leader, the Grammy Award-winning Marsalis will play a classical selection with the symphony as an orchestral pops program was not an option.

“We couldn’t get him to play a pops concert,” said Susan Taylor, executive director of the Waco Symphony Orchestra.

Marsalis did not have orchestral arrangements for a pops or jazz program and preferred to play classical, Taylor said.

Providing the guest talent for a season-ending pops concert next year is veteran pop band America, whose two surviving members, Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, are making a 50th anniversary tour next year. Dan Peek, the group’s third member, died in 2011.

The fact that two of America’s three original members would be performing helped lead to the band’s selection to close the orchestra’s season April 16.

“We’re trying to get away from cover bands and more toward the original performers,” Taylor said.

Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley - America - file

Dewey Bunnell (left) and Gerry Beckley of the 1970s-80s pop-rock band America bring their 50th anniversary tour to Waco on April 16, 2020, for a concert with the Waco Symphony Orchestra.

The vocally tight, pop-rock trio was a pop chart regular in the 1970s with national hits including “A Horse With No Name,” “Tin Man,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “Ventura Highway.”

Rounding out the orchestra’s upcoming season are appearances by Avery Fisher Career Grant winner pianist Drew Peterson on Oct. 17, violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen on Jan. 16 and the return of Ballet Frontier of Texas for “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 15. The Waco Symphony Orchestra will play an all-orchestral program March 21.

Missing in the new season is the Holiday Pops Concert that alternated seasons with performances of “The Nutcracker.” Taylor said board members decided to end the biennial all-orchestral concert of Christmas and holiday symphonic music after considering declining attendance, competition from other seasonal events, props storage fees and logistic challenges.

“It was time,” she said. “These things run their course.”

Instead, the orchestra will bring back the Ballet Frontier of Texas to perform Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 15. The Fort Worth-based ballet made its Waco debut with the orchestra last December, and favorable audience reaction helped persuade the board to try “The Nutcracker” in consecutive seasons.

“They decided this may be the time to see if we can do ‘The Nutcracker’ two years in a row,” Taylor said.

Current season ticket holders will get the chance to renew their season passes in June, followed by sales for new season tickets later in the summer. Single concert tickets are expected to go on sale by late summer or early fall.

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