From left: Percussionist Ed Littlefield, vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, and bassist Christian Fabian of the Native-Jazz Quartet (not pictured: Reuel Lubag).

Alaska Native Percussionist Goes Jazz; Jazz Goes Native


A Tlingit, a New Orleanean, a Filipino and a European walk into a jazz club…

No, it’s not the setup to a joke; it is, in broad terms, a description of an act called the Native-Jazz Quartet that brings an unconventional blend of instrumental music to several venues in Washington state and Alaska this week. (Click here for a list of performance dates.)

The group is a virtuoso affair, to say the least. Led by esteemed Tlingit percussionist Ed Littlefield, it includes Reuel Lubag of the Philippines on piano, Jason Marsalis (youngest of the famous Marsalis brothers) on vibraphone and bassist Christian Fabian, who played in the Lionel Hampton Orchestra during the last years of the vibraphonist’s life.

According to an article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the sound is a blend of melodies from dléigoox, or traditional Tlingit lullabies, with jazz beats. “Essentially, I tried to keep the melody as pure as possible,” Littlefield told the News-Miner. “So you can hear the original part.” Littlefield was born in Sitka, studied vocal and instrumental music education at the University of Idaho, and returned home to become music director at Sitka High School. He currently lives in Seattle.

Fabian, who was born in Sweden and grew up in Germany, describes the band as not just a melding of musical styles, but of definitions of nativeness. “In our upbringing we all have totally different backgrounds,” he told the News-Miner. “You’re native in the surroundings you grew up around.”

The Quartet plays music from Littlefield’s latest album, Walking Between Two Worlds, and Fabian’s latest, West Coast Session. All four members of the group appeared on both recordings.

The Native-Jazz Quartet plans to return to Alaska in summer 2012 for a weeklong workshop at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, held on the Sheldon Jackson College campus.

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