The Ever Fonky Lowdown (Blue Engine)

Wynton Marsalis

Released August 21, 2020

DownBeat Four-and-a-Half-Star Review

Jazzwise Top 20 Releases of 2020




“You really just want to be entertained,” says Mr. Game, the sly hustler-narrator played by acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme, Jack Ryan) who presides over Wynton Marsalis’s new masterpiece The Ever Fonky Lowdown. Combining droll commentary with soulful, big band-backed vocals, the Lowdown is definitely entertaining—but it also brilliantly reveals Marsalis’s incisive, panoramic view of modern society.
Featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and guest vocals from Camille Thurman, Ashley Pezzotti, Christie Dashiell, and Doug Wamble, the Lowdown is a funky jazz parable for 2020. It covers terrain from football to politics, from power to poverty, from love and romance to betrayal and corruption; it will make you dance and think. The Ever Fonky Lowdown is a horn-fueled survey of the political malaise and cultural decay now plaguing America—and how Marsalis suggests we might be able to rise above the structures that have been holding us back for centuries.

Track Listing:

1. We Are the Greatest (Instrumental) 0:36

2. Mr. Game Speaks: I Am a Winner 3:55

3. We Are the Greatest 1:34

4. Mr. Game: Success is My Middle Name 1:00

5. They / Let’s Call Them This 2:45

6. Mr. Game: Beware! They’re Going to Cause Problems 0:45

7. The Ever Fonky Lowdown in 4 2:56

8. Mr. Game: Talk is a Waste of Time 0:52

9. I Don’t Like Nobody but Myself 2:14

10. Mr. Game: We Must Strike First! (Trust Me) 1:37

11. The Drums of War 2:28

12. Mr. Game: The Mandates of Our Democracy 0:17

13. Consideration Blues / I Know I Must Fight / The Drums of War Return 3:30

14. Mr. Game: Who is We? 0:18

15. What Would the Savior Think? 1:25

16. Mr. Game: Winners Don’t Reflect, We Celebrate 1:17

17. Some for Me, None for You 2:05

18. Mr. Game: We’re Number One! 1:09

19. The Ever Fonky Lowdown in 5 2:59

20. Mr. Game: They Deserved Everything They Got 2:09

21. Night Trader 2:28

22. Mr. Game: They, Too, Want to Be Winners 2:08

23. Mr. Good Time Man 4:23

24. Mr. Game: Shame is for Losers 0:52

25. Because I Want to, Because I Like to, Because I Can 2:06

26. Mr. Game: a Ridiculous Plea 0:07

27. I Wants My Ice Cream 1:41

28. Mr. Game: Somebody’s Got to Rule 0:05

29. The Ever Fonky Lowdown in 6 3:00

30. Reprise: What Would the Savior Think? 0:38

31. The Ever Fonky Lowdown in 5 & 6 3:35

32. Mr. Game: Your First Prize 2:39

33. Isms, Schisms 2:30

34. Mr. Game: Your Second Prize 3:29

35. Yes / No 2:33

36. Where Has the Love Gone? 1:05

37. Mr. Game: Your Third Prize 3:29

38. Consider This ‘Bout the Filth We Love 3:27

39. Mr. Game: Your Fourth Prize 3:38

40. Everybody Wear They Mask 2:56

41. Mr. Game: You Love These Prizes Because You Live Them 0:12

42. The Ever Fonky Lowdown in 7 3:35

43. Mr. Game: Your Wildcard 3:14

44. I Got a Nagging Feeling 1:43

45. Mr. Game: The Freedom Fighter: Fannie Lou Hamer 1:33

46. The Ballad of Fannie Lou: Part 1 3:29

47. The Ballad of Fannie Lou: Part 2 3:33

48. Mr. Game: Just Let the Memories of Them Die 1:11

49. Why Do We Pick Slavery over Freedom? 0:47

50. Mr. Game: Your Last Prize (The Best One) 4:60

51. Reprise: The Ever Fonky Lowdown in 4 2:57

52. Reprise: I Wants My Ice Cream 1:02

53. I Know I Must Fight 1:05



Sherman Irby: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, and piccolo

Ted Nash: alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, and piccolo

Victor Goines: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, and clarinet

Walter Blanding: tenor saxophone

Dan Block: tenor and soprano saxophones and clarinet

Paul Nedzela: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, and clarinet


Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup, Kenny Rampton, Wynton Marsalis


Vincent Gardner: trombone and sousaphone

Christopher Crenshaw: trombone and vocals Elliot Mason

Rhythm Section

Doug Wamble: guitar and vocals

Dan Nimmer: piano

Carlos Henriquez: bass

Jason Marsalis: drums and tambourine

Special Guests

Wendell Pierce: narrator

Camille Thurman: vocals

Ashley Pezzotti: vocals

Christie Dashiell: vocals

Bobby Allende: congas

Ricky “Dirty Red” Gordon: percussion

Additional Performances

Sam Chess: trombone (7)

Adam Birnbaum: piano (7, 35, 42, 51)

Charles Goold: drums (35)

Recorded on October 7–8, 2019 at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Studio

Additional recording on November 27, 2019 and March 14, 2020 at Sear Sound in New York, NY.

Recording Engineers: Todd Whitelock, Rob Macomber ProTools

Engineer and Editor: Gloria Kaba

Assistant Engineers: Teng Chen, Michael Hickey, Edwin Huett, Owen Mulholland (Sear Sound)

Mixing Engineer: Todd Whitelock at Amplified Art and Sound

Production Assistant: Wes Whitelock

Mastered by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios, NYC 2020


There were a number of projects begun last year to mark the 400 years of slavery and oppression suffered by Black people in the United States. Numerous books, documentaries and theatrical productions set out to capture the fundamental inhumanity of enslavement, the length and severity of the experience. In several ways, Wynton Marsalis’ The Ever Fonky Lowdown could be the soundtrack to any of these presentations, though it comes replete with its own fascinating, often satirical libretto. From the opening fanfare and actor Wendell Pierce’s role as narrator, interlocutor and con man, the vocalists and Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra instrumentalists evoke a broad and tantalizing tableau of American history, mainly through the nation’s systemic racism, segregation, discrimination and white supremacy. It’s a veritable cavalcade of musical segments—the blues, big band swing, small ensemble pieces and a good sampling of gospel. If Lerone Bennett’s Before the Mayflower or John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans was set to music, the accompanying sounds would resemble what Marsalis has achieved here. To highlight any one of the 53 sections would be an injustice to the holistic, light-opera texture of the album, though the bluesy interludes and the occasional saxophone solos are exceptional and provide the olio with a straightahead, jazzy resonance. Like the continuity of Pierce’s “Mr. Game” recitations, there is a lively interconnectedness of the music: Informed listeners might hear moments of Basie’s beat, a smear of Tadd Dameron and brief spurts of scat and vocalese. While most of the tracks veer to the deep past, they soar into the civil rights era, summoning the courageous commitment of Fannie Lou Hamer. And the pandemic is referenced on “Everybody Wear They Mask,” slyly alluding to Black linguistics, which also might be in play for the album’s title, where “fonky” stands in for “funky.” Regardless of nomenclature, Marsalis and his crew again have tapped a vein of American culture through an innovative and impressive mélange of words and music.

Herb Boyd (DownBeat)