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Branford Marsalis

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Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis
Marsalis performing in 2011
Background information
Born (1960-08-26) August 26, 1960
Origin Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, U.S.
Genres Jazz, post-bop, Classical
Instruments Saxophone
Years active 1980–present
Labels Marsalis Music
Columbia/SME Records
Associated acts Wynton Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, Jr., Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Kenny Kirkland, DJ Premier, Sting, The Tonight Show Band, Kevin Eubanks, Anna Maria Jopek, Harry Connick, Jr., Matt Finders, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Guru (rapper), Buckshot LeFonque, Grateful Dead
Website .com.branfordmarsaliswww, .com.marsalismusicwww

Branford Marsalis (born August 26, 1960) is an American saxophonist, composer and bandleader. While primarily known for his work in jazz as the leader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, he also performs frequently as a soloist with classical ensembles and has led the group Buckshot LeFonque.

Early life

Marsalis was born in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, the son of Dolores (née Ferdinand), a jazz singer and substitute teacher, and Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr., a pianist and music professor.[1][2] His brothers Jason Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis III, and Delfeayo Marsalis, and father Ellis are also jazz musicians.


Musical beginnings: 1980–85

In the summer of 1980, while still a Berklee College of Music student, Marsalis toured Europe playing alto and baritone saxophone in a large ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. Other big band experience with Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry followed over the next year, and by the end of 1981 Marsalis, on alto saxophone, had joined his brother Wynton in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Other performances with his brother, including a 1981 Japanese tour with Herbie Hancock, led to the formation of his brother Wynton’s first quintet, where Marsalis shifted his emphasis to soprano and tenor saxophones. He continued to work with Wynton until 1985, a period that also saw the release of his own first recording, Scenes in the City, as well as guest appearances with other artists including Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Expanded output: 1985–95

In 1985, he joined Sting, singer and bassist of pop band The Police, on his first solo project, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, alongside notable jazz and session musicians Omar Hakim on drums, Darryl Jones on the bass and Kenny Kirkland on keyboards. He became a regular in Sting's line-up both in the studio and live up until the release of Brand New Day in 1999.

In 1994, Marsalis appeared on the Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool.[3] The album, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in African American society was named Album of the Year by Time.

In 1988, Marsalis co-starred in the Spike Lee film School Daze, also rendering several horn-blowing interludes for the music in the film. His witty comments have pegged him to many memorable one-liners in the film.

From 1992 to 1995, Branford was the leader of The Tonight Show Band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Initially, he turned down the offer, but later reconsidered and accepted the position. He was succeeded as bandleader by guitarist Kevin Eubanks.

Between 1990 and 1994, Branford played with the band Grateful Dead several times.

Transition: 1995–2007

With the decline of live music venues and with dwindling jazz audiences, session work has been gradually replaced with computer-based synthesized music. As a result, while Marsalis would release a second Buckshot LeFonque recording in 1997, his primary focus since 1996 has been on his own quartet, classical performance and education.

With original member Jeff "Tain" Watts still on drums, bassist Eric Revis replaced Hurst in 1997, while pianist Joey Calderazzo became a member after Kirkland’s death the following year. The Branford Marsalis Quartet has toured and recorded extensively, receiving a Grammy in 2001 for its album Contemporary Jazz. For two decades Marsalis was associated with Columbia Records, where he served as Creative Consultant and producer for jazz recordings between 1997 and 2001, including signing saxophonist David S. Ware for two albums.[4]

Marsalis placed greater emphasis on classical music since the 2001 release of his album Creation. Performances with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles worldwide have become a significant part of his itinerary. In October and November 2008, Marsalis toured the United States with Philarmonia Brasileira, performing music by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa‐Lobos, arranged for solo saxophone and orchestra. This project commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the revered Brazilian composer’s death.

In 2002, Marsalis founded his own Marsalis Music label. With Marsalis as the label’s primary producer, Marsalis Music has issued audio and video discs that feature Marsalis’ quartet, the instrumental music of Harry Connick, Jr., new artists saxophonist Miguel Zenón, vocalist Claudia Acuña, and guitarist/vocalist Doug Wamble, as well as (under the Honors Series logo) veterans Alvin Batiste, Michael Carvin, Jimmy Cobb and Bob French.

Marsalis has also become involved in education at the university level, with appointments at Michigan State (1996–2000), San Francisco State (2000–2002) and North Carolina Central University (2005–present). After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. created the concept of a Musicians’ Village in the city’s Upper Ninth Ward, with the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music as the Village’s centerpiece. This project, undertaken by New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity with Marsalis’ and Connick’s active participation, has proven to be one of the most successful recovery efforts in the region, and has already provided dozens of musicians of modest means with the opportunity to own decent, affordable housing. In 2012, Marsalis and Connick received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.[5]

Classical music and Broadway projects: 2008–10

Under the direction of conductor Gil Jardim, Branford Marsalis and members of the Philharmonia Brasileira toured the United States in the fall of 2008, performing works by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, arranged for solo saxophone and orchestra. This project commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the revered Brazilian composer’s death.

Branford Marsalis and the members of his quartet joined the North Carolina Symphony for American Spectrum, released in February 2009 by Sweden's BIS Records. The album showcases Marsalis and the orchestra performing a range of American music by Michael Daugherty, John Williams, Ned Rorem and Christopher Rouse, while being conducted by Grant Llewellyn.

Marsalis was nominated for and won a 2010 Drama Desk Award in the category "Outstanding Music in a Play" and was also nominated for a 2010 Tony Award in the category of "Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre" for his participation in the Broadway revival of August Wilson's Fences.

On July 14, 2010, Marsalis made his debut with the New York Philharmonic on Central Park's Great Lawn. Led by conductor Andrey Boreyko, Marsalis and the New York Philharmonic performed Glazunov's "Concerto for Alto Saxophone" and Schuloff's "Hot-Sonate for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra." Boreyko, Marsalis and the Philharmonic performed the same program again in Vail, CO later that month and four more times at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, NY the following February.

Recent years: 2011–present

Marsalis, with his father and brothers, were group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.[6]

In June 2011, after working together for over 10 years in a band setting, Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo released their first duo album titled Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, on Branford's label, Marsalis Music. Their world premiere performance was on June 29, 2011 in Koerner Hall at the 2011 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

In 2012, Branford Marsalis and his tight-knit working band delivered Four MFs Playin' Tunes on deluxe 180-gram high definition vinyl, just in time for Record Store Day 2012 on April 21, 2012. This is the first recording of the Branford Marsalis Quartet with drummer Justin Faulkner, who joined the band in 2009 and was the first vinyl release from Marsalis Music. The CD and digital release of Four MFs Playin' Tunes followed on August 7, 2012. Vinyl purchases came with a download card that enabled purchasers to receive a free digital copy when it was released. The album was named Apple iTunes Best of 2012 Instrumental Jazz Album of the Year.

On May 15, 2012, Branford Marsalis received an Honorary Doctor of Music Degree from the University of North Carolina.

In June 2012, Marsalis, alongside friend and fellow New Orleans native Harry Connick, Jr., was honored by the Jefferson Awards for Public Service for his work in the Musicians' Village of New Orleans.

Marsalis performed the Star Spangled Banner on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.

On March 26, 2013, Branford Marsalis received the degree of Doctor of Arts Leadership, honoris causa from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.

Instruments and setup

  • Soprano: His most famous soprano has been a silver Selmer Mark VI with a modified bent neck. He is said[7] to now be playing a Yamaha YSS-82ZR, and uses a Selmer D mouthpiece and Vandoren V12 Clarinet reeds 5+[8]
  • Alto: Cannonball Vintage Series (model AV/LG-L)[9] with a Selmer Classic C mouthpiece and Vandoren #5[8]
  • Tenor: Selmer Super Balanced Action with a Fred Lebayle 8 mouthpiece and Alexander Superial size 3.5 reeds[8]

Other appearances

  • Marsalis performed alongside Sting and Phil Collins at the London Live Aid concert in Wembley Stadium on June 13, 1985.
  • Featured as saxophonist on "Fight the Power" (1989) by Public Enemy.[10]
  • Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Guest on the "Not My Job" section of the show. On this performance he claimed the saxophone was the sexiest instrument, then insults the accordion. In a later episode of the show, "Weird Al" Yankovic stands up for the accordion; later guest Yo-Yo Ma claimed the saxophone was in fact the sexiest.
  • Interviewed on Space Ghost Coast to Coast Episode 10: "Gum, Disease" (aired November 11, 1994). Although the Coast to Coast crew said, "He was the most pleasant, and well mannered guest we had ever interviewed", he didn't sign a release for merchandising rights, so the episode couldn't be on the Space Ghost Coast to Coast Volume One DVD.
  • Marsalis was featured in Shanice's 1992 hit "I Love Your Smile". In the second half of the song, he has a solo and Shanice says, "Blow, Branford, Blow"
  • He played the role of Lester in the movie Throw Momma from the Train (1987) and the role of Jordam in Spike Lee's 1988 musical-drama film School Daze.
  • Cameo as a repair man who asks Hillary on a date in the episode "Stop Will! In the Name of Love", and as himself in the episode "Sleepless in Bel-Air" on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1994).
  • Interviews with Marsalis are featured prominently in the documentary Before the Music Dies (2006).
  • Branford was a guest judge on the final episode of the fifth season of Top Chef which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • On April 28 and 29, 2009 Branford played with The Dead (The remaining members of Grateful Dead) at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, rekindling a relationship started when he performed with them at a legendary set at Nassau Coliseum March 29, 1990 during which, according to Dead aficionados, one of the greatest renditions of "Eyes of the World", was performed.
  • On July 21, 2010, Branford guested with Dave Matthews Band on the songs "Lover Lay Down," "What Would You Say" and "Jimi Thing" at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, NC. This was the first time Branford had guested with Dave Matthews Band, although he had previously played with Dave Matthews and Gov't Mule on a cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" on December 16, 2006 in Asheville, NC.[11] Marsalis performed with the Dave Matthews Band again on December 12, 2012 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC.
  • Branford appeared as a special guest of Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby at two festivals in the summer of 2012. They first performed at the All Good Music Festival in Thornville, OH on July 19, 2012 and then headed to Bridgeport, CT for a performance at Gathering of the Vibes the following day, July 20, 2012.
  • Branford appeared as a special guest of Furthur for their performance at Red Rocks on September 21, 2013.


As leader

  • 1984 Scenes in the City
  • 1985 Royal Garden Blues
  • 1986 Romances for Saxophone – some little pieces of classical evergreens
  • 1987 Renaissance – on "The Peacocks": Herbie Hancock – Piano, Buster Williams – Bass
  • 1988 Random Abstract
  • 1989 Trio Jeepy – an album of standards featuring Milt Hinton (bass) and Jeff Watts (drums)
  • 1989 Do the Right Thing – music composed and conducted by Bill Lee
  • 1990 Mo' Better Blues – soundtrack to the movie
  • 1990 Crazy People Music
  • 1991 The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – with guests Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) and Courtney Pine (tenor saxophone)
  • 1992 I Heard You Twice the First Time – Branford's quartet pairs up with some Jazz and Blues greats (including B. B. King, John Lee Hooker, Rip Tip Johnson) for a romp through the history of African-American music. Grammy Winner in category Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual Or Group
  • 1992 Sneakers – soundtrack to the film
  • 1993 Bloomington – live recording
  • 1994 Buckshot LeFonque
  • 1996 Loved Ones – a duet with his father Ellis Marsalis (piano)
  • 1996 The Dark Keys
  • 1997 Music Evolution – the second Buckshot LeFonque project
  • 1999 Requiem – recorded days before the death of and dedicated to pianist Kenny Kirkland
  • 2000 Contemporary JazzGrammy Winner in category Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group
  • 2001 Creation – some classical music rearranged for saxophone and orchestra
  • 2002 Footsteps of Our Fathers – Branford again revisits the works of past masters, interpreting the tunes from his own angle
  • 2003 Romare Bearden Revealed – CD Issued in Conjunction with The Art of Romare Bearden (American painter)
  • 2004 Eternal
  • 2004 A Love Supreme Live – DVD
  • 2005 A Duo Occasion - DVD with Harry Connick, Jr.
  • 2006 Braggtown
  • 2009 Metamorphosen
  • 2011 Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (duo album with pianist Joey Calderazzo)
  • 2012 Four MFs Playin' Tunes (Apple iTunes Best of 2012 Instrumental Jazz Album of the Year)

As sideman/special guest


  1. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, March 25, 2012
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Giddins, Gary (2001). "Go Tell It on the Mountain: David Ware’s Quartet Demands Overstatement" 31 July 2001, URL accessed 30 April 2012.
  5. ^
  6. ^ National Endowment for the Arts (June 24, 2010). "National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters". Washington: National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved July 19, 2010. For the first time in the program's 29-year history, in addition to four individual awards, the NEA will present a group award to the Marsalis family, New Orleans' venerable first family of jazz. 
  7. ^ Sax On The Web Forum
  8. ^ a b c Branford Marsalis FAQ webpage
  9. ^ Cannonball Artist webpage
  10. ^
  11. ^

External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Doc Severinsen
The Tonight Show bandleader
Succeeded by
Kevin Eubanks
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