Branford Marsalis
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Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis American musician

American musician
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American musician
Countries United States of America
Occupations Musician Composer Jazz musician Saxophonist
Type Music
Gender male
Birth 26 August 1960 (New Orleans)
Father: Ellis Marsalis
Siblings: Delfeayo MarsalisJason MarsalisWynton Marsalis
Education Berklee College of Music
The details

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. His brothers Jason Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis III, and Delfeayo Marsalis, and father Ellis are also jazz musicians.


Musical beginnings: 1980–85

In mid-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 experiences 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 rock band The Police, on his first solo project, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, alongside 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 Red Hot Organization's compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. 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 Grateful Dead several times.

Transition: 1995–2007

Marsalis released a second Buckshot LeFonque recording in 1997. His primary interest since 1996 has been on his quartet, classical performance, and education.

With original member Jeff "Tain" Watts 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 the album Contemporary Jazz. For two decades Marsalis was associated with Columbia, where he served as creative consultant and producer for jazz recordings between 1997 and 2001, including signing saxophonist David S. Ware for two albums.

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 U.S. 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 composer's death.

In 2002, Marsalis founded his own label, Marsalis Music. Its catalogue includes Claudia Acuña, Harry Connick Jr., Doug Wamble, Miguel Zenón, in addition to albums by members of the Marsalis family.

Marsalis has also become involved in college education, with appointments at Michigan State (1996–2000), San Francisco State (2000–2002), and North Carolina Central University (2005–present). After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr., working with the local Habitat for Humanity, created Musicians Village in New Orleans, with the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music the centerpiece. 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.

Classical 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.


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

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 released Four MFs Playin' Tunes on deluxe 180-gram high definition vinyl, prior to 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.

In May 2012, Branford Marsalis received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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.

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 to now be playing a Yamaha YSS-82ZR, and uses a Selmer D mouthpiece and Vandoren V12 Clarinet reeds 5+
  • Alto: Cannonball Vintage Series (model AV/LG-L) with a Selmer Classic C mouthpiece and Vandoren #5
  • Tenor: Selmer Super Balanced Action with a Fred Lebayle 8 mouthpiece and Alexander Superial size 3.5 reeds

Other appearances

  • Marsalis performed alongside Sting and Phil Collins at the London Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1985.
  • Featured as saxophonist on "Fight the Power" (1989) by Public Enemy.
  • 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 the 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. Marsalis performed with the Dave Matthews Band again on December 12, 2012 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. For the Summer 2015 tour Marsalis has returned to guest for 3 shows, May 22, 2015 in Raleigh North Carolina ("Lover Lay Down", "Typical Situation", Jimi thing), June 12, 2015 in Hartford, CT ("Death On The High Seas", "Spaceman", "Jimi Thing", "Warehouse"), and July 29, 2015 in Tampa, FL ("Lover Lay Down", "Typical Situation", "Jimi Thing").
  • 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 – 20th century French compositions 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)
  • 2014 In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral
  • 2015 Branford Marsalis Quartet Performs Coltrane's a Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam
  • 2016 Upward Spiral (Branford Marsalis Quartet with special guest Kurt Elling)

As sideman/special guest

  • 1980 Live at Montreux and Northsea – Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers Big Band
  • 1981 Killer Joe – Art Blakey with George Kawaguchi
  • 1982 Keystone 3 – Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
  • 1982 Wynton Marsalis – Wynton Marsalis
  • 1983 Think of One – Wynton Marsalis
  • 1984 Decoy – Miles Davis
  • 1984 Hot House Flowers – Wynton Marsalis
  • 1984 Closer to the Source – Dizzy Gillespie
  • 1985 New Faces – Dizzy Gillespie
  • 1985 Black Codes (From the Underground) – Wynton Marsalis
  • 1985 Oshumare – Billy Hart
  • 1985 Opening Night – Kevin Eubanks
  • 1985 The Dream of the Blue Turtles – Sting
  • 1985 With Sting at Live Aid
  • 1986 Break Every Rule – Tina Turner. Branford plays on the track "Paradise Is Here"
  • 1986 Bring on the Night – Sting (live album)
  • 1987 ...Nothing Like the Sun – Sting
  • 1987 Last Session – Sting/Gil Evans
  • 1990 We Are in Love – Harry Connick, Jr.
  • 1990 Without a Net – Grateful Dead. Branford plays on "Eyes of the World" (live album)
  • 1990 You Won't Forget Me – Shirley Horn. Branford appears on the track "It Had to Be You"
  • 1990 Live It Up – Crosby, Stills & Nash. Branford plays on tracks "5 Yours" and "Mine" and on track "9 Arrows"
  • 1990 The Soul Cages – Sting
  • 1991 In the door – Joey Calderazzo
  • 1991 Karma – Robin Eubanks
  • 1992 Pontius Pilate's Decision – Delfeayo Marsalis
  • 1993 Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest – Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
  • 1993 Harbor Lights – Bruce Hornsby Grammy Winner for song, "Rainbow's Cadillac"
  • 1993 Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 – Guru. Features on track four, "Transit Ride" along with Zachary Breaux.
  • 1993 It's Got to Be Funky – Horace Silver
  • 1994 Stones In The Road – Mary–Chapin Carpenter. On track 9, "John Doe No. 24."
  • 1994 The Guide (Wommat) – Youssou N'Dour. Branford plays soprano sax on track 3 "Without a Smile"
  • 1994 JLW – Joe Louis Walker. On track 4 Inner City Man.
  • 1994 MJQ & Friends: A 40th Anniversary Celebration – Modern Jazz Quartet
  • 1994 Rob Wasserman: Trios With Bruce Hornsby on "White–Wheeled Limousine"
  • 1994 "With the Tenors of Our Time" – Roy Hargrove. On track 3, "Valse Hot."
  • 1995 Tales from the Acoustic Planet – Béla Fleck
  • 1995 Hot House – Bruce Hornsby
  • 1995 Joe Cool's Blues – Ellis & Wynton Marsalis. Branford plays on the track "Little Birdie"
  • 1996 Live Art – Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
  • 1996 Mercury Falling – Sting
  • 1999 Brand New Day – Sting
  • 2000 Wandering Moon – Terence Blanchard
  • 2003 Little Worlds – Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
  • 2003 The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration – A showing for four brothers: Branford, Delfeayo Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, and their father, Ellis Marsalis
  • 2005 Occasion : Connick on Piano, Volume 2 – A duo album with Harry Connick, Jr.
  • 2006 Intersections (1985–2005) – Bruce Hornsby
  • 2007 Djin Djin – Angelique Kidjo. Branford plays soprano in track 2 "Djin Djin"
  • 2007 Marsalis Music Honors Bob French (2007) – Bob French
  • 2007 ID – Anna Maria Jopek. Branford plays on the track 3 – Zrób, co mozesz (Do What You Can) and on track 11 – Niepojete i ulotne (Incomprehensible & Elusive)
  • 2009 Your Songs – Harry Connick, Jr.
  • 2009 Watts – Jeff "Tain" Watts
  • 2010 Sting Live In Berlin – Sting (live album/DVD)
  • 2010 Music Redeems – The Marsalis Family (live album)
  • 2012 Spirit Rising Angelique Kidjo
  • 2013 Every Man Should Know – Harry Connick, Jr.
  • 2013 Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends – Joshua Bell
  • 2014 Spring 1990 (The Other One) – Grateful Dead
  • 2014 Wake Up to Find Out – Grateful Dead
  • 2015 30 Trips Around the Sun – Grateful Dead
  • 2015 30 Trips Around the Sun: The Definitive Live Story 1965–1995 – Grateful Dead
  • 2016 Safaricom International Jazz Festival 2016

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