Born in 1960, Branford Marsalis has always loved many different kinds of musi—from jazz, blues, and funk, to the classics. Known the world over, saxophonist Branford Marsalis was born into one of the most distinguished of New Orleans musical families. Patriarch Ellis Marsalis, himself a pianist and educator, leads the ensemble of Branford's siblings Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason. In his early life, Branford gained initial acclaim through his work with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and his brother Wynton's quintet in the early 1980s before forming his own ensemble.
It is because of this broad love and appreciation for music, coupled with his innovative spirit and broad musical scope, that Branford is equally at home on the stages of the world's greatest clubs and concert halls, where he has performed jazz with his quartet He has also developed his own unique musical approach to contemporary popular music with his band Buckshot LeFonque.
In recent years, Branford also has become increasingly active as a featured soloist with such acclaimed orchestras as the Chicago, Detroit, Düsseldorf, and North Carolina Symphonies and the Boston Pops, in a growing repertoire that includes compositions by Copland, Debussy, Glazunov, Ibert, Mahler, Mihaud, Rorem and Vaughan Williams.
Marsalis' foray into the classical world continues with his work with contemporary Scottish composer, Sally Beamish. The latter, after hearing Branford perform her composition "The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone" at the 2006 North Sea Jazz Festival, was inspired to reconceive a piece in progress, "Under the Wing of the Rock," which he premiered as part of the Celtic Connections festival in Beamish's home country of Scotland in January 2009. This performance followed on the heels of his two-month classical tour with the Philharmonic Brasileira in a program featuring the music of Brazil's master composer Hector Villa-Lobos and his friend, French composer Darius Milhaud, allowing the saxophonist the opportunity to more thoroughly engage the music and make it his own.
Marsalis' nearly two dozen recordings reflect his musical flexibility, with his latest CD, Metamorphosen, scheduled for release in March 2009. Metamorphosen marks the tenth anniversary of Marsalis' quartet, which features pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, and includes original compositions by all four members in a variety of moods, as well as features for Marsalis on tenor, soprano and alto saxophones.
His previous disc, the Grammy-nominated Braggtown, was acknowledged as his quartet's greatest recorded achievement to date. The Marsalis quartet's Eternal also received a Grammy nomination as well as virtually universal inclusion in lists and polls for the best jazz recording of 2004. Marsalis' playing on the DVD Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' Live in Amsterdam also received a Grammy nomination for best instrumental jazz solo, while also garnering awards for music and video excellence from the DVD Association.
Marsalis is also dedicated to changing the future of jazz in the classroom. He has shared his knowledge at such universities as Michigan State, San Francisco State, Stanford and North Carolina Central, with his full quartet participating in an innovative extended residency at the NCCU campus.
Beyond these efforts, he is also bringing a new approach to jazz education to student musicians and listeners in colleges and high schools through Marsalis Jams, an interactive program designed by Marsalis in which leading jazz ensembles present concert/jam sessions in mini-residencies. Marsalis Jams has visited campuses in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Southwest, and established an ongoing Marsalis Berklee Jams series with the Berklee College of Music in 2008.
Wherever he his, stage, studio, or classroom, or in the community at large, Branford Marsalis exudes the mission of keeping music paramount.
The Black Arts-National City Artist of the Month is presented with the sponsorship of National City, now a part of PNC, dedicated to supporting the communities they serve.
Previous Black Arts-National City Artists of the Month
July 2009—Barbara Hendricks
June 2009—George Walker
May 2009—Shirley Verrett
April 2009—Duke Ellington
March 2009—Jessye Norman
February 2009—Marian Anderson
January 2009—Danielle Belén