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Interview with Grammy-winning musician Branford Marsalis

Publication: Nashville Examiner
Author: Sterling Whitaker
Date: January 19, 2012

To listen to Branford’s interview with Sterling Whitaker, please visit the Examiner’s site here.

Branford Marsalis is one of the most celebrated musicians of his generation. In a three-decade career the saxophonist has worked with artists as diverse as Sting, Miles Davis and Harry Connick Jr., led his own bands, served as the bandleader on The Tonight Show, appeared in films and as a soloist with symphonies internationally. He is a Grammy winner and Tony nominee, and also works tirelessly as a music educator.

  Marsalis’ most recent album is Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, a duo effort with pianist Joey Calderazzo. Marsalis will perform in concert on Friday, January 20 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, showcasing songs from that album as well as quartet material spanning the range of his career.

Branford Marsalis spoke to Examiner.com about Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, his compositional process, why live music should not require click tracks, the degrading of pop music and television, his stint on The Tonight Show and much more in the following exclusive interview. What follows are excerpts from a longer interview; to listen to the entire audio interview, click on the video at left.

Thanks to Branford Marsalis, and to Laurie Davis at the Nashville Symphony for arranging this interview.
 
Let’s talk about Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. Where does that title come from?

There’s a Keats poem, and the title was “Of Mirth and …” something. Mirth and madness or something like that. So the more I listened to the record, the more I realized that we had a couple of songs that were quite mirthful, and a number of songs that were quite lachrymose. So I sent out an email blast to my friends saying, “I’m trying to get the name of a title together, and it’s gonna be Songs of Mirth, and I need a word that rings with melancholy. And lachrymose doesn’t work, because ‘lachrymosity’ is just too long. That doesn’t work.”

So my wife writes back, “What about ‘melancholy?’” And I said, “Well, no, I don’t want melancholy, that’s why I said I need a word that kind of rhymes with melancholy.” And she goes, “Well, melancholy seems fine to me.” I said, “Yeah, okay, great.” And the more I thought about it and all these other suggestions came in, melancholy just kept kicking me in the teeth. So I said, “Well, all right … mirth and melancholy.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 20th, 2012 — 04:20pm

Life on Marsalis: Jazz great Branford Marsalis forges ahead in multiple fields

Publication: Nashville Scene
Author: Ron Wynn
Date: January 19, 2012

Saxophonist, composer and bandleader Branford Marsalis’ accomplishments surpass those of almost any other player in his generation. The oldest sibling from the famous New Orleans musical family that also includes Wynton, Jason, Delfeayo, Ellis III and pianist father Ellis, Branford’s shown a brilliance on tenor, soprano and alto that has earned him three Grammys and an NEA Jazz Masters award. He’s also been highly praised for impressive contributions to Broadway plays (a 2010 Drama Desk award and a 2010 Tony nomination for musical scores) and films, as well as extensive appearances with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles, plus several  classical recording sessions.

But when he returns to the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall Friday night for a concert that will feature duo and quartet performances, he’ll be focusing on the fiery, thematically diverse and engaging jazz that’s been his hallmark over the lengthy history of his current ensemble. In fact, emotional satisfaction remains more a point of emphasis than technical proficiency, even though he’s certainly among the premier modern saxophone soloists. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 19th, 2012 — 03:16pm

Jazz giants to share the stage at Montgomery College in Rockville

Publication: Maryland Gazette.Com
Author: Cody Calamaio
Date: January 18, 2012

After more than a decade of working together in a quartet, Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis and his longtime piano player Joey Calderazzo are setting out on their own. The idea for a duo collaboration album was not born in the studio, but rather on a golf course. 

As amateur golf buffs, Marsalis and Calderazzo often would play together in celebrity tournaments. Sometimes, the organizers would ask the pair to perform something, but Marsalis would beg off with the excuse that there was no acoustic piano on the course.

“One year they invited us and there was a damn piano,” Marsalis recalls. 

Enjoying the music they made together on the green, Marsalis decided to just invite Calderazzo to play with him as a duo at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival. 

“At the end of that concert in August, I said, ‘Hey, I’m booking studio time,’” Marsalis says.  Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 18th, 2012 — 12:53pm

Live Review: The Branford Marsalis Quartet at Reynolds

Publication: Duke Performances The Thread
Author: Darren Mueller and Matthew Somoroff 
Date: January 17, 2012

“We need to quit thinking of songs as vehicles and think of them as songs, and treat each song with equality… What [pianist Joey Calderazzo and I] are trying to do is to figure out the emotional purpose of each song we play and then play according to that purpose, as opposed to musicians who spend their time developing what they call a concept. The biggest drawback of developing a concept is that everything you play has to be filtered through that concept. Ergo, every song ends up sounding exactly the same, which is called consistency, but it’s actually just dull-ass repetition. There’s nothing consistent about it. On [Songs of Mirth and Melancholy], I think that’s what we achieved: intellectual and musical consistency, even though all the songs are different.” —Branford Marsalis at his Duke Performances listening session

There is a lot to Branford Marsalis’ line of thinking here. Jazz composers such as Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, or Maria Schneider would most likely not only agree with Marsalis, but also say that this approach is a foregone conclusion to their musical conception. The recorded work of Miles Davis’ 1960s quintet, to which Marsalis referred, during the listening session, as one of his inspirations to pursue jazz, represents a similar approach to small-group improvisation. During the latter half of the decade, Davis’ style of playing on versions of “Agitation” differed from his playing on “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” The differences went beyond variance in tempo, encompassing timbral inflections, phrasing, and overall concept.

On January 13 at Reynolds Theater—the first date of the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s two-night, sold-out Duke Performances engagement—Marsalis practiced what he preaches.
Submitted by Courtney on January 17th, 2012 — 03:44pm

Listening Session with Branford Marsalis

Publication: Duke Performances The Thread
Author: Darren Mueller
Date: January 16, 2012

Journalist John Feinstein once described legendary UNC coach Dean Smith as the “most competitive human being” he had ever met. Smith was so competitive, Feinstein said, that he’d even compete in an interview. The same could be said of saxophonist Branford Marsalis, another local legend, who joined Duke Performances Director Aaron Greenwald for a listening session at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall on January 12. Always happy to express an opinion, Marsalis is a lightning rod for criticism as a result of his unapologetic stance on the contemporary state of jazz.

Throughout the night, Marsalis showed that he doesn’t mind talking about difficult subjects. “Most people that I know,” he said, “are comfortable when they can predict the outcome of the conversation. See, I’m the opposite of that. I find that boring. I want someone to come and tell me I’m full of crap and then I can defend it. I enjoy arguing. I enjoy it because it’s challenging. What gets accomplished when people just agree? But I don’t enjoy screaming, I enjoy arguing.”

As Marsalis told the audience, this comes from his upbringing in a competitive musical family. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 17th, 2012 — 03:09pm

Jazz musicians continue John Coltrane's legacy

Publication: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 Author: Calvin Wilson
Date: January 14, 2012

Of all the saxophonists who have found their sound in jazz, few have been as influential as John Coltrane. Almost 45 years after his death, his music continues to enjoy mainstream popularity, and his name retains its cultural capital. Recently, a commercial for an updated cellphone boasted its ability to “play some Coltrane.”

 Coltrane became famous as a bebop practitioner, but he became legendary as an avant-garde visionary. Along the way, he served as sideman to fellow legends Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and established a quartet — with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones — that set a standard for jazz artistry.

Two saxophonists who have taken the legacy of “Trane” to heart are coming to St. Louis. His son Ravi Coltrane will lead a quartet at Jazz at the Bistro this week. And Branford Marsalis, who covered Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on the album “Footsteps of Our Fathers,” will perform with pianist Joey Calderazzo on Jan. 22 at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

“It’s hard to imagine jazz without John Coltrane,” Ravi Coltrane said. “Just like it would be hard to imagine jazz without Charlie Parker or Miles Davis. Because they weren’t just great players who existed in one or two periods. They were part of the progression of jazz — the moving of it, the shifting of it, the changing of it.”

The music of John Coltrane, Marsalis said, “is very similar to Beethoven’s music. On the face of it, it’s not very hard at all. No tricks, no secrets. Yet there’s a large amount of passion that you have to bring to the music to make it work. And he’s certainly had an influence on me as a player.”
Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 17th, 2012 — 12:06pm

For jazz pianist Joey Calderazzo, improvisation is the thrill of the hunt

Publication: Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: Walter Tunis
Date: January 15, 2012

In describing Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, the recent album of piano and saxophone duets he recorded with longtime bandmate Branford Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo seemed almost dismissive.

Like most of the recordings he has been associated with — be they solo projects or the numerous works  undertaken during the past 12 years with  Marsalis’ extraordinary jazz  quartet — Calderazzo views Mirth almost  exclusively in the past tense. The jazz process for him involves immersing himself in the music, seeking something applicable from it that can benefit his playing, then moving on. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 17th, 2012 — 12:31pm

STLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Mirth and Melancholy with Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo

Publication: St. Louis Jazz Notes
Author: Dean Minderman
Date: January 15, 2012

To see Dean’s video picks, visit his original blog post here.

 This week, our video spotlight shines on saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo, who will be in St. Louis for a duo performance on Sunday, January 22 at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

In June of last year, Marsalis and Calderazzo released Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, a duo CD on the saxophonist’s Marsalis Music label. This tour essentially is a followup to that recording, which received favorable reviews such as this one from Jazz Times’ Jeff Tamarkin and this one from AllAboutJazz.com’s Mark F. Turner. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 17th, 2012 — 11:32am

Miguel Zenón Tops Rhapsody Poll

Publication: Rhapsody.Com
Date: January 11, 2012

Miguel Zenón’s Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook earned the #4 spot for 2011’s jazz Record of the Year  in Rhapsody’s first annual Critics’ Poll, which included votes from over 120 national writers. Alma Adentro also topped the list as the Best Latin Album. 

For a full list of the winners and commentary regarding this year’s poll, please visit the Rhapsody.com blog. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 12th, 2012 — 11:26am

Beacons of song: Marsalis/Calderazzo/Connick

Publication: Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches
Author: Hank Shteamer
Date: January 9, 2012

“If you give a soloist an open solo for thirty seconds, he plays like he’s coming from the piece that you wrote. Then he says, ‘What the hell was that piece I was playing from?’ And the next thirty seconds is, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll play what I learned last night.’ And bang! Minute two is whoever he likes. Which is probably Coltrane.”—Bob Brookmeyer (RIP), quoted in Ben Ratliff’s The Jazz Ear

I think about this quote a lot when I’m hearing jazz live. Often it’s because I’m thinking how much Brookmeyer’s cautionary anecdote applies to the situation at hand. Last night, thankfully, this was not the case.

The show was Branford Marsalis’s “A Duo of Duos” at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room (TONY preview here), during which he dueted first with Joey Calderazzo—his partner on 2011’s Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, over which I’ve already gushed extensively—and second with Harry Connick Jr., the latter of whom didn’t sing. So these were pure saxophone/piano duos, with Marsalis switching between tenor and soprano. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on January 10th, 2012 — 04:58pm