Branford Marsalis

‘Finding Your Roots’: Marsalis Reflects; Why Alicia Keys Pulled Out

Publication: EurWeb.com
Author: Cherie Saunders
Date: March 26, 2012

New Orleans-born musician Branford Marsalis was hit with a one-two punch in Sunday’s season premiere of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.”

First, the Grammy winning saxophonist had always figured that he had white, European blood in his family line – as do most African Americans – and had always assumed that it was the result of a slave master raping one of his ancestors, as is usually the case.

Dr. Gates confirmed that Branford indeed descends from a German white man, Johann Learson, who changed his name to John Learson and shows up in New Orleans in 1851. But he fathered a child with a free black woman – named Mertay Valentine, Branford’s great, great, great grandmother). The relationship appears to have been a long one, as they had seven children – each bearing Learson’s surname.

Then, Dr. Gates dropped the other bombshell. The Marsalis family does not actually descend from a Marsalis. Their blood line comes from Isaac Black, who was married to Branford’s great, great grandmother Elizabeth Montgomery. They had a child together, Simeon, before divorcing a short time later. She then married Joseph Marsalis, who adopted Simeon. The boy then took on his step-father’s name.

“When Professor Gates was telling it to me, I kind of said, ‘You know, however I got here is fine with me,’” Marsalis recalls of that moment in the episode. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 27th, 2012 — 02:01pm

Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis explore their family trees on PBS' 'Finding Your Roots'

Publication: Nola.com
Author: Dave Walker
Date: March 25, 2012

The genealogy surprises revealed to Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in the latest installment of Gates’ “Finding Your Roots” series for PBS are so much fun they could count as story spoilers. So, if you want those surprises preserved, feel free to now skip ahead a few paragraphs knowing that a couple of New Orleans’ favorite sons meet some great-great-greats they couldn’t have imagined having. Spoilers a-comin’.

The episode airs at 7 p.m. Sunday (March 25), followed by a second hour in which Gates does similar digging for Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

The Marsalis musical dynasty, it turns out, is the product of the mid-1800s union of a German immigrant and a free woman of color.

The couple couldn’t marry, and their relationship – which produced seven children – was a statistical rarity.

“They had a relationship of mutuality and love and that kept them together, and that’s really neat,” Gates said during a recent phone interview. “Here’s something that will never be lost now for the Marsalis family, that they’re descended from this white man who defied all the common prejudices of the time. He gets off the boat and the first thing he sees is this beautiful free Negro woman, and boom they have seven children. Can you imagine writing home? Read more »

Stars search for their roots on PBS series

Publication: Lansing State Journal
Author: Mike Hughes
Date: March 24, 2012

Decades ago, the Marsalis kids had their notion of fun.

Branford, 13, and Wynton, 12, would find white Marsalis families in Summit, Miss.

“We’d knock on the door and say, ‘We’re doing our family tree and I think we’re related,’” Branford Marsalis recalled semi-sheepishly, “ just to watch them go, ‘Oh no, there must some mistake!’”

In truth, he knew they weren’t related to these people – “we were just being jerks” – but he also knew there were whites somewhere on the family tree. “In the hot Louisiana sun, when I … saw little blond hairs on my arm, I thought, ‘Ahh, that’s not supposed to happen.’”

The search for answers is at the core of “Finding Your Roots,” Henry Louis Gates’ new PBS series. It reflects something that has drawn Gates since the 1960 funeral of his grandfather. Read more »

'Finding Your Roots' enlightens, inspires family history work

Publication: Deseret News
Date: March 24, 2012
Author: Tiffany Shill

PBS’s 10-part series “Finding Your Roots” illustrates how researchers never quite know what they’ll find when looking into family history, whether it’s in a public record, through the Internet or a story passed down from generations.

Finding your Roots,” which premieres Sunday, March 25, at 7 p.m. on KUED, Ch. 7, is hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University. The series looks into the family history of notable names like Samuel L. Jackson, Barbara Walters and Robert Downey Jr. Gates invites all to look back in their family lines and find what it is that makes them who they are.

“Genealogy is more popular than ever, but it’s far more than a solitary pastime,” says Gates, whose previous projects include “African American Lives” (2006), “African American Lives 2” (2008) and “Faces of America” (2010). “It’s a fascinating endeavor that can drastically alter both history and the way we think of ourselves.”

The premiere episode features guest biographies of musician/actor Harry Connick Jr. and composer/band leader Branford Marsalis. The two are “dear friends” who grew up together in New Orleans with its rich musical heritage.

It’s often been said that people in New Orleans don’t just tell history, they do history,” Gates says.

Gates uses “every tool available” to put together their “book of life.”

Genealogists help stitch together the past, using the paper trail their ancestors left behind,” Gates says.

Their story “illuminates the complicated history of race in New Orleans,” he says. Read more »

Two paths, one place: The ties that bind Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.

Publication: USA Weekend
Author: Elyssa Gardner
Date: March 22, 2012
For a video featuring Branford and Harry, please visit the USA Weekend website.

“Ready to go?” Branford Marsalis prods Harry Connick Jr., placing his hands on Connick’s shoulders. The celebrated musicians and old friends are at a New York rehearsal hall for a photo shoot, but Connick can’t pry himself away from the piano.

It’s surely a familiar sight for Marsalis, 51, whose father, Ellis, gave Connick, 44, lessons more than four decades ago in their shared hometown, New Orleans.

Connick and Marsalis have remained close friends and collaborate on musical and philanthropic projects, such as supporting artists in their native city after Hurricane Katrina. Now, on Sunday’s Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS, it is revealed that while their ancestors charted very different paths, the family trees were shaped by common historical events.

Both have European ancestors who landed in the South.

Marsalis’ maternal great-great-great-grandfather, John Reinhart Learson, immigrated to New Orleans from Germany before the Civil War. The name Marsalis, however, actually was taken from his great-grandfather’s stepfather.

“My actual great-great-grandfather was a man named Isaac Black,” Marsalis notes.

Connick’s great-great-grandfather arrived in Mobile, Ala., from Ireland and wound up a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. A bit shaken by that revelation, Connick discussed it with his buddy, who reassured him. “I said, ‘Of course he was,’” Marsalis recalls. “‘What else would he have done?’ That doesn’t have any bearing on how Harry and I are with one another. It was a different time.” Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 23rd, 2012 — 02:07pm

School superheroes: Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo make sure music does good in H-Town

Publication: Houston Culture Map
Author: Chris Becker
Date: March 22, 2012

Music and the arts in pre-college education are the first things to go due to state deficits and blowhard politicking. Several music and arts organizations in Houston with strong educational programming, including Musiqa, Writers in the Schools, and Young Audiences of Houston, work tirelessly to provide arts-integrated learning in some of this city’s most financially challenged schools.

Friday night at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Houston organization MusicDoingGood presents pianist Joey Calderazzo and saxophonist Branford Marsalis in concert, as a duo, to benefit MusicDoingGood in Schools, which serves students 7 to 18 in after-school educational programs. Participating musicians and artists for all of the above mentioned organizations steel themselves to work with underprivileged, and often behaviorally challenged kids. Read more »

Branford Marsalis goes green, finds his roots

Publication: Mother Nature Network
Author: Gerri Miller
Date: March 21, 2012

“We certainly recycle and force our children to recycle and we compost,” says saxophonist Branford Marsalis, adding that his wife’s attempts at gardening have lacked success “because the deer and rabbits and raccoons love the garden more than you do.” He lives in Durham, N.C., “an environmentally conscious area. I’m trying to convince the city to invest in hydrogen cars for the fleet they drive. BMW and Hyundai make them. Right now there are no stations, but if they buy them the stations will follow. I have a hybrid, but I would love a hydrogen car.”

Marsalis is featured in the premiere episode of PBS’ ten-part series “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” in which the Harvard professor traces the ancestry of such celebrities as Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon, Geoffrey Canada, Barbara Walters, Michelle Rodriguez, Margaret Cho, Robert Downey, Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Martha Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend and Condoleezza Rice. Marsalis’ friend and fellow Louisiana jazz musician Harry Connick Jr. is also in the opening episode. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 22nd, 2012 — 03:21pm

Jazz musician Branford Marsalis will perform at the Palustris Festival

Publication: FayObserver.com
Author: Rodger Mullen
Date: March 19, 2012

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has enjoyed a career as one of jazz’s more visible musicians, thanks to gigs as a sideman for Sting, Jay Leno’s sidekick as leader of “The Tonight Show” band and roles in movies including Spike Lee’s “School Daze.”

But Marsalis said he’s never really sought the spotlight.

A lot of popular culture is counter to my nature,” he said. “In order for it to work, there’s a certain level of superficiality that you have to blatantly embrace. I was never that guy.”

Marsalis, 51, is scheduled to perform Thursday in Southern Pines for the opening night of the Palustris Festival. He will be joined by pianist Joey Calderazzo.

A native of Louisiana, Marsalis grew up in a musical family. His father, Ellis Marsalis Jr.; and brothers Wynton, Jason and Delfeayo are all jazz musicians.

In 1980, while still a student at Berklee College of Music, Marsalis toured Europe in an ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. He went on to play with Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry before joining brother Wynton in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

In 1985, Marsalis began an association with Sting, playing on his “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” album. From 1992 to ‘95, the saxophonist was the leader of “The Tonight Show” band.

Since leaving “The Tonight Show,” Marsalis has kept busy recording albums and performing live. Last year, he and Calderazzo released their first album as a duo, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy.”

Marsalis recently spoke with the Observer from his home in Durham. Following are excerpts from that conversation:

Observer: What was it like growing up in such a musical family? Was there a lot of competition?

Marsalis: It’s hard to compete when you all play different instruments. My competition was with guys who played my instrument and I loved them so much that there wasn’t really a competition. I mean, to my left was a guy named John McGarry, he’s a doctor now in San Francisco, he was incredible and I really looked up to him. And to my left was David Vitter, who’s now the senator from Louisiana. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 19th, 2012 — 04:59pm

Branford Marsalis toots his horn in Napa

Publication: Times-Herald
Author: Rich Freedman
Date: March 11, 2012

Yes, Branford Marsalis toured with Sting . Yes, he did two years on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

But, while it might make a good line or two in a lengthy biography, it’s far from who the brilliant saxophonist is. One may as well have found the credits on a cave wall.

For the record, performing with Sting was a good experience. And Leno was a decent chap. But Marsalis, 51, was never the guy to lure the former Police front man onto a recording merely to put “featuring Sting.” Nor was it ever his intention to forever be “that guy who once led the Tonight Show band.”

One thing I did learn from ‘The Tonight Show’ is that unless you’re on TV, people don’t know who you are,” Marsalis said.

Most folks who have picked up a horn — or even have a mere passive interest in jazz — in the last 30 years likely know of Marsalis. And if it’s not Branford, it’s brother Wynton or the patriarch of the jazz-playing family, Ellis Marsalis.

It’s been a life of jazz — and, more recently, classical — that keeps the father of three motivated. Not that the scene, the industry or his own body haven’t change through nearly 30 recordings as The Lead Guy and more than 50 recordings as a sideman.

Still, touring — including a March 29 date at the Napa Valley Opera House — is “the same as always,” Marsalis said, “the airlines is more of a drag.”

But he continues. The Marsalis Music label he founded in 2002. He won the 2010 Drama Desk Award for “Best Music in a Advertisement Play” in the Broadway revival of “Fences.” And he released, “The Songs of Mirth and Melancholy” duo with Joey Calderazzo in 2011.

These days Marsalis listens to his kids — a 26-year-old son and daughters 11 and 7 — and realizes perhaps it’s good to be 51. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on March 12th, 2012 — 10:31am

Portland Festival, Take Five: Marsalis-Calderazzo Duo, Brubeckians

Publication: Rifftides
Author: Doug Ramsey
Date: February 29, 2012

MARSALIS AND CALDERAZZO

Parts of Brandford Marsalis’s and Joey Calderazzo’s Sunday concert of saxophone-piano duets suggested the atmosphere of a 19th century recital somewhere in middle Europe. The beauty of Calderazzo’s “La Valse Kendall,” Marsalis’s “The Bard Lachrymose” and the short “Die Trauernde” of Brahms encouraged quiet reflection. These are jazz musicians, however—two of the most adventuresome—and a complete afternoon of stately salon music wasn’t in the cards. The impression they left the capacity crowd in Portland’s Newmark Theater was of good friends enjoying the rewards and risks of spontaneous creation.

Some of the music was from their 2011 album Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy. Calderazzo’s “Bri’s Dance” was, among other things, a reminder of the richness of Marsalis’s soprano sax tone, which is wide and nearly without vibrato. It was also an occasion for Calderazzo to unleash the Bach in his left hand and lead into a round of give-and-take exchanges with Marsalis that gained in both rhythm and precision as the action unfolded. Their performance of “Eternal” was at least as long as the 18-minute one on the 2003 Marsalis quartet album of that name and gave, if anything, an even more intimate tug on the emotions. Calderazzo’s loping 16-bar composition “One Way” has the character of something Sonny Rollins might have thought of in his “Way Out West” days. Marsalis’s tenor playing on it had that playful spirit. Read more »