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 »