Branford Marsalis times two

Publication: Maclean’s
Author: Paul Wells
Date: July 2, 2014

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis is playing in Ottawa this Saturday to open the Music and Beyond Festival. In the first half he’ll perform as a soloist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, playing Alexander Glazunov’s concerto for alto saxophone. After intermission the orchestra will clear out and Marsalis will play jazz with his quartet.

He’s appearing more and more often as an orchestral soloist lately, but does he often do this thing where he plays both classical and jazz in the same night? “No, I don’t do it ever, really,” Marsalis told me the other day over the phone from his home in North Carolina. “No one else ever asked me to do that. So it never happened.”

Is it hard to switch between classical and jazz contexts? “It used to be more difficult 10 years ago when I first started playing [classical music], because I had to marshal so much of my brain to focus in on playing. Everything was just so fast, you know. Now that my brain is able to process the information, slow it down a bit so it’s not as bad as it used to be, you know, my focus is better. I don’t feel as overwhelmed in that environment as I did 10 years ago.”

Some people might be surprised that for the three-time Grammy winner, who first rose to public notoriety in his brother Wynton Marsalis’s quintet more than 30 years ago, it’s the classical music that poses a challenge. After all, classical music is written down, you get to rehearse every note before you perform for an audience — what’s the problem?

My question was intentionally naive, designed to provoke, and it worked a charm. “Well, most people that would say that know absolutely nothing about classical music,” Marsalis said. “They don’t understand what it’s like to be in that pit. The similar thing would be, I’ve had the joy of watching people watch soccer and say, ‘What’s the big deal? You run around. You kick a little ball. It’s not like American football where you’ve got to hit people and you’ve got to do this.’ And I say, ‘Well let’s go play.’ I called a friend of mine in California, we joked about it. We went out to play. And none of us was good but we were playing. And he said, ‘I gotta tell you man, I’m humbled. I didn’t think I was going to survive it.’ And I said, ‘Well, that remains to be seen, man. That’s just the first half.’ ” Read more »

Riot on the Set: How Public Enemy Crafted the Anthem 'Fight the Power'

Publication: Rolling Stone
Author: Kory Grow
Date: June 30, 2014

“We needed an anthem,” Spike Lee said. “When I wrote the script for Do the Right Thing, every time when the Radio Raheem character showed up, he had music blasting. I wanted Public Enemy.”

The director may have asked for an anthem for his 1989 chronicle of big-city racial tensions, but what he got was a salvo. A quarter of a century has passed since Radio Raheem’s boom box served as a megaphone to a generation, spreading Public Enemy’s rap reveille over and over again in the movie, but “Fight the Power” has not lost an ounce of its revolutionary power or poignancy. Chuck D’s lyrics praising freedom of speech and people uniting while decrying racist icons still sound just as vital as anything Pete Seeger wrote, and production team the Bomb Squad’s ultra-modern collage of funk and noise for the track has never been replicated. The fact that Public Enemy made multiple versions of the tune – including the Branford Marsalis–infused, free-jazz cut for the movie and the more straight-ahead approach on their 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet – only shows the versatility of the song’s message.

To celebrate the legacy of the tune, and its impact both in and out of movie theaters 25 years later, Rolling Stone caught up with Lee, Marsalis and Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav and the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee and found out how they made an anthem.

How did Branford Marsalis get involved?
Branford Marsalis: I think it was Spike’s idea. I don’t feel at that the time that P.E. or Hank would have been suddenly compelled to use a saxophone.

Shocklee: I wanted to have a sax in the record but I didn’t want it in a smooth, melodic fashion; I wanted someone to play it almost like a weapon, and Branford was the guy. 

Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on June 30th, 2014 — 12:42pm

Twin Cities Jazz Festival is larger than ever, with big names, more stages

Publication: Pioneer Press
Author: Dan Emerson
Date: June 26, 2014

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis and his quartet recently released an album of new material. So, will Marsalis and his mates be playing music from “4 MFs Playin’ Tunes” when they perform Friday evening in Mears Park at the 16th annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival?

That will depend on how we feel,” said Marsalis, who places a high value on the importance of “being in the moment,” and the spontaneous, on-the-fly creativity that is the essence of jazz.

If the three-time Grammy winner plays tunes from the new album at his festival appearance, they may sound somewhat different from the way they were recorded in the studio. Musicians like Marsalis and his mates don’t consider compositions to be static creations — they should evolve and improve over time as they are played live.

Marsalis leads a quartet that has stayed together longer than many modern jazz groups, with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and the youngest member, drummer Justin Faulkner. There’s a widely accepted idea in the jazz world that the longer a band stays together the more it develops the ability to collectively and spontaneously create good music,onstage.

But familiarity alone “doesn’t do it,” said Marsalis, who divides his time between the jazz and classical music worlds. A willingness to risk failure is important. 

Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on June 27th, 2014 — 09:12am

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Inspiration Maya Angelou recorded her reading of her classic poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” with Branford Marsalis and Buckshot LeFonque in this musical tribute to her talent and the important themes she was able to express so brilliantly.  She will be missed.

Submitted by Ben on May 28th, 2014 — 12:45pm

Melodic Study, Deep Listening and the Importance of Context (Downbeat Master Class by Branford Marsalis)

BM Downbeat Master Class

Submitted by Ben on May 15th, 2014 — 12:26pm