Branford Marsalis News

10/19: Branford Marsalis plays Baroque sax in Scottsdale

Publication: AZCentral.com
Author: Kerry Lengel
Date: October 13, 2014

Branford Marsalis is the eldest brother in America’s “first family of jazz,” but jazz is just one corner of his resume.
 
The sax man has played with pop artists ranging from Sting to the Grateful Dead to Public Enemy and fused jazz and hip-hop with his own band, Buckshot LeFonque. He served as Jay Leno’s bandleader on “The Tonight Show” for three years, recorded the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s film “Mo’ Better Blues” and composed music for August Wilson’s “Fences” on Broadway, earning a Tony Award nomination.
 
Marsalis’ career embodies the famous quote from Duke Ellington that there are only two kinds of music — “good music and the other kind.” And for the past decade, Marsalis’ focus has been on performance territory that was first staked out by his kid brother, trumpet player Wynton: classical music.
 
On Sunday, Oct. 19, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, he will perform Baroque selections by Bach, Telemann and Albinoni with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. The concert is dubbed “Marsalis Well Tempered.”
 
Marsalis, who turned 54 in August, spoke by phone about taking a deep dive into the classical repertoire.
 
Question: What was the challenge of switching to classical music? What did you have to learn, or unlearn?
 
Answer: I think you need to unlearn things in golf, but not really in music. I didn’t have to unlearn anything, but I had to learn a hell of a lot.
 
I had to reconfigure my embouchure (mouth position) to make it more stable. The control that you have to have to play with orchestras is very different than when you’re playing with drum sets, because with drums, there’s two volumes, basically, loud and louder. The stamina has to improve to play pieces for 15 and 20 minutes, because there’s no piano player coming to spell you when you get tired.
 
And the rest of it is just the little things you learn by going onstage and making a ton of mistakes. There’s no substitute for that. There’s no substitute for being on a stage and being overwhelmed and fighting your way through it.
 
Q: What composers or pieces drew you toward the classical repertoire?
 
A: I bought my first opera when I was 25, touring with Sting, actually, when there used to be Tower Records everywhere. I laughed, because it was “Turandot” with Pavarotti and Mirella Freni singing, and it was on sale for 30 (British) pounds. And I was like, “How the hell is that a sale? That’s like 55 bucks.” So I bought that, and it was just like a revelation.
 
In popular music, you have a basic track and then you have a singer. But suddenly I’m listening to this orchestral score that’s so rich, and it’s not just one singer, it’s multiple singers singing at the same time, and it’s all contrapuntal and it’s complex, and it all works. I didn’t even know how to comprehend it.
 
So I became a Puccini fanatic. I bought a couple of things by Verdi, but then I stumbled into a guy who said, “You got to listen to German opera. You’ll never want to hear the Italian stuff again.” Which I highly doubted. But I bought (Richard Strauss’) “Salome” and I’ve never turned back.

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Submitted by Courtney on October 17th, 2014 — 02:21pm

Branford Marsalis - In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (2014)

Publication: Something Else!
Author: Nick Deriso
Date: October 7, 2014

Never one to shy away from a big moment, Branford Marsalis brought his saxophones — and nothing else — to one of jazz’s most iconic settings for what would become his first-ever unaccompanied performance and album.
 
The results, recorded in 2012 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and due October 21, 2014 via Marsalis Music-Okeh Records, doesn’t supercede Duke Ellington’s initial 1960s-era Sacred Concert — held there, as well — so much as endeavor to expand the vocabulary of that stirring triumph.
 
Ellington, back then, was focused on blending jazz, black gospel and classical into a kind of large-scale, yet intimate tapestry of emotion. Marsalis, as evidenced by his single-instrument vehicle, is crafting more in miniature on In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral — but at the same time, pushing in his own way to blur the lines between post-bop jazz and contemporary classical. In place of the sacred, he delves into modernity of free-form improv. As such, this won’t translate for fans who’ve come to his music via tandem collaborations in pop music.
 
In fact, In My Solitude works diligently away from those expectations, as Marsalis tracks deeper into melody, and then into far more individualistic asides, while moving determinedly away from the bawdy shower of notes associated with rock and R&B. His work here, then, is apt to recall Sonny Rollins or Sam Newsome more than, say, Sting.
 
Submitted by Courtney on October 8th, 2014 — 10:07am

Going for Baroque: Branford Marsalis, chamber group in Seattle on Oct. 4

Publication: The Seattle Times
Author: Tom Keogh
Date: October 3, 2014

A concert of Baroque saxophone: What can that possibly sound like?
 
A Seattle audience is about to find out.
 
So is the saxophonist.
 
“We have not yet started rehearsals, so I can’t presume what we will sound like,” says Branford Marsalis, the Grammy Award-winning musician and composer.
 
The renowned and ubiquitous saxophone player, who has performed with everyone from Miles Davis to Public Enemy to the New York Philharmonic, is kicking off a 20-city tour with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia at Seattle’s Meany Hall for the Performing Arts on Saturday (Oct. 4).
 
In an email interview days before Marsalis and the 50-year-old ensemble began rehearsing, the leader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet looked ahead to a Meany program of early music from across Europe. The bill includes works by J.S. Bach, Henry Purcell, Tomaso Albinoni, Louis-Antoine Dornel and others.
 
“All of the pieces are outside my comfort zone, and I relish the challenge,” Marsalis says. “That said, I’m really digging the French Baroque stuff.”

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Submitted by Courtney on October 7th, 2014 — 10:52am

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. 

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