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Publication: Des Moines Register
Author: Joe Lawler
Date: November 11, 2012
“It was great to see your concert.” Branford Marsalis hears that kind of compliment regularly, and as a musician, it used to perplex him a bit — that people were there to see him, not to hear him.
But now he understands that people listen to records but want to see a performer live on stage, and he wishes more jazz musicians would take that to heart.
“People hear with their eyes,” Marsalis said during a phone interview. “You watch a lot of jazz musicians play now, and they don’t look like they’re into it. Someone will finish a solo and stare at their nails while another guy is soloing. I’m not talking about a dance show, but just sitting around doesn’t really suit what we’re trying to do.”
Marsalis said his quartet doesn’t plan out what it is going to do on stage. When pianist Joey Calderazzo stands up while performing, it’s because he’s feeling it in a song. When drummer Justin Fauklner gets his arms and legs moving like crazy, it’s to make sure the music is moving at the proper beat. But it’s a lot more entertaining to watch than four men calmly playing their instruments.
They’re just “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes,” if you buy the quartet’s latest album title. The album got its title in part due to Marsalis trying to explain that point (that it was just four musicians playing songs) during an interview. Then when his management asked, he gave them the same answer. He didn’t expect them to be OK with it, but it got a good reception.
“Every time my management presses me for a title, I usually say something really stupid, and when they say ‘That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,’ I tell them I’m really married to it, which buys me some more time,” Marsalis said. “But they thought it was a really cool title.”
When he’s not performing with his quartet, Marsalis teaches as an adjunct professor at schools like Michigan State, San Francisco State and North Carolina Central University. Part of his lesson plan involves informing his students about the harsh reality that few people get rich making music.
“If you think about it in context, there have probably been 300,000 classical composers over the last 800 years, and of those we only talk about five of them,” Marsalis said. “In jazz or any other style of music, someone will get praised as a great innovator when they start. Then how do they go from innovator to nothing so quickly?
“If someone wants to innovate, they can go to some other school to indulge in that waste of time. But if I can find five kids who want to be students of the music and learn from the ground up, it’s going to be good. If you’re wondering how you’re going to make a living doing this, you need to be doing something else. I’m a fan of guys and gals who want to play.”