Branford Marsalis shows classical side

Publication: Cincinnati Enquirer
Author: Janelle Gelfand
Date: November 25, 2012

Branford Marsalis may be best known as the former music director and bandleader for NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in the 1990s. But his artistry runs much deeper.

He’s a member of a distinguished New Orleans jazz dynasty that began with his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis. Branford, a saxophonist and the oldest of his siblings – who include trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason – established his reputation while still a student at the Berklee College of Music, working with jazz luminaries Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry.

Since then, he’s appeared with a who’s-who of jazz giants. He has also partnered with musicians as diverse as Sting, the Grateful Dead, and the hip-hop group Public Enemy. The Grammy Award-winner founded his own record label a decade ago, and records with his own Branford Marsalis Quartet.

The other side of this artist is that he is as comfortable discussing Shostakovich as he is Miles Davis.

Marsalis made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in 2010, the same year that his score for the 2010 Broadway revival of August Wilson’s “Fences” earned a Tony Award nomination for “Best Original Score Written for the Theater.” He has appeared as a soloist with orchestras around the world in music by composers such as Copland, Debussy and Darius Milhaud.

This year, Marsalis is a creative director for the Ascent Series for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.Besides appearing as soloist next weekend in Jacob ter Veldhuis’ “Tallahatchie Concerto,” Marsalis will make appearances this week during CSO Young People’s Concerts in Music Hall, coach the NKU Jazz Band and participate in “Classical Conversations” before each of his concert performances.

In March, he’ll return for a second residency week, to include masterclasses, a jam session with amateur musicians and an appearance at the orchestra’s annual Classical Roots concert on March 15.

The 52-year-old saxophonist, who received the NEA Jazz Masters Award with his family last year, answered five questions.

Question: Where did you first experience Jacob ter Veldhuis’ “Tallahatchie Concerto,” and why did you select it to perform with the CSO?

Answer: I first played “Tallahatchie” in Düsseldorf (Germany) in 2004, and again at the International Saxophone Symposium at George Washington University in 2010. Those performances have put me in a position to play the piece much better this time around.

The adagio movement is luscious and beautiful. There are a lot of riffs that are, like, funky, R&B jazz riffs from yesteryear. … (The composer) is Dutch, but he incorporated contemporary American popular themes inside of the second movement. I enjoy playing it. That’s one of the reasons I like it.

Q: Did you learn to play classical music at the same time you were learning to play jazz?

A: I played in youth orchestra, and started listening to classical music seriously in 1986, but didn’t take formal lessons until 2000. I started late, and I’m still learning, which is an amazing gift, to be 52 years old and still learning.

Q: What’s been your favorite non-classical or non-jazz musical collaboration from the last couple of years?

A: I played a couple of concerts with Sting, which is like going home. In addition, I played two shows with Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby, which was a lot like going home, as well.

Q: When you’re not immersed in music, what kind of activities do you enjoy?

A: I mostly play bad golf, and will finally start going to the gym after a year-and-a-half of not doing so. But not until these concerts are over.

Q: What do you find rewarding about these kinds of orchestra residencies?

A: Playing difficult music with quality musicians always make me better, in the long run.

Submitted by Courtney on November 26th, 2012 — 12:29pm

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