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Branford Marsalis: Top Ten Favorite Albums
Ten Favorite Albums.
1.) Elton John- Honky Chateau.
This is the first record I ever bought. I heard the song Honky Cat on the radio and wanted to buy the single. My father preached to me about the joy of music and an open mind and encouraged me to buy the entire album. He said, “There are probably a lot of better songs on the record than the one they play on the radio.” And he was right. I learned all of the songs on the piano and went to sleep with it on for months; much to the chagrin of my roommate Wynton, to couldn’t go to sleep with music on. So he’d stay awake until I fell asleep, then turn it off.
2.) Mahler’s 3rd Symphony w/ Claudio Abbado conducting.
Wynton started buying music that coincided with his trumpet studies. Among the records he brought home was this one. I was quite surprised by the combination of force and melodic in the French Horn entrance to begin the symphony. It became another of my sleepy time records. Mahler’s 3 was the beginning of my love affair with extended, through-composed music forms. It changed my view of music and ruined my ability to truly appreciate most of the pop music I’d loved prior to it. I loved it so much that I stole Wynton’s record when I went away to college.
3.) Parliament Funkadelic- Mothership Connection
Well, I said most, not all. I could pick almost any of their records: Maggot Brain, America Eats its Young, (check for record after Mothership), to name a few. But this was the first one for me, and it completely changed my ideas about funk and it’s possibilities. It is not a coincidence that most of the brain trust of Parliament were alumni of the James Brown school. Add to it an appreciation of the burgeoning rock scene and you have a band of enormous potential, capable of playing anything and everything. Hyper funk grooves with hard guitars, zany keyboard parts and a jazz-tinged horn section. Many were enamored with the strange wardrobe and the brilliant lyrics. But for me, it was all music.
4.) Led Zeppelin- Physical Graffiti
There are other great records to pick (III, Houses of the Holy), but this is the one where it all came together for them. The growth process from the early days as a blues band was at it’s completion. While the punters ohhed and ahhed over Plant and Page, we musicians knew the real stars of the band were John Paul Jones and John Bonham. When I heard Graffiti I felt that they would never make a record better than this one. And they didn’t.
5.) Earth, Wind and Fire- All ‘N All
I feel the same way about this record as I do about Physical Graffiti. Open Our Eyes, Spirit, Gratitude, That’s The Way of the World are all great records. But this is the one when it all comes together. Having gone through this with Led Zep, I knew EWF was finished as a band. Sure, them made a few more records. But nothing close to this one.
6.) Weather Report- Mysterious Traveler
My dad had a 2 Weather Report records (Live in Japan and I Sing the Body Electric), but this is the first one I bought on my own. The music on this one is so challenging in comparison to the later, more popular records. And this is the record that introduced me to my first saxophone guru: Wayne Shorter. My favorite side was Side 2 (not to confuse the young folks). (Get name of first song) was the first time I’d actually heard a song played in 7/4. It, like the other records changed my musical perspective in many wonderful ways.
7.) Charlie Parker- Bird with Strings
It was one of the first jazz records I had ever heard. Being more of a rock/funkster in my teens, I immediately knew that whatever I was hearing on this record was way out of my league; and if I wanted to play this music, there would have to be a significant upgrade in my practice and listening habits. Because it consists of pop songs of the era, Bird with Strings was widely criticized by Bird’s fellow musicians and critics alike. But his ability to play those songs while maintaining his complex conception ensures this recording’s place as one of his most important recordings.
8.) Miles Davis- Live at the Plugged Nickel
I am a huge fan of all of the records recorded by this version of Miles’ great quintets (Wayne Shorter-sax, Herbie Hancock-piano, Ron Carter-bass, Tony Williams-drums), but this is the one where all of the new wrinkles they were working on come together. While playing mostly jazz standards, they play them with a level of musical sophistication that left this recording overlooked for decades (although it was recorded in the 60’s, it wasn’t released until the 80’s, and then only in Japan!!) A must for all aspiring jazz musicians and fans.
9.) Ornette Coleman- The Shape of Jazz to Come
This record is a affirmation of the jazz tradition. It is not a coincidence to me that Ornette’s champion at Atlantic Records was the forward-thinking pianist from the Modern Jazz Quartet, John Lewis. Considered a traditionalist at best, Lewis was a truly understated genius of jazz. It was his understanding of the tradition of jazz that led him to support the then-radical sounds of Ornette and his merry band of mischief makers (Don Cherry-trumpet, Billy Higgins-drums, Charlie Haden-bass). One of the little realized facts about this record is for all is moderness, the forms of most of the compositions are the standard “rhythm changes” or blues song forms. One of the great examples of the possibilities of music when you understand it’s pedagogy.
10.) A Love Supreme- John Coltrane
Often misunderstood as a tribute to God, the great masterpiece is an offering to God as a way to balance much of the negatives aspects of American society in the late 60’s. The culmination of years of study of the blues, swing (Coltrane’s first musical inspiration being the sweet alto man for Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges), classical harmony (note the similarities between the chord structure of Giant Steps and one of the aria’s in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier), and technical master of the instrument, this is by far one of the greatest recorded musical events in the history of recorded music.