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Author: Jeff Schweers
Date: April 2, 2014
Basketball is probably the last thing you’d expect to talk to Branford Marsalis about, but when talking to the award-winning saxophonist you have to expect the unexpected.
Same goes for his concerts. When he and his quartet come to the Phillips Center on Friday, the audience could be in for a surprise because the band has no setlist and plays according to the room and the audience.
“As soon as we hear the room and the sound with an audience we will know what to play,” Marsalis said by phone while eating breakfast at a cafe in Durham, N. C., before teaching class at North Carolina Central University, where he’s been since joining the faculty in 2005.
At one recent concert the audience wasn’t responding to anything written after 1950, so Marsalis called out to the band “Trad night,” and they played a set of traditional songs. “They were over the moon,” he said of the band.
The ability to switch gears from standards to hard bop and every stop in between speaks to the band’s versatility as well as the omnivorous musical interests of Marsalis. He studied at Berklee Conservatory, and has played everything from pop to classical, recording and performing with Sting, Bruce Hornsby, The Grateful Dead and the Dave Matthews Band. He even served a stint as bandleader for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
With gigs in Baton Rouge, La., Athens, Ga., and Gainesville, Marsalis is informally calling this leg of his never-ending string of concert performances “The SEC Tour.”