Branford Marsalis

  • Jazz saxophonist, composer and bandleader born in 1960 in Breaux Bridge Louisiana.
  • Marsalis grew up in a musical family – his father Ellis was a pianist and music professor, and his mother was a jazz singer, and his 3 brothers all are professional jazz musicians (see my July 2, 2017 post on his brother, trumpeter Wynton). Branford learned to play piano at the age of 4, and he played the clarinet as a child. Entering his teens, he moved to the saxophone and played funk and jazz in local bands. After high school, he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1980, he left college to tour in Europe with Art Blakey’s Big Band.
  • By 1981, he was a regular member of Blakey’s Jazz Messengers ensemble (along with brother Wynton). Also at that time, he was a member of Wynton’s jazz quintet, contributing to Wynton’s 3 Grammy award winning albums. From 1981 to 1984, he participated in recordings by Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Additionally, 2 albums were released with Branford as leader – Fathers & Sons and Scenes in the City.
  • In 1985, Marsalis joined Sting’s band, as Sting started his solo career. He collaborated on 8 Sting albums between 1985 and 2018. At the same time, he led his own group of jazz musicians, and 18 more albums were released between 1986 and 1999, earning Marsalis 13 Grammy nominations and 1 win – I Heard You Twice the First Time won for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance. In 1993, he won a Grammy award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for a piece that he jointly performed with Bruce Hornsby for the Barcelona Summer Olympics, titled Barcelona Mona. 
  • He was chosen to lead the Tonight Show Band in 1992 on TV’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno – he held the role until 1995.
  • He continued to collaborate with numerous artists, including The Grateful Dead, James Taylor, Crosby Stills & Nash, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and many others – he has contributed to recordings by over 75 artists.
  • Since 2000, Marsalis as leader released 13 more albums, winning another Grammy in 2000 for his Contemporary Jazz album, which was released by The Branford Marsalis Quintet.
  • Beginning in 2008, he turned his sights to classical music. He toured the U.S. with the Philharmonia Brasileira, and in 2010 he made his debut performance with the New York Philharmonic. He was invited back to perform with the New York Philharmonic for their 2010 – 2011 concert series. He continued to perform with other orchestras, including Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Dusseldorf, Tokyo Chamber, the Boston Pops, and numerous others.
  • In 2010, Marsalis began to work on projects for Broadway. His score for the revival of August Wilson’s Fences in 2010 won a Drama Desk award and was nominated for a Tony award. He also contributed the music for The Mountaintop, and he served as musical curator for the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun. 
  • Branford Marsalis’ legacy as an accomplished jazz musician is key to why “Marsalis” is the preeminent name in jazz music. His father Ellis passed away from coronavirus on April 1, 2020. But the Marsalis legacy will live forever, thanks to Branford, Wynton, Jason and Delfeayo Marsalis. Here’s a clip of Branford and his father performing Sweet Lorraine in New Orleans in 2015.

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