Leading the Future of Jazz Education: Branford Marsalis

Written By Sonny Akbar Sembada

Hi, my name is Sonny Akbar Sembada and I welcome you to my blog, The Uncle Jazz. The main topic of my blog is everything related to jazz music.. 

Branford Marsalis leading the future of jazz education, born on August 26, 1960, in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana – the coolest American saxophonist and composer in the game.

He’s the big bro in a squad of six musical dynamos, including heavy hitters like Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis III, Delfeayo Marsalis, Mboya Kinyatta, and Jason Marsalis.

Leading the Future of Jazz Education: The Jazz Guru

His folks, Dolores (the jazz singer) and Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr. (the piano whiz and music prof), set the stage for Branford’s musical journey. He’s the head honcho of the Branford Marsalis Quartet and also throws down some solo vibes. Oh, and don’t forget about his stint with the Buckshot LeFonque crew.

Early Musical Adventures: 1980–85

Back in the ’80s, while cruising through Berklee College of Music, Branford took a Euro tour, jamming on alto and baritone sax in a massive ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. He rubbed shoulders with legends like Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry. ’81 rolls around, and he teams up with his bro Wynton in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, keeping that musical flame alive until ’85. During this time, he drops his first album, “Scenes in the City,” and shares the stage with heavyweights like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Fast forward to ’85, and he links up with Sting, the voice of The Police, for Sting’s solo project, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles.” Branford rides the Sting wave until ’99, when they kick off “Brand New Day.”

In ’94, Branford throws down on the “Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool” album, a jam to raise awareness about AIDS in the African American community. Time magazine even gives them Album of the Year props.

In ’88, he dips his toes in acting, starring in Spike Lee’s “School Daze” and bringing some sweet horn vibes.

Early Musical Adventures 1980–85
image source: branfordmarsalis.com

From ’92 to ’95

He’s the main man on “The Tonight Show” during Jay Leno’s reign. Initially, he’s like, “Nah, not my thing,” but then he reconsiders and takes on the gig. Later on, he passes the torch to guitarist Kevin Eubanks.

Between ’90 and ’94, he jumps on stage with the Grateful Dead for some epic jam sessions.

Rolling into ’97, he drops the second Buckshot LeFonque album. Since ’96, he’s all about his quartet, classical grooves, and spreading the musical love.

With OG quartet member Jeff “Tain” Watts on the drums, some lineup changes, and a Grammy win in 2001 for the Contemporary Jazz album, Branford’s on a roll. He’s also the jazz consultant and creative producer for Columbia from ’97 to ’01, signing up saxophonist David S. Ware for a couple of albums.

After 2001

Leading the future of jazz education Branford gets serious about classical music, rocking it with symphony orchestras and chamber crews worldwide. In 2008, he hits the road in the U.S. with the Philarmonia Brasileira, dishing out tunes by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, marking 50 years since the dude passed away.

In 2002, he starts his own label, Marsalis Music, signing up talents like Claudia Acuña, Harry Connick Jr., Doug Wamble, Miguel Zenón, and even dropping some family albums.

Youtube video by Branford Marsalis

But it’s not just about the music. Leading the future of jazz education Branford’s also on the education train, teaching at Michigan State, San Francisco State, and North Carolina Central University. Post-Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he and Harry Connick, Jr., team up with Habitat for Humanity to build the Musicians Village in New Orleans, repping the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.

In 2006, Berklee College of Music hands him an honorary Doctor of Music degree. They throw a party, featuring tunes from his epic career.

Now, sliding into the 2008–2010 era, Branford hits the U.S. with the Philarmonia Brasileira, dishing out Heitor Villa-Lobos vibes. Then, he teams up with the North Carolina Symphony for the “American Spectrum” album, dropping some Michael Daugherty, John Williams, Ned Rorem, and Christopher Rouse tracks.

In 2010

He scoops up the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play. He also nabs a Tony Award nomination for Best Original Score in a Broadway play for “Fences.”

In 2010, Branford jams with the New York Philharmonic in Central Park, throwing down some Glazunov and Schuloff tunes.

Fast forward to 2011, and Branford, his pops, and his bros snag the NEA Jazz Masters Award. Then, in 2011, he and Joey Calderazzo drop their first duo album, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy.”

Read also: Jazz Pianist from Japan: The phenomenal Akiko Tsuruga

In 2012, he drops “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes Premium” on deluxe vinyl. It’s the quartet’s first recording with drummer Justin Faulkner, who joined in 2009. They even snag the Best Jazz Instrumental Album of the Year on Apple iTunes in 2012.

And in May 2012, Branford grabs another honorary doctorate, this time from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In June 2012, he and his bud Harry Connick, Jr., snag the Jefferson Awards for Public Service for their work on the Musicians’ Village in New Orleans.

In 2012, Branford belts out The Star-Spangled Banner at the Democratic National Convention. Talk about a multi-talented dude!

And on March 26, 2013, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota is like, “Branford, you’re cool,” and hands him an honorary Doctor of Arts Leadership degree.

Instruments of Awesomeness

Branford’s musical toolkit includes a silver Selmer Mark VI soprano, Yamaha YSS-82ZR, Selmer D mouthpiece, and Vandoren V12 Clarinet reeds 5+. For alto, it’s the Cannonball Vintage Series (model AV/LG-L) with a Selmer Classic C mouthpiece and Vandoren #5 reeds. And when the tenor saxophone calls, it’s the Selmer Super Balanced Action with a Fred Lebayle 8 mouthpiece and Alexander Superial size 3.5 reeds.

That’s the lowdown on Branford Marsalis, keeping it smooth and jazzy since 1960!

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