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Contemporary Traditionalists Print
Article Index
Contemporary Traditionalists
2. Joshua Redman and Mark Turner.
3. Branford Marsalis.
4. Chris Potter and Coda.
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Branford Marsalis.

imgThe talented and much celebrated saxophonist Branford Marsalis (b. 1960) has, like Mark Turner, blended together old and new influences both in his style and in his general approach.   Marsalis's tributes to the 1950s sounds of Sonny Rollins and Charles Mingus, coupled with his work with Sting as well as other contemporary artists, show once again how versatile the saxophone can he in capable hands.

The oldest of the four musical progeny of renowned pianist and teacher Ellis Marsalis, Branford as a teenager was active in sports and many different forms of music.   His main horns are soprano and tenor, although like many saxophonists he owns and plays them all.   Sporting a big, full tone, he counts among his influences Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and King Curtis.   His own groups have borrowed stylistically from many idioms, but, with the exception of Buckshot LeFonque (a funky ensemble he formed in the 1990s) he has mostly been featured in acoustic trios and quartets.

Marsalis's work as a sideman has been extremely varied.   He started off with short stints in the big-bands of Art Blakey (on baritone saxophone) and Clark Terry (on alto) in 1980-81.   He first came to prominence playing with his brother Wynton's quintet for three years from 1982.   During this time he also played with Miles Davis, and then in 1985 joined the new band of English singer-songwriter Sting, which included keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, a long¬≠standing colleague, until his untimely death in 1998.   Marsalis's association with Sting lasted on and off until 1988, around which time he appeared on the soundtracks of two Spike Lee films, 'School Daze' (1988, which included a credible acting role) and 'Mo' Better Blues' (1990), the latter scored by trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

In addition to his work in films, Marsalis hosted a jazz programme for National Public Radio during the late 1980s, and in 2000 presented a series Jazz Legends for BBC radio.   His national celebrity was heightened when he joined The Tonight Show featuring Jay Leno on NBC TV in 1992 as musical director.   After two years as a sidekick to the juvenile antics of the show's host, Marsalis felt it was time to move on.   He formed his Buckshot LeFonque jazz group, incorporating the influences of 1960s R&B artists James Brown and Aretha Franklin, and Cannonball Adderley (who originally invented the name Buckshot LeFonque as a recording pseudonym).

Some of Branford Marsalis's key recordings as a sideman are 'Wynton Marsalis' (1981), Miles Davis's 'Decoy' (1984) and Sting's 'Bring On The Night' (1986).   His own groups feature in a variety of recordings, starting with 'Scenes In The City' (1983), his re-creation of a suite composed and recorded by Charles Mingus many years earlier.   'Romances For Saxophone' (1986) has him exclusively on soprano performing a variety of late 19th century and early 20th century French classical pieces, effectively arranged by Michel Colombier for chamber orchestra.

A completely different side of Marsalis is exemplified on 'Trio Jeepy' (1988), a blistering trio of tenor, bass and drums that takes up where the Sonny Rollins trio recordings at the Village Vanguard in 1957 left off.   'Requiem' (1999) is a particularly moving tribute to the late Kenny Kirkland, the pianist who contributed so much to Marsalis's own recorded work.

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Jazzorg Note:   The following links connect you to the amazon.com pages, which make samples of the above albums available for listening.   The pages are shown in a separate window which you may close to return to this article.



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