Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


MARSALIS, Branford

(b 26 August 1960, Beau Bridge LA) Saxophones, leader. Father is pianist/teacher Ellis Marsalis; brother is trumpeter Wynton; he played with them on one side of Fathers And Sons '82 on CBS (Chico and Von Freeman on the other side). An above-average improviser but not as anxious as his brother to become a monument to something-or-other, he would like to be a popularizer and has dabbled in pop and electric funk, but is at his best in straightahead jazz. He followed Wynton into Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers '81, replacing Bobby Watson on alto (LPs Killer Joe '81 on Japanese Union Jazz label and Keystone 3 '82 on Concord Jazz). He joined Wynton's band '82 playing tenor and soprano, touring the world; played on Miles Davis LP Decoy '84, toured '85-6 with Sting including LP The Dream Of The Blue Turtles (with pianist Kenny Kirkland, b 28 September 1957, Brooklyn, NY; d c.1 November 1998 in Queens), also film Bring On The Night (about making of Turtles), soundtrack LP; two-disc Nothing Like The Sun '87.

He was famously fired by his brother for playing with Sting, followed his brother in signing with Columbia; albums included Scenes In The City '83, with bassists Charnett Moffett, Ron Carter, Phil Bowler, pianists Kirkland, Mulgrew Miller, drummer Marvin Smith and others on various tracks; also classical album Romances For Saxophone '86 (English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton). Further albums were mostly quartets with Kirkland, Jeff 'Tain' Watts on drums, some guests: Royal Garden Blues '86, Renaissance '87, Random Abstract '88 ('lacking the spark of leadership', said one critic); Trio Jeepy '89 included Watts and Milt Hinton or Delbert Felix on bass; Crazy People Music '90 was a quartet again. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born '91 had guests Wynton and Courtney Pine; I Heard You Twice The First Time '92 had guests including Wynton, blues singers B. B. King, John Lee Hooker, Joe Louis Walker. Bloomington '93 was a trio with Watts and Robert Hurst on bass; The Dark Keys '96 was perhaps his best yet, with Watts and Reginald Veal joined by Kenny Garrett and Joe Lovano on one track each. He has also recorded with Bobby Hutcherson, Tina Turner, others including Dizzy Gillespie (Closer To The Source and New Faces), subbed for David Murray on a World Saxophone Quartet gig, played on the soundtrack of Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues with Terence Blanchard. He took over the Tonight Show band with Jay Leno after Johnny Carson retired, playing during advertising breaks and backing guests; he told Clive Davis, 'we have fun every night, especially when we're off-camera. How many nights are musically satisfying? One or two a month ... You have bands coming in because they have a hot song, and you know the song is rubbish. We know it, they know it, the fans don't know it.' He had said of hip-hop '86, 'That stuff just makes me angry,' then made eponymous (anonymous) patchwork Buckshot LeFonque '94 including rap. Marsalis left the Tonight Show '95: 'I don't have a problem being funny, but I have a problem being stupid, and stupid is what sells.' Music Evolution '97 was another Buckshot album, with guests inclluding Veal, David Sanborn, vocalist Frank McComb, a DJ, a rapper etc.