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What's On: Branford Marsalis
Publication: Time Out Hong Kong
Author: Joshiah Ng
Date: April 20, 2016
As saxophone colossus Branford Marsalis prepares to play a programme of 20th century works with the City Chamber Orchestra, Josiah Ng sits down with the Grammy award-winner to talk Ornette Coleman and to learn about the music behind the man.
There are few musicians who cross genres and have an intimate relationship with myriad musical styles like Branford Marsalis. Born in New Orleans in 1960, Marsalis first began playing at a young age guided by his father, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, and supported by his brothers Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, all jazz giants in and of themselves.
He first cut his teeth with the legendary Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers alongside his brother Wynton, and began touring and performing with classical ensembles in 2008. His career includes collaborations with Dizzie Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, The Grateful Dead and Sting, the formation of hip-hop group Buckshot LeFonque in 1997, and a stint as musical director for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
With work across a spectrum of genres, we attempt to find out what powers the musical spirit behind Branford Marsalis, as well as what listeners can expect when he takes to the stage in Hong Kong.
You started in New Orleans as a musician. What did you acquire from that heritage?
New Orleans is the home of funk and some of the hit records of the 1950s came out of New Orleans. I grew up playing a lot of different stuff and that’s what I loved the most about being from there. We played everything, so whatever style of music I’m playing at the moment, all of those other experiences come through, even in classical music. Oftentimes, classical players will say it’s really unusual the way I play music, that the notes tend to be a little shorter, and where I place the beat is different from where they would place it. But that’s just culture.
Was it difficult to navigate those differences in classical music?
Not really. The hardest part is just practicing enough and learning enough to play the music well. If you are not afraid of your weaknesses, then you can embrace the system and embrace the way that you have to learn. Very gradually, you start to improve. But if you’re a person who is afraid of failure, then it’s more difficult to learn.
In other interviews you’ve stated that Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come has been a huge influence on you in the way you approach melody. Can you share more on that?
I was 22 and living in New York as a musician. [Stanley Crouch] encouraged me to listen to the record, and at first I didn’t understand what I was supposed to listen to. But after four months, I gradually began to understand what the music was about. And in the process, it changed the way I approached melody.
To read the rest of Branford’s interview with Time Out Hong Kong, please visit the publication’s website.