Branford Marsalis Biography

Branford Marsalis, saxophonist, composer and bandleader, was born August 26, 1960, in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, into the "First Family of Jazz," which is led by his father musician and music professor Ellis Marsalis, Jr. and mother Delores, a jazz singer and teacher. The Marsalis dynasty also includes Branford's brothers and fellow musicians Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis III, and Delfeayo Marsalis. As the leader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, he also performs frequently as a soloist with classical ensembles and has led the group Buckshot LeFonque.

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Branford related that he first became seriously interested in becoming a jazz musician when he saw Wynton perform with Art Blakey. In 1980, while still a Berklee College of Music student, Marsalis toured Europe playing alto and baritone saxophone in a large ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. Other big band experiences with Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry followed over the next year, and by the end of 1981 Marsalis, on alto saxophone, had joined his brother Wynton in Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Other performances with his brother, including a 1981 Japanese tour with Herbie Hancock, led to the formation of his brother Wynton's first quintet, where Marsalis shifted his emphasis to soprano and tenor saxophones. He continued to work with Wynton until 1985, a period that also saw the release of his own first recording, Scenes in the City, as well as guest appearances with other artists including Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie

In 1985, he joined Sting, singer and bassist of pop band The Police, on his first solo project, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, alongside notable jazz and session musicians Omar Hakim on drums, Darryl Jones on the bass and Kenny Kirkland on keyboards. He became a regular in Sting's line-up both in the studio and live up until the release of Brand New Day in 1999.

In 1994, Marsalis appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in African American society, was named Album of the Year by Time.

In 1988, Marsalis co-starred in the Spike Lee film School Daze, also rendering several horn-blowing interludes for the music in the film. His witty comments have pegged him to many memorable one-liners in the film.

From 1992 to 1995, Branford was the leader of the Tonight Show Band on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Initially, he turned down the offer, but later reconsidered and accepted the position. He was succeeded as bandleader by guitarist Kevin Eubanks.

Since 1996 has been on his own quartet, classical performance and education. Marsalis placed greater emphasis on classical music since the 2001 release of his album Creation. Performances with symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles worldwide have become a significant part of his itinerary.

In 2002, Marsalis founded his own Marsalis Music label. With Marsalis as the label's primary producer, Marsalis Music has issued audio and video discs that feature Marsalis' quartet, the instrumental music of Harry Connick, Jr., and other up and coming artists that include Claudia Acuna, Alvin Batiste, Michael Carvin, Jimmy Cobb and Bob French.

Marsalis has also become involved in education at the university level, with appointments at Michigan State (1996-2000), San Francisco State (2000-2002) and North Carolina Central University (2005-present). After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. created the concept of a Musicians' Village in the city's Upper Ninth Ward, with the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music as the Village's centerpiece. In 2012, for their efforts Marsalis and Connick received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.

In addition to his classical music projects, Branford was nominated for and won a 2010 Drama Desk Award in the category "Outstanding Music in a Play" and was also nominated for a 2010 Tony Award in the category of "Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre" for his participation in the Broadway revival of August Wilson's Fences.

Marsalis, with his father and brothers, were group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.

Other honors Marsalis has received include an Honorary Doctor of Music Degree from the University of North Carolina, received the degree of Doctor of Arts Leadership, honoris causa from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota in 2013,

To learn more about Branford's extraordinary creative and artistic musical accomplishments, and his educational and humanitarian achievements, visit: www.branfordmarsalis.com and www.marsalismusic.com.


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