Catching Up With Branford Marsalis

Friday May 29th, 2009 / 12:57 Written by

As I was thinking of a good jazz group to feature, I remembered Buckshot LeFonque. I enjoy Buckshot LeFonque’s music because it transcends the usual expectations of jazz. Their music is a unique blend of jazz with such genres as r&b, rock, and reggae. The group released two albums: Buckshot LeFonque in 1994 and Music Evolution in 1997. I wanted to find out more about how the idea to create this type of jazz happened. So, who better to ask about Buckshot LeFonque than the person who founded the group, Branford Marsalis?

Branford Marsalis is certainly one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Not only has his work earned him three Grammy awards, but he has released over 20 albums. His performance experiences include Buckshot LeFonque as well as his current group, the Branford Marsalis Quartet. Branford has also shared the stage with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. You all may remember him as the musical director of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in the 1990’s. Branford kindly answered a few questions about Buckshot LeFonque, his label, Marsalis Music, and the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s latest album, Metamorphosen. Here’s what he shared:

Mimi Soul: I admire your creativity, especially your idea to mix jazz with other genres such as hip hop, rock, reggae, and r&b. You certainly proved with the Buckshot LeFonque albums that such a combination can be done very tastefully. What made you decide to try mixing these genres together?

Branford: Throughout history, all great music has been genre-mixing, although the more succinct word would be polyglot. If you think about it, to spend a lifetime in music only listening to the limited view of your country, neighborhood or chosen style is a really boring existence. It is only in these modern times, I say with irony, that tastes have become so parochial. While most folk like to think they know what they like, in fact, the opposite is true; they like what they know. To make any type of artistic statement, that limited view of the world cannot be a part of your philosophy.

Mimi Soul: What are some of the things you have learned from starting your own label, Marsalis Music?

Branford: Nothing I didn’t already know. Playing sophisticated, instrumental music in the US is a hard sell; it always has been. But, at some point, musicians have to, if they are able to, quit complaining about the reality and do something to change it. I believe in fighting the good fight.

Mimi Soul: Your musical experiences are countless, from performing with jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis to releasing albums with Buckshot LeFonque and the Branford Marsalis Quartet. What are a few of your most rewarding musical experiences?

Branford: They have all been rewarding, even the bad experiences. You learn what you can and can’t do, what you will or won’t do, and most important, what you know and don’t know. Accepting that last one and following it with a deep curiosity and desire to learn, can make the journey a very rewarding one.

Mimi Soul: Could you tell us a little about your new album, Metamorphosen? How did you come up with that name?

Branford: It’s easily one of the most misunderstood of our titles. When we were making the record, we all noticed how different this record was than the others we had done. The ideas are leaner, but carried the same density as other, longer songs in the past. In other words, we were finally learning to say more while playing less. We all agreed that the band is in some sort of transition. That is the word I wanted to use, but John Coltrane named one of his records Transition, and I wasn’t going to touch that. The word metamorphosis was next, but in the US, we only use it in a scientific context. I used the German version, metamorphosen, because they use it in science, literature (representing spiritual transformation), and in music (the piece by Richard Strauss was the inspiration for using the word as a title). I have read where we are considered presumptuous, and a tad arrogant for presuming that we have reached some sort of plateau. That is not the case. Using the scientific term, the entire process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly is called metamorphosis, not only the end result. The title is to imply that we are in the process of transition, completely ignorant of what the end result will be. That’s the beauty for me; the process, not the end result.

Mimi Soul: What do you want people to say about your music 20 years from now?

Branford: To be honest, if I’m lucky enough to still be here, and in relatively good health, I’ll be too busy working on the next thing to worry about it. When you decide to work in set music, only the most insecure still look around, hoping for public validation. That is not part of this process. I leave it to the Susan Doyle’s of the world, bless her heart.

If you’re like me, you’re hoping that Branford Marsalis will continue to make more music in the coming years because as with the Buckshot LeFonque albums and the many other albums he has released since then, Branford Marsalis never seems to disappoint. You can purchase his albums and find his tour schedule at his website.


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I'm the editor of Finding the B-Side.

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