Hometown: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Web site: http://www.branfordmarsalis.com
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Branford Marsalis is an American saxophonist, composer and bandleader. While primarily known for his work in jazz 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.
After meeting Sting in March 1985, Marsalis and pianist Kenny Kirkland joined the singer’s new band, which also included bassist Daryl “Munch” Jones and drummer Omar Hakim. Over the next two years, this group produced two albums and the video documentary Bring on the Night. In 1986, Marsalis recorded his first classical album, Romances for Saxophone, toured again with Hancock, and founded his own quartet with Kirkland, Robert Hurst (bass) and Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums). Over the next five years, Marsalis mixed recording and performing with his own band with further tours with Sting, acting appearances in films including School Daze and Throw Mama from the Train, and work on film soundtracks where he was heard as featured soloist (The Russia House) and contributed compositions (Mo’ Better Blues).
In May 1992, Marsalis became the music director of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, where he led a band that included the members of his quartet. He also continued collaborating with a diverse group of artists including The Grateful Dead and Bruce Hornsby, and documented his activities in the 1992 film The Music Tells You. While Marsalis continued to produce jazz albums during this period, including the 1993 Grammy-winning I Heard You Twice the First Time, and began a 10-year-stint as the host of the National Public Radio program Jazzset in 1992, he also started to investigate a hybrid of jazz, rock, rhythm and blues and Hip Hop that led in 1994 to the first of two Buckshot LeFonque recordings. After leaving The Tonight Show in January 1995, Marsalis spent a year touring with the Buckshot LeFonque band.
While Marsalis would release a second Buckshot LeFonque recording in 1997, his primary focus since 1996 has been on his own quartet, classical performance and education. With original member Watts still on drums, bassist Eric Revis replaced Hurst in 1997, while pianist Joey Calderazzo became a member after Kirkland’s death the following year. The Branford Marsalis Quartet has toured and recorded extensively, receiving a Grammy in 2001 for its album Contemporary Jazz. After a two-decade association with Columbia Records, where he served as Creative Consultant and producer for jazz recordings between 1997 and 2001, Marsalis founded his own Marsalis Music label in 2002. 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., new artists Miguel Zenón and Doug Wamble, and (under the Honors Series logo) veterans Alvin Batiste, Michael Carvin, Jimmy Cobb and Bob French. Claudia Acuña has also been signed by the label, with a disc forthcoming.
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, with his most intense period of classical playing scheduled for October and November 2008, when Marsalis tours the United States with Philarmonia Brasileira.
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. This project, undertaken by New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity with Marsalis’ and Connick’s active participation, has proven to be one of the most successful recovery efforts in the region, and has already provided dozens of musicians of modest means with the opportunity to own decent, affordable housing.