Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis (born August 26, 1960) 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.

Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis performing in 2011
Background information
Born (1960-08-26) August 26, 1960
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Years active1980–present
LabelsColumbia, CBS, Marsalis Music
Associated actsWynton Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Sting, The Tonight Show Band

Early life

Marsalis was born in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. He is the son of Dolores (née Ferdinand), a jazz singer and substitute teacher, and Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr., a pianist and music professor.[1][2] His brothers Jason Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, and Delfeayo Marsalis are also jazz musicians.


Musical beginnings: 1980–85

In mid-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

Expanded output: 1985–95

In 1985, he joined Sting, singer and bassist of rock band the Police, on his first solo project, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, alongside 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.[3] 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.

Between 1990 and 1994, Branford played with the Grateful Dead numerous times and appeared on their live album Without a Net.

Transition: 1995–2007

With original member Jeff "Tain" Watts 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 the album Contemporary Jazz. For two decades Marsalis was associated with Columbia, where he served as creative consultant and producer for jazz recordings between 1997 and 2001, including signing saxophonist David S. Ware for two albums.[4]

In 2002, Marsalis founded his own label, Marsalis Music. Its catalogue includes Claudia Acuña, Harry Connick Jr., Doug Wamble, Miguel Zenón, in addition to albums by members of the Marsalis family.[5]

Marsalis has also become involved in college education, with appointments at Michigan State (1996–2000), San Francisco State (2000–2002), and North Carolina Central University (2005–present). After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr., working with the local Habitat for Humanity, created Musicians Village in New Orleans, with the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music the centerpiece. In 2012, 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.[6]

In September 2006, Branford Marsalis was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. During his acceptance ceremony, he was honored with a tribute performance featuring music from throughout his career.[7]

Classical and Broadway projects: 2008–10

Under the direction of conductor Gil Jardim, Branford Marsalis and members of the Philharmonia Brasileira toured the United States in the fall of 2008, performing works by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, arranged for solo saxophone and orchestra. This project commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the revered Brazilian composer s death.

Branford Marsalis and the members of his quartet joined the North Carolina Symphony for American Spectrum, released in February 2009 by Sweden's BIS Records. The album showcases Marsalis and the orchestra performing a range of American music by Michael Daugherty, John Williams, Ned Rorem and Christopher Rouse, while being conducted by Grant Llewellyn.

Marsalis 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.

On July 14, 2010, Marsalis made his debut with the New York Philharmonic on Central Park's Great Lawn. Led by conductor Andrey Boreyko, Marsalis and the New York Philharmonic performed Glazunov's "Concerto for Alto Saxophone" and Schuloff's "Hot-Sonate for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra." Boreyko, Marsalis and the Philharmonic performed the same program again in Vail, CO later that month and four more times at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, NY the following February.


Marsalis, with his father and brothers, were group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.[8]

In June 2011, after working together for over 10 years in a band setting, Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo released their first duo album titled Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, on Branford's label, Marsalis Music. Their world premiere performance was on June 29, 2011 in Koerner Hall at the 2011 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.

In 2012, Branford Marsalis released Four MFs Playin' Tunes on deluxe 180-gram high definition vinyl, prior to Record Store Day 2012 on April 21, 2012. This is the first recording of the Branford Marsalis Quartet with drummer Justin Faulkner, who joined the band in 2009 and was the first vinyl release from Marsalis Music. The CD and digital release of Four MFs Playin' Tunes followed on August 7, 2012. Vinyl purchases came with a download card that enabled purchasers to receive a free digital copy when it was released. The album was named Apple iTunes Best of 2012 Instrumental Jazz Album of the Year.

In May 2012, Branford Marsalis received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.[9]

In June 2012, Marsalis, alongside friend and fellow New Orleans native Harry Connick, Jr., was honored by the Jefferson Awards for Public Service for his work in the Musicians' Village of New Orleans.

Marsalis performed The Star-Spangled Banner on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

On March 26, 2013, Branford Marsalis received the degree of Doctor of Arts Leadership, honoris causa from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.

In 2019 Marsalis released The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul, which he recorded in Australia with his quartet. Marsalis, commenting on the longevity of his band and their approach said, ahead of the album's release: '“Staying together allows us to play adventurous, sophisticated music and sound good. Lack of familiarity leads to defensive playing, playing not to make a mistake. I like playing sophisticated music, and I couldn’t create this music with people I don’t know.”[10]

Instruments and setup

  • Soprano: His most famous soprano has been a silver Selmer Mark VI with a modified bent neck. He is said[11] to now be playing a Yamaha YSS-82ZR, and uses a Selmer D mouthpiece and Vandoren V12 Clarinet reeds 5+[12]
  • Alto: Cannonball Vintage Series (model AV/LG-L)[13] with a Selmer Classic C mouthpiece and Vandoren #5[12]
  • Tenor: Selmer Super Balanced Action with a Fred Lebayle 8 mouthpiece and Alexander Superial size 3.5 reeds[12]

Other appearances

  • Marsalis performed alongside Sting and Phil Collins at the London Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1985.
  • Featured as saxophonist on "Fight the Power" (1989) by Public Enemy.
  • Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Guest on the "Not My Job" section of the show. On this performance he claimed the saxophone was the sexiest instrument, then insults the accordion. In a later episode of the show, "Weird Al" Yankovic stands up for the accordion; later guest Yo-Yo Ma claimed the saxophone was in fact the sexiest.
  • Interviewed on Space Ghost Coast to Coast Episode 10: "Gum, Disease" (aired November 11, 1994). Although the Coast to Coast crew said, "He was the most pleasant, and well mannered guest we had ever interviewed", he didn't sign a release for merchandising rights, so the episode couldn't be on the Space Ghost Coast to Coast Volume One DVD.
  • Marsalis was featured in Shanice's 1992 hit "I Love Your Smile". In the second half of the song, he has a solo and Shanice says, "Blow, Branford, Blow"
  • He played the role of Lester in the movie Throw Momma from the Train (1987) and the role of Jordam in Spike Lee's 1988 musical-drama film School Daze.
  • Cameo as a repair man who asks Hillary on a date in the episode "Stop Will! In the Name of Love", and as himself in the episode "Sleepless in Bel-Air" on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1994).
  • Interviews with Marsalis are featured prominently in the documentary Before the Music Dies (2006).
  • Marsalis was a guest judge on the final episode of the fifth season of Top Chef which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • On April 28 and 29, 2009, Marsalis played with the Dead (the remaining members of the Grateful Dead) at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, rekindling a relationship started when he performed with them at a set at Nassau Coliseum on March 29, 1990,[14] during which, according to Dead aficionados, one of the greatest renditions of "Eyes of the World", was performed.
  • On July 21, 2010, Marsalis guested with Dave Matthews Band on the songs "Lover Lay Down," "What Would You Say" and "Jimi Thing" at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, NC. This was the first time Marsalis had guested with Dave Matthews Band, although he had previously played with Dave Matthews and Gov't Mule on a cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" on December 16, 2006 in Asheville, NC.[15] Marsalis performed with the Dave Matthews Band again on December 12, 2012 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. For the Summer 2015 tour Marsalis has returned to guest for 3 shows, May 22, 2015 in Raleigh North Carolina ("Lover Lay Down", "Typical Situation", Jimi thing), June 12, 2015 in Hartford, CT ("Death On The High Seas", "Spaceman", "Jimi Thing", "Warehouse"), and July 29, 2015 in Tampa, FL ("Lover Lay Down", "Typical Situation", "Jimi Thing").[16]
  • Marsalis appeared as a special guest of Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby at two festivals in the summer of 2012. They first performed at the All Good Music Festival in Thornville, OH on July 19, 2012 and then headed to Bridgeport, CT for a performance at Gathering of the Vibes the following day, July 20, 2012.
  • Marsalis appeared as a special guest of Furthur for their performance at Red Rocks on September 21, 2013.
  • Marsalis appeared as a special guest of Dead & Company for their second night of a two night headlining performance at Lock'n Festival on August 26, 2018.[17]


As leader

As sideman or guest

With Art Blakey

With Terence Blanchard

With Joey Calderazzo

  • In the Door (Blue Note, 1991)
  • To Know One (Blue Note, 1992)
  • Going Home (Sunnyside, 2015)

With Harry Connick Jr.

With Bela Fleck

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Grateful Dead

With Roy Hargrove

With Anna Maria Jopek

  • ID (EmArcy, 2008)
  • Ulotne (EmArcy, 2018)

With Delfeayo Marsalis

  • Pontius Pilate's Decision (Novus, 1992)
  • Minions Domain (Troubadour, 2006)

With Ellis Marsalis Jr.

  • Whistle Stop (CBS, 1994)
  • Loved Ones (Columbia, 1996)
  • Pure Pleasure for the Piano (Verve, 2012)

With Wynton Marsalis

With Frank McComb

  • Love Stories (Columbia, 2000)
  • The Truth Vol. 2 (Expansion, 2006)
  • A New Beginning (Boobescoot, 2010)

With Sting

With James Taylor

  • New Moon Shine (Columbia, 1991)
  • Hourglass (Columbia, 1997)

With Doug Wamble

  • Country Libations (Marsalis Music, 2003)
  • Bluestate (Marsalis Music, 2005)

With Jeff "Tain" Watts

  • Citizen Tain (Columbia, 1999)
  • Watts (Dark Key Music, 2009)

With others


Branford Marsalis- The Soundillusionist. Documentary. Germany 2016, 88 min. HD Stereo Language: English. Directed by Reinhold Jaretzky. Produced by Zauberbergfilm, Berlin, Germany.Cameo in living single season 2

See also


  1. Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, March 25, 2012
  2. "Branford Marsalis Biography (1960-)". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  3. "Various Artists - Stolen Moments: Red Hot & Cool". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  4. "village voice > music > Weather Bird: Go Tell It on the Mountain by Gary Giddins". July 4, 2008.
  5. "Branford Marsalis embraces the jazz tradition |". Associated Press. 30 January 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  6. "Jefferson Awards FoundationNational - Jefferson Awards Foundation". Archived from the original on 24 November 2010. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  7. "Branford Marsalis to Accept Honorary Degree at Berklee". Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  8. National Endowment for the Arts (June 24, 2010). "National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters". Washington: National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2010. For the first time in the program's 29-year history, in addition to four individual awards, the NEA will present a group award to the Marsalis family, New Orleans' venerable first family of jazz.
  9. "Carolina Commencement to feature Mayor Bloomberg as speaker May 13 - College of Arts & Sciences". 30 April 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  10. "New Branford Marsalis album cover unveiled + details". Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  11. "Branford Marsalis Soprano - Page 3". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  12. "Branford Marsalis FAQ - Marsalis Music". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  13. "Cannonball Saxophones - Branford Marsalis". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  14. "Grateful Dead Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on 1990-03-29". March 29, 1990.
  15. "DMBAlmanac.com²".
  16. "DMBAlmanac.com²".
  17. Gehr, Richard (May 2, 2018). "Grateful Dead Members to Reunite With Branford Marsalis at Lockn' Fest". Rolling Stone.
Media offices
Preceded by
Doc Severinsen
The Tonight Show bandleader
Succeeded by
Kevin Eubanks
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