Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2009: Jimmy Cobb

Branford Marsalis:

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New Orleans-born saxophonist Branford Marsalis has had one of the most enviable careers in modern music. In 1985, when he was only twenty-five, Branford had already held membership in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Lionel Hampton’s big band, Herbie Hancock’s quartet, and his brother Wynton’s hugely successful quintet. With the latter group, he recorded such must-have records as Think of One and Black Codes (From The Underground). On top of all this, he was also featured on Miles Davis’ Decoy, and recorded his own debut album, Scenes in the City, for Columbia Records.

At this point, he and his close friend, pianist Kenny Kirkland, joined Sting’s band. They contributed greatly to some of Sting’s most successful records, including Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like The Sun.

In 1992, Branford relocated to Los Angeles to lead the Tonight Show band, staying there until 1995. For the remainder of the 90s, he made several memorable recordings, including The Dark Keys (1996) and the Grammy-nominated Requiem, which was Kenny Kirkland’s final recording before his death in November of 1998. During this period, Branford was also leading a successful hip-hop/jazz hybrid group called Buckshot LeFonque.

By the late 90s, Branford was producing records and serving as Creative Consultant for Columbia Records. In 2002, with the creation of Marsalis Music, he added record company executive to his list of responsibilities. The label is home to several great and varied artists, including Miguel Zenón, Harry Connick Jr., Doug Wamble, Claudia Acuña, and of course Branford himself. The label’s Honors Series, which brings attention to veteran artists who have been underappreciated, includes drummers Jimmy Cobb, Bob French, and Michael Carvin, as well as late New Orleans clarinetist Alvin Batiste.

This year Branford’s quartet—Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums—has released a new album, Metamorphosen, to celebrate ten years together. It is the group’s first release since 2006’s acclaimed Braggtown, and it proves that they continue to be in fine form. Highlights include Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” (which they manage to completely reinvent) and Branford’s boppish “Jabberwocky” (incidentally his first recording on alto saxophone in over twenty years). Other standouts include Revis’ Monk-inspired “Sphere,” Calderazzo’s haunting ballad “The Last Goodbye,” and Watts’ high-energy opener “Return of the Jitney Man.”

When the Branford Marsalis Quartet hits Winnipeg this June, jazz fans will hear one of the most exciting groups in the history of jazz swinging their way though up-tempo tunes and playing their signature free-form ballads. Branford has truly taken his place in the history books—and he’s still just getting started.

Curtis Nowosad is a busy Winnipeg drummer who’s enrolled in the U of M Jazz Studies program.

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