Jazz Man Performs at the Clarice Smith Center
Exuding the class often associated with jazz, a member of an esteemed family waxes philosophical about music, Hollywood and growing up in a family of accomplished musicians.
Grammy award winner Branford Marsalis intends to mesmerize the audience Friday evening when he and his quartet perform before jazz aficionados, longtime fans and newcomers to the genre.
Marsalis said there's a uniqueness about jazz musicians, largely because of the laid back style of the music and the perceived sophistication that it takes to create jazz.
"There are a lot of musicians interested in jazz because of the intellectual component. But, a lot of guys also play jazz because that's all they know how to play," said Marsalis, who is touring the country with his quartet to bolster his latest CD, "Four MFs Playin' Tunes," which is currently available at Marsalis' website, www.branfordmarsalis.com and iTunes.com. The CD has already been named Apple iTunes Instrumental Jazz Album of the Year.
While Marsalis once toyed with playing other styles of music, such as rhythm and blues, the famed jazz man said he couldn't envision doing anything differently.
"Music today is more processed than it used to be," he said. "Appearances with today's pop stars seem to be more important than the delivery in a lot of respects. While there are talented musicians today in pop, there is certainly an acute lack of variety."
Marsalis said he's also saddened when he hears criticism of some black artists who cross over to other genres not typically associated with black audiences.
"Everything is codified today and it's wrong," he said. "Darius Rucker is playing country music and I heard some guy say that Darius should just play his own music. That's wrong. That is our music and Darius should keep playing, I love it. Look, Charlie Pride was country. We can't define things by color because James Brown wasn't one dimensional, neither was Smokey Robinson and look at Lola Falana, nobody back then called what she was doing not black. Nobody questioned any of their blackness."
Marsalis also took issue with Hollywood, whom he said also misses the boat when it comes to accurately portraying black artists. The fact that Mary J. Blige, an R&B singer, is cast as Betty Shabazz in a television movie and some rap stars are given prominent roles in dramas, is a result of the lack of diversity and, perhaps, vision, he said.
Casting such talent serves only to take away roles from potential young actors, something Marsalis admits he's been guilty of as well.
"Hollywood has used bigger name rappers and musicians to fill spots that could have gone to someone else in that field," he said. "That includes me." Marsalis has appeared in such movies as "Mo' Better Blues,"; "School Daze," and "Throw Momma from the Train."
He has also contributed music to such films as "The Russia House,"; "Malcolm X," and "Do the Right Thing."
Despite the acting roles, Marsalis' commitment to his craft remains unshakeable, he said.
He has won three Grammy awards, a Drama Desk Award for outstanding music in a Broadway play, and has been nominated for several Tony awards.
Marsalis is a member of the first family of jazz. The New Orleans-based family includes Wynton, 51, Ellis III, 49, Delfeayo, 47, and Jason, 35.
Two years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts conferred the prestigious Jazz Masters Fellowship on the family, celebrating what the organization said was jazz's most storied living dynasty who have left an indelible mark, collectively and individually, on the history and future of jazz.
Patriarch, Ellis Marsalis, played tenor saxophone and piano in high school and became a jazz educator. Ellis Marsalis taught at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and his students included Harry Connick, Jr., Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard and Ellis' own sons.
"My father and Wynton got me into playing because I wanted to be a history teacher," Branford Marsalis said. "They told me I could play with guys [who are good at playing jazz] and, if it didn't work out, I could still go and be a teacher," he said.
Wynton Marsalis became the first in the family to achieve national acclaim after being featured in the New Orleans Philharmonic at age 14. Wynton Marsalis played in R&B and funk bands at an early age but studied jazz at the Berkshire Music Center in New Orleans and, later, he attended the Juilliard School of Dance, Drama, and Music in New York.
Wynton Marsalis, a multiple Grammy winner himself, led a quintet that included Branford in 1982.
"When I play with my family, it's the same as playing with anyone else," Branford Marsalis said. "We don't think like we're family when we're on stage and Wynton and I have this unique internal communication with each other, after all, we slept in the same bedroom for so many years," he said, with a laugh.
Branford Marsalis started out playing soprano, alto and tenor saxophone. He studied under his father at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, but went on to study at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Last year, Marsalis received an honorary Doctor of Music in Arts Degree from the University of North Carolina and was honored with a Jefferson Award for Public Service for his work in the Musicians' Village of New Orleans.
The former conductor of the Tonight Show Band with Jay Leno, Marsalis performed the national anthem at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
He has recorded with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Sting and has also worked with Herbie Hancock. He said Black History Month is always a time to reflect and a time for young people to understand what African Americans have accomplished.
"Listen, when I was growing up my father kept things in perspective for us and every day was a lesson in black history," Marsalis said. "Black History Month is needed because children still need to hear about black achievement. There are still too many who are not aware of black achievement and you never know what knowing these things might do for their self-esteem and self-awareness."
Marsalis' performance Friday, Feb. 15, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park is sold out, and it's no surprise.