Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis performing in 2011
Branford Marsalis performing in 2011
Background information
Born (1960-08-26) August 26, 1960 (age 63)
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, U.S.
Instrument(s)Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Years active1980–present
LabelsColumbia, CBS, Marsalis Music

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. From 1992 to 1995 he led the Tonight Show Band.

Early life

Marsalis was born on August 26, 1960 in New Orleans.[1] He is the son of Dolores (née Ferdinand), a jazz singer and substitute teacher, and Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr., a pianist and music professor.[2][3] His brothers Jason Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, and Delfeayo Marsalis are also jazz musicians.


Musical beginnings: 1980–85

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Marsalis graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1978. While in high school he played in a R&B cover band called The Creators.[4][5]

Marsalis then attended Southern University, a historically black college in Baton Rouge, where he studied under renowned jazz clarinetist Alvin Batiste. At the encouragement of Batiste, Marsalis later transferred to Berklee College of Music in Boston. While a student at Berklee, 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

Branford Marsalis at Monterey Jazz Festival 1992

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 1986, Marsalis formed the Branford Marsalis Quartet with pianist Kirkland, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and bass player Robert Hurst. That year, they released their first album, Royal Garden Blues. That lineup of the quartet would go on to release four more albums, the last of which, I Heard You Twice the First Time (1992), won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album, Individual or Group.

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. In 1989, Marsalis played a 30-second cover of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" over the opening logos of Lee's film Do the Right Thing.

Between 1990 and 1994, Branford played with the Grateful Dead numerous times, and appeared on their 1990 live album Without a Net. He later appeared on Wake Up to Find Out, a full release of the March 29, 1990 concert he performed in. Marsalis has described his popularity among Deadheads as "the most bizarre thing that ever happened to me."[4]

In 1992, Marsalis became the leader of the Tonight Show Band on the newly launched The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, after Jay Leno replaced Johnny Carson. Initially, Marsalis turned down the offer, but later reconsidered and accepted the position. He brought with him the three other members of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, who became the Tonight Show Band's pianist, drummer and bass player, respectively.

In 1994, Marsalis formed the group Buckshot LeFonque (named after a pseudonym once used by Cannonball Adderley), a jazz group with elements of rock and hip-hop. That year, they released their first album, Buckshot LeFonque, which was mostly produced by DJ Premier.

In 1994, Marsalis appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool.[6] The album, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in African American society, was named Album of the Year by Time.

In 1995, Marsalis left The Tonight Show, having become unhappy in the role: he disliked that he was supposed to always show enthusiasm, even for jokes he thought were unfunny. He was succeeded as bandleader by guitarist Kevin Eubanks. In a well-publicized interview soon after leaving, Marsalis said, "The job of musical director I found out later was just to kiss the ass of the host, and I ain't no ass kisser." He also complained that when he did not laugh or smile, some viewers' perception was, "Oh, he’s surly. He hates his boss." When the interviewer asked if Marsalis did hate Leno, Marsalis responded, "Oh, I despised him." He later stated that he did not hate Leno, and that this was a sarcastic response to what he considered "a ridiculous question".[7]

Transition: 1995–2007

In 1997, bassist Eric Revis replaced Hurst in the Branford Marsalis Quartet. Kirkland died the following year, and was replaced by pianist Joey Calderazzo. The Branford Marsalis Quartet has since toured and recorded extensively. 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.[8]

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.[9]

Marsalis has also become involved in college education, with appointments at Michigan State University (1996–2000), San Francisco State University (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.

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.

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 wrote the music for the 2010 Broadway revival of the August Wilson play 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.


Branford Marsalis at a concert in Bielsko-Biala, Poland at the Lotos Jazz Festival 2019

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 first public performance was 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 album was named Apple iTunes Best of 2012 Instrumental Jazz Album of the Year.

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

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]

Personal life

Marsalis lives in Durham, North Carolina with his wife Nicole and their two daughters. He was raised Catholic.[11]

Marsalis plays golf.[4]

Awards and honors

Instruments and setup

Other appearances


As leader

As sideman or guest


See also


  1. ^ Collar, Matt. "Branford Marsalis – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved July 22, 2021.
  2. ^ Stated on Finding Your Roots, PBS, March 25, 2012
  3. ^ "Branford Marsalis Biography (1960-)". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "Interview with Branford Marsalis". Interviews with Max Raskin. Retrieved 2023-06-22.
  5. ^ Ratliff, Ben (2006-10-06). "Walking a Beat With an Officer of the Jazz Police". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-06-22.
  6. ^ "Various Artists - Stolen Moments: Red Hot & Cool". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  7. ^ "Former "Tonight Show" bandleader Branford Marsalis said he "despised" ..." Associated Press. September 28, 1995.
  8. ^ "village voice music > Weather Bird: Go Tell It on the Mountain by Gary Giddins". July 4, 2008. Archived from the original on July 4, 2008.
  9. ^ "Branford Marsalis embraces the jazz tradition |". Associated Press. 30 January 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  10. ^ "New Branford Marsalis album cover unveiled + details". Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  11. ^ Bordelon, Christine (2020-01-16). "Ellis Marsalis influenced many of today's artists". Clarion Herald. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  12. ^ "Branford Marsalis to Accept Honorary Degree at Berklee". Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Carolina Commencement to feature Mayor Bloomberg as speaker May 13 - College of Arts & Sciences". 30 April 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Jefferson Awards FoundationNational - Jefferson Awards Foundation". Archived from the original on 24 November 2010. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  16. ^ "Meet the 2023 commencement ceremony honorary degree recipients". The Chronicle. Retrieved 2023-12-26.
  17. ^ "Branford Marsalis Soprano - Page 3". 19 March 2010. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  18. ^ a b c "Branford Marsalis FAQ - Marsalis Music". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  19. ^ "Cannonball Saxophones - Branford Marsalis". Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  20. ^ "Grateful Dead Live at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on 1990-03-29". March 29, 1990.
  21. ^ "DMBAlmanac.com²".
  22. ^ "DMBAlmanac.com²".
  23. ^ Gehr, Richard (May 2, 2018). "Grateful Dead Members to Reunite With Branford Marsalis at Lockn' Fest". Rolling Stone.
Media offices Preceded byDoc Severinsen The Tonight Show bandleader 1992–1995 Succeeded byKevin Eubanks