AWIL 293 Thu, 2019-03-21 17:43

We caught sensational saxophonist, composer, and band-leader Branford Marsalis between dates on his current tour across Europe and the USA. A brilliant raconteur, Branford delighted us with tales about life on the road with his quartet, his Classical ensemble work, and collaborations with fellow jazz icons like Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis, plus pop artists that include Sting, Angelique Kidjo, and Youssou N’Dour. Branford also told us about growing up in 1960’s Louisiana, with his five brothers, coming from a household that’s been dubbed `the first family of jazz.’ After learning piano and clarinet, he finally picked up the sax for motives he describes as `entirely shallow and superficial.’ Similarly, and refreshingly, he tones down the pretentiousness surrounding Jazz, modestly describing his quartet as ‘just four regular guys that play instrumental music…which most people listen to in the background’. But what if all the Marsalis boys had wanted to play the same instrument?? Just imagine the chaos already in that house in Breaux Bridge which must surely have irked every neighbour within earshot! These are the questions I was still pondering after the interview even though we grilled him both off-air and on. Branford is a master at fielding whichever curve ball is thrown in his direction, something he does on stage all the time when challenged by fellow musos in the game of improvisation. Each member of our AWIL quartet had their own agenda too, about what to ask him. While Sophie caringly enquired about the welfare of his sax which a taxi driver had dropped somewhere between Utrecht and Sevilla, I was more interested in the social history of post-segregation Southern America. Meanwhile, Norman and Lucas, who suddenly revealed themselves to be his two biggest fans – ever, were sitting as close as they could get to him, like awestruck (and unruly) puppies, eager to know his expert opinion about nu-Jazz scenes from South London to L.A. Fortunately, Branford has lived a life rich with stories to tell, and has herculean powers as an interviewee, that are echoed by his enormous eloquence as a music-maker. On this A World in London, we were constantly reminded of exactly why Branford Marsalis is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats of our generation. Find his new album, ‘The Secret Between The Shadow and The Soul’, out now on Sony Music label OKeh!

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