The Wonderful Wide World of Branford Marsalis

Wednesday, August 17, 2016.

To call Branford Marsalis a jazz saxophonist is a sizable understatement.

Granted, the saxophone has remained a faithful constant in his career, spanning decades of performing and numerous albums that feature his sharply honed skills. Throughout the years, however, he has adapted his style to apply far beyond the jazz, and played a role in making the saxophone a welcome presence in many genres.

He has even dared to step out of the performance world by expanding his musicality to composing, teaching and more.

Those who know him best for his renowned Branford Marsalis Quartet — considered by many as the pinnacle of jazz ensembles — might be surprised to learn where else his talents have appeared.

Below are just a few examples of the artist’s endless versatility.

The Grateful Dead, Sting and Harry Connick Jr.

Most people probably wouldn’t put the Grateful Dead and saxophone solos in the same sentence. Yet in the ‘90s, Marsalis performed alongside the legendary rock band for several concerts, where he added a smooth touch to their hits and joined in jam sessions (listen to excerpts of the concert here). He has also bonded onstage with Sting, who he has toured with playing vocal-sax duets (view a sample here). A lifelong friend of Harry Connick Jr., Marsalis has performed a variety of duets with the singer and pianist, as well.

Classical

Anyone who says classical can’t be cool hasn’t met Marsalis. He has performed with major symphony orchestras in cities such as Chicago, Detroit and New York City, and has grown his repertoire to include Debussy, Mahler and Copland.

Broadway and Hollywood

Few can resist the call of Broadway, and Marsalis heeded by composing original music for Broadway plays including a revival of “Fences,” which earned him a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play and a Tony nomination for Best Original Score Written for the Theater. He has further dabbled in Hollywood; he composed music for “Mo’ Better Blues” starring Denzel Washington, with the soundtrack featuring the Branford Marsalis Quartet. If that wasn’t enough, he has even acted in films including “Throw Momma from the Train.”

Of course, jazz has remained Marsalis’ passion throughout his storied career. He has groomed his skills playing alongside the likes of Miles Davis, and conducted workshops at universities across the U.S.

Marsalis’ diverse musical background further influences his ongoing work, including with his quartet that continues to experiment with style and composition. Marking the group’s first-ever occasion of working with another artist, the quartet recently kicked off a new partnership with Grammy winning jazz vocalist Kurt Elling. Together they recently released a new album, “Upward Spiral,” offering a mix of American Songbook staples, jazz standards and additional melodies. The quartet’s performance with Elling at The Smith Center on September 14 will feature a variety of new jazz arrangements showcasing each artist’s unique style.

With a career dipping into so many art forms, Marsalis has many opportunities ahead to keep his fans – and himself – entertained. Keep an eye out for more to come.

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