"One of the premiere jazz saxophonists playing today, Branford Marsalis plays with a subtlety of tone and phrasing only the finest interpreters can attain," writes the Chicago Tribune of Marsalis' performance at the Ravinia Festival a few years ago. Marsalis, who is best known as a jazz musician, performed works of Villa-Lobos at the festival with a small chamber ensemble. Equally at home on the stages of the world's jazz clubs as well as its classical halls, Marsalis weaves his way through genres from blues to pop to classical with a musical scope and innovative spirit of daring proportions in a never-ending effort to challenge perceived musical boundaries and limitations.
Marsalis' most recent jazz recording Contemporary Jazz - which won the Grammy Award for this year's Best Jazz Instrumental Album - has been described as his greatest work to date, with Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune declaring that Marsalis "achieved a new level of emotional intensity and instrumental brilliance." Billboard added, "the album's title … could not be more descriptive. This straight-ahead jazz set is truly contemporary, completely in the moment, and part-and-parcel with the times in which it was created …The music is as visceral as it comes." Contemporary Jazz is Marsalis' twelfth jazz album in a catalogue of recordings that includes two Buckshot LeFonque pop albums and two Sony Classical releases. Creation, the most recent of his classical recordings is a collaboration with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and was released in March 2001. It features a program of jazz-influenced and inspired classics from early 20th century French composers, including Milhaud, Ravel, Debussy and others. Marsalis has also made his mark as a producer, working with such artists as Dávid Sanchez (whose albums Obsesión and Melaza were Grammy nominees for Best Latin Jazz Performance), Frank McComb and Joey Calderazzo.
The New Orleans native was born into one of the city's most distinguished musical families which includes brothers Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, and the family patriarch, pianist/music educator Ellis Marsalis. In 1984, he released Scenes In the City, his first album for Columbia Jazz, beginning a thriving jazz career. He also made successful forays into the pop world with artists such as the Grateful Dead, Sting, and Bruce Hornsby.
He won a Grammy in 1993 for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group, for his album I Heard You Twice The First Time, and another in 1994 (Best Pop Instrumental Performance for "Barcelona Mona," a single he recorded with Bruce Hornsby for the Olympics in Spain). His 1993 trio album, Bloomington, was hailed as a landmark in contemporary jazz which Bill Kohlhasse of the LA Times called "revealing and beautiful in ways only the best improvisational music can be". 1994's debut album from Buckshot LeFonque, Branford's unique amalgam of jazz and hip-hop, similarly broke new musical ground.
In 1995 he was nominated for yet another Grammy, in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Performance, for his stirring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," on which he once again teamed with Bruce Hornsby, this time for Ken Burns' memorable PBS series, "Baseball." The Dark Keys (1996) was a further step in Branford's jazz explorations, while a second Buckshot album, Music Evolution, was released in 1997.
Adventurous as always, Marsalis has not limited his musical pursuits to recordings. His presence is notable on various film scores, both as a composer and a featured soloist. Among the most notable, Branford wrote, arranged and produced the film score to the critically acclaimed Showtime movie, Mr. & Mrs. Loving starring Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon. He has further showcased his creativity and originality in composing the score for the film Single Dad for Disney/NBC and recently completed the score for Once In the Life, which marks the directorial debut of acclaimed actor Lawrence Fishburne. Branford has also participated in the soundtracks to several Spike Lee films including Mo' Better Blues, Malcolm X and Clockers. Additionally, he was involved in the soundtrack to Sneakers starring Robert Redford, Throw Momma From the Train starring Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito, and The Russia House starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfieffer.
Meanwhile, Marsalis is also changing the future of jazz in the classroom. He recently took a part-time position with San Francisco State as part of their music faculty. This follows his similar association with Michigan State University where Marsalis taught, first as a visiting scholar, and then as a part-time faculty member through the Spring 2000.
In all facets of his career, Marsalis continues to pursue musical excellence and to share his love of the music with the world.