There are few family names that carry the same weight as “Marsalis” in the world of jazz. Born out of the old-fashioned rhythm and spirit of New Orleans, Ellis Marsalis and his six sons have come to embody the example of a distinguished musical dynasty. Considered by many to be the “first family in jazz,” the performances and works of father Ellis, and most notably those of his sons Branford (saxophone) and Wynton (trumpet), have made a lasting impact on a level comparable to some of the greatest players that have ever taken the stage.
The oldest of the six brothers, Branford is most prominently known as a tenor and soprano saxophonist, as well as a brilliant innovative force in music. Having started his career at a young age, Branford was playing with Art Blakey’s famous big band, the Jazz Messengers, while still in his early 20s. For over 30 years, Blakey’s Jazz Messengers has been a temporary home for young musicians on their way to becoming the most prominent names in jazz — and Branford was no exception. Departing from jazz in the mid-’80s, Branford left his brother Wynton’s band to tour with Sting for a few years, before finally deciding to define his own musical direction through the formation of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, which is still active today. A little over two decades later, the three-time Grammy-winning artist and composer still finds his roots in the art of jazz, having performed with such giants as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, and Sonny Rollins.
As he is dedicated to the future of his beloved music, perhaps Branford’s most instrumental contribution has been his ability to keep the genre alive through his work to spread the message of jazz to younger generations. Branford and his brother Wynton have spent much of their lives bringing jazz into the classroom, from the perspectives of both history and performance.
Performing at the Byham Theater Tuesday, Branford will be sure to present the audience with a variety of musical all-stars, aside from showcasing his own skillful and dynamic playing. So before you head home to celebrate America’s sacred holiday, make sure to first celebrate her sacred musical style — jazz.