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Oct. 7, 2004



Photo and headline -- Branford Marsalis

AFTER 20 YEARS RECORDING FOR COLUMBIA RECORDS, saxophonist Branford Marsalis [photo at right], the eldest of jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis' four musician sons, has his own label, a division of Rounder Records called Marsalis Music. In September the label released Eternal, a reflective set of tunes by his latest quartet, which includes longtime associate Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, Eric Revis on bass, and pianist Joey Calderazzo, who has his own new release on Marsalis Music, a solo record titled Haiku.

North Coast Journal: I was struck by a statement on the Marsalis Music Web site: `Artists who want to be musicians, not marketing creations, have few places to record.' Is that part of the concept behind the label? To create a space where you could put out something like this Eternal album?
Branford: I put out far more difficult records on Columbia. Records like the Dark Keys are not easy listening records. Columbia never thwarted me from doing what it is I wanted to do. But it was never lost on me that Columbia, being one of the largest record companies in the world, the most times I saw Columbia representatives whose job it was to work my records, was when I was on tour with Sting. They came on at full force then -- `Hey, we're from Columbia.' It's like `Funny, I never met you before,' and I never met them after, either.
NCJ: Why do you think this music doesn't get the respect it deserves?
BM: It's just that the people who work for these companies work for these companies to work with stars. It's not that they respect any music. It's not that they respect rock 'n' roll. They dropped Warren Zevon -- of course, when he was dying, then they all wished they had him, cuz that's going to be a record that's going to sell. I mean they're in the business, they're business people. It's not about respecting music, it's about selling units, and jazz doesn't sell many units. I understand their point. It wasn't disrespectful to me; I didn't feel disrespected. I didn't take it personally. I thought it was very amusing.
NCJ: What do you get from Rounder that you didn't have? More support?
BM: No, it's just that when it's time to spend dollars on marketing, our artists are all equal. We don't have a tiered system. [Another thing], we have an ad for Eternal in Mother Jones magazine, which is great for me because we're moving away from the trade magazines. I mean, you do a record for Columbia, they say, `We're gonna put an ad in DownBeat, we'll put an ad in Jazziz, and an ad in Jazz Times,' and that's it.
NCJ: There's an assumption that there's only a narrow niche that's interested in jazz.
BM: That's probably right, there is only a narrow niche. It's true. Jazz, when played at its best, I mean there's nothing in regular people's lives to prepare them for what the music represents. We don't have a backbeat, we don't have words, we're not selling our records based on who we're marrying or who we're sleeping with. You look at somebody like Britney Spears as a case study, or Christine Aguilera, whoever it is, it ain't the music they sell, it's the persona. We're just selling music here. That's all we sell.
NCJ: Do you think that the generation coming up is missing out on jazz?
BM: I don't care. I don't care about any of that. I play music for a living. That's all I care about. And people come to our concerts, wherever we play, we're rarely empty, and if we are empty, you know it's about 75 percent full. And that's what I care about.
NCJ: that people will come to hear you play.
BM: Yeah, and if they don't, we'll play anyway. I mean, I'm not in the marketing business, I'm not thinking about how we expand our fan base, it's hard enough to play this music when you just want to play it. I mean here we are, we're playing the music, if you like it, come get it, if you don't, go get something else. This is what I've chosen to do -- I've chosen to play jazz music. I could have stayed on Jay's show, I could have stayed with Sting, I could have played with the Dead -- I chose to do this. You need to accept all the ramifications that come with it, positive and negative.
NCJ: What are the positives?
BM: I'm free when I play this music I want to on a regular basis. And when we stump the audience we're at our best, not our worst.
NCJ: Stump them?
BM: When we're really clicking and we're playing really hard, challenging music, it's like being assaulted by a wall of sound and they don't have anything in their lives to prepare them for it. I guess the goal would be to create that same kind of feeling that Coltrane's band created.
NCJ: To take the audience someplace they haven't been before.
BM: No, it ain't about them, it's about us.
NCJ: To take yourselves someplace.
BM: And if we're trying to take ourselves someplace, and we have spent 20 years listening to this music, and then you have people who in 20 years might have an hour of jazz listening, it's a rough ride for them.
NCJ: Not that you have to make people comfortable, but isn't the audience some part of the equation?
BM: The audience of course is a part of the equation, but not to the same degree that they're used to in entertainment circles. `Put your hands together, how you doing? I feel a lot of love out there tonight, let me hear you.' I don't have that relationship with them. They're part of the program, I mean an audience makes a difference, but they don't get to affect the outcome. It's not like we're playing and we say, `Oh, they liked that song, let's play another one like that.' We're not in the entertainment business. I'm in the music business. I mean Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring and started a damn fight in the theater -- between the people who liked it and the people who hated it -- that's the business I'm in.

CenterArts presents the Branford Marsalis Quartet in concert at HSU's Van Duzer Theatre, 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7. For more on Branford's label go to


Bob Doran



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