STORY | IN THE NEWS | STAGE DOOR | THE HUM | CALENDAR
Oct. 7, 2004
by BOB DORAN
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
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?
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
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
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 www.marsalismusic.com.
STORY | IN THE NEWS | STAGE DOOR | THE HUM | CALENDAR
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal,