(photo credit: Courtesy )
Branford Marsalis belongs to that increasingly rarer breed of creative artists - he always pushes the envelope. This Thursday (9 p.m.) local jazz fans are in for a treat when the American saxophonist comes to Tel Aviv for a one-time concert at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv.
In a jazz industry which has lost something of its mass appeal over the last three or four decades, and which increasingly struggles to vie with the MTV instant thrill ethos, Marsalis is the real McCoy. When it comes to pandering to mainstream niceties or commercial demands the 48-year-old reedman's sentiments could be summed up in that memorable Rhett Butler line from Gone With The Wind, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
Marsalis' uncompromising line has not cost him dearly in the popularity stakes, quite the contrary. Besides maintaining a very busy recording and teaching schedule, Marsalis is in great demand at festivals and music venues the world over, and he has even chalked up three Grammies in the process. While appreciative of the industry's acknowledgement of his artistic efforts, Marsalis isn't exactly letting the awards go to his head. "It was nice to get the Grammies," he says simply, adding, "they are in boxes somewhere in my basement at home."
As they say in the world of Jewish matchmaking, Marsalis comes from "good stock." He hails from New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and he's from jazz's most illustrious family. Ellis, his 73-year-old father, is a most respected jazz pianist and teacher. Three of Branford's younger siblings are well-known jazz artists, too - Delfeayo, a trombonist; Jason, a drummer; and trumpeter Wynton, possibly the most celebrated figure in the jazz world today who, among other high profile roles, is musical director of the Jazz at the Lincoln Center program in New York.
Big brother Marsalis has largely shunned the bright lights, even taking the bold step of having moved out of New York City - the epicenter of the jazz world - and settled with his wife and children in Durham, North Carolina. But, wasn't Marsalis just a teeny bit concerned about leaving the busy New York club scene out of sax reach? "I haven't needed New York for 15 years now, because I was established," he says. "Anyway, the New York club scene is crap these days."
Marsalis has had a multi-hued career to date. In the early nineties he even took a well-paid, mainstream job fronting the Tonight Show'sband between 1992 and 1995. Surely that was a huge artistic compromise? "I learned a lot while I was on the show," says the saxophonist, "but I couldn't take it any more. The music we played wasn't hard enough and the writing wasn't smart enough. I spent two and a half years there. I'm too much of a musician to stick to something like that."
Marsalis didn't use his Tonight Show earnings to buy himself a new car or backyard pool. "After that I went on the road and played music I liked. I told my accountant to let me know when the funds were close to running out, and I quit the tour after he called me."
Marsalis has a truly eclectic approach to his art and profession. His jazz albums have all done well in the stores, and won numerous prizes. He is also an accomplished classical musician. His latest album Braggtown includes a beguiling reading of 17th century baroque composer Henry Purcell's "O Solitude." Add to that synergies with pop and rock titans the likes of Sting, the Grateful Dead and jazz heavyweights Miles Davis, Art Blakey and dad Ellis and you have a singularly well-rounded artist.
Marsalis isn't just making hay while the sun shines on his sax. Three years ago Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown. His parents' home was largely untouched but since, he's been working, along with singer Harry Connick Jr., to help provide new abodes for less well-off musicians who lost their homes in the disaster, through Habit for Humanity. "You have to give back to the community, and not just look to make a profit out of the community," he states, adding that the disaster was a sobering experience for him. "It puts jazz in perspective and makes you count your blessings and just shut up and play."
Branford Marsalis appears with his quartet: pianist Joey Calderazzo, bass player Eric Revis and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts on July 17 at 9 p.m. at 19 Shaul Hameleh Blvd. Tickets cost NIS 200-320 and can be ordered at (03) 604-5000.