An Interview with Branford Marsalis
by Mark Ruffin
JazzUSA: How did it start and why did you want to start a record company?
Branford: That was some shit that I was thinking about for a long time. Kevin Eubanks and I used to discuss it all the time. Kevin was really not cool with the fact that these people get to own your music. I was a little more pragmatic than he was at the time, I was making records between 40 and 60 thousand dollars a pop and I just didn’t happen to have a spare 40 thousand dollars in my pocket. So it’s a trade off. They give you the money to make your record, but it’s something that I often thought of, that it would be great to have a record label. Kevin was really into that self-ownership. I would read up on it.
Mingus started his own label, my dad started his own label, and I used to think about I was keen to all the ways it could be successful and that it could fail. Working with my dad was eye opening, because my dad was of the old school belief that , he was going to start a record company, and Wynton and I were going to get involved, and my thing was the marketing, I would go do all his research at Tower Records and Strawberries Records, at the time. And I went off to college, he couldn’t wait to do the record, so he got it done and brought this old stock album cover, a horrible looking thing, puts it out and I’m really angry at him, and his whole thing was that he was strictly about the music. The music is the most important thing. I’m like man, the point that never occurred to you is that the people who like you would by the record if there was turd on the cover. What about the people who’ve never heard of you? People don’t recognize you. That really influenced my decisions even when I went to Columbia and I would notice that when it comes to jazz how unimaginative major labels, or anybody, small labels, major labels, they’re all the same.
On my first record, we had this big fight because I didn’t want to have my saxophone on the cover. So, the guys are like, how are people going to know you play saxophone, if you don’t hold a saxophone. I’m like, well why should they know that I play saxophone. What difference does it make? Supposed I sang, what would you do, put a mic in my mouth. Y’all got singers on the label all over the place, they don’t put shit in their face, nothing. Well, that’s different. Tell me how it’s different and I’ll consider your request. But they couldn’t tell me how it’s different. This is just the way shit has been done forever. Any small jazz label, any label, guy plays a guitar, he’s got a guitar. Guy plays saxophone, he’s got a saxophone. It’s almost like you’re limiting the audience, cause they’re some people who are just turned off by the idea of a jazz record and they just won’t even pick the shit up if they see it. Oh, a jazz record, ugh. If you can have covers that are at least a little bit interesting, people might be inclined to pick the shit up.
JazzUSA: What a great cover to Scenes In The City too?
Branford: I got it from this Led Zeppelin record, Physical Graffiti. I used to love that cover.
JazzUSA: It’s ironic that the title track is a Mingus tune. And it was adventurous that you tried some spoken word and not just straight ahead blowing.
Branford:My records have always been like that. I consider my records eclectic. Other people consider them scattered shots, lacking focus. It’s all a matter of perspective, a matter of what you’re used to. In a lot of ways jazz has become like pop music, because if you listen to a lot of musicians who are out now and you put on five of their records, and there is like no growth from record to record. When I hear a lot of guys, when they make records, they treat the record like product, so they only play to their strengths. So the record becomes like a pop product, and all the records have the tendency to sound exactly the same. You hear the same type of solos, the same types of forms, and people get comfortable with that. They like hearing the shit they’re used to hearing. The whole jazz radio, post be-bop mentality. Everybody wants to hear the shit they want to hear.
JazzUSA: The bad thing about that, especially at Verve, is that they try to get the young folks to conform to that, and then they drop them.
Branford: That’s a whole other situation. Anytime you have a company like Verve, where Verve is not really Verve. Verve is a subsidiary of a very, very large company. They’re not really in control of their own destiny. They’re kind of powerless. They have to go the way the wind blow
JazzUSA: When did your father start a label and what was the name of it.
Branford: I don’t know. It was called the Bran-Wyn Music Corporation, part of my name and part of Wynton’s name.
JazzUSA: Don’t you think that this is a strange time in the music business to be thinking about starting a record company?
Branford: That depends on the kind of record company you’re trying to start. If you’re trying to start a record company that going to hire jazz people who are going to sing pop tunes and become huge sensations. If you’re trying to get a Diana Krall, yeah, I think it would be a very strange time. But if you’re trying to start a small label with small budgets, that makes budgets, and allowed musicians to make the music that they want to make, the consideration is not well we’ve got to get a concept record. Or if you had a song that people really liked on the radio, so now you have to do another song just like that on your new record. None of that is a consideration. None of that will ever come. That’s not an issue. When that’s not an issue, and the musicians understand that they’re not going to get first class tickets and they’re not going to be hanging out in the studio spending gargantuan amounts of money, as long as everybody understands that I don’t really see where the risk is really.
JazzUSA: So you’re planning on keeping it small scale?
Branford: Yeah, everything else is a mistake. If it’s going to be large scale, then you’re going end up like the majors. I don’t wanna be put in the situation where I have to depend on shareholders who really don’t have a vested interest in music. They only have a vested interest in their return, and I don’t blame them. That’s their job. They’re investors. That’s what they do. So when you get to a situation where you go public, the moment you try to go public with something, it’s not yours anymore. From the moment it’s not mine, the music will be tertiary, even less than secondary. And that’s what’s been going on in all these jazz departments and all these labels. You know Columbia is owned by Sony. Sony has big investors. They don’t care how great Miles Davis is, and I’m not saying that they should. I’m just stating that they don’t. I’m not really interested in the moral argument. I’ll leave that to those other guys. The guys who are still bitching about Ken Burns. I’ll leave it to them. I don’t want to get into the moral ramifications of it, it just that current environment is not conducive to creative music on any level, any kind of creative music, jazz, pop, it don’t matter. If creative music seeps in, it’s a mistake.
JazzUSA: How are you trying to change that?
Branford: I’m not trying to change it. That’s not my interest. I’m not a crusader. I want to surround myself with musicians that I think are great, and not just great instrumentalists, great musicians, which is different. It’s not really about people who play their instruments well, but people who have really interesting concept for their music to me. And can play their instrument well. Both. I’m not going to try to have one over the other, and just align myself with these people and let’s just make records.
JazzUSA: You had a position at Columbia. How did that happen and what was your title?
Branford: My title was creative consultant, which didn’t mean shit to me. I don’t care about titles. I think titles are important for people who don’t have anything else. When you don’t have any other way of defining yourself to yourself, then you need a title.
JazzUSA: So did they come to you and say, we need help?
JazzUSA: But just like a big company, I don’t know the story, but they come to you and then they seemed not to heed what you were saying.
Branford: That’s their choice. That’s their options. It’s like dealing with human beings. A person says something, you can either say yeah, well they mean what they say, or they’re saying it because they like the sound of it, but it doesn’t really matter what they say. We’ll know what they mean by their actions.
JazzUSA: So you did a David Sanchez record, two David S. Ware records, Tain, Buckshot LeFonque, and then there’s Frank McComb.
Branford: What happened to Frank is just a goddamned shame. That was one of the most disappointing things in my career, to watch a musician that talented to be just dismissed so cavalier like. It became really clear to me that for whatever the reasons, the people who were in positions of influence at Columbia were only interested in Black music as a money making venture at Columbia. And an artist with the caliber of talent as Frank, and those wonderful songs, they weren’t really interested in investing any time and energy into something for a black artist that did not return an immediate dividend. I felt really, really bad for him. That shit, was like the worse experience ever. Jazz musicians, we’re used to that. But I think Frank would’ve been an artist that could’ve done really really well for the company. In jazz, we can make a record and make a living. With the stuff he’s doing.
That’s one of the things that have always troubled me about black musicians who embrace popular culture, black musicians who go into r&b. Is that the environment, is it such that they’re only as good as they’re next hit record? So like this year, when the Rolling Stones go out on tour and they haven’t had a hit in 15 years, people still come and hear them. When the Eagles go on tour, people still come and hear them, because they actually have a fan base.
Black music has never really had a fan base. It’s a very, very illusionary, elusive fan base that is only based on the song that you have on the radio, which is why Earth, Wind & Fire is playing in jazz clubs and casinos. I felt that with an artist like Frank, it would be really possible to have one of the first black artists to actually create a fan base, because his music is that good. Like to have a grass roots kind of thing, where people are coming to hear him, kind of like they come to hear me.
One of the bad things that hip-hop did, in addition to all the good things that it presented, one of the bad things that it did is that it killed the whole idea of black bands. That shit was like destroyed. So all the shit that it took, and all the money that companies would spend putting bands on the road, all that stuff that they still do white bands, that shit just disappeared. So, when you have a situation where a guy can take some samples and make an entire record on a 16 track machine, for 40 thousand dollars, and go out on tour, only after the song has been played on the radio, talk about a return on an investment. It takes 40 thousand dollars to make a record and they make 20 million dollars off it
JazzUSA: And even when it tours, its just him and the machines
BM; Everything is cost effective. So, you’re talking about spending money to put a musician on the road with a band. They’re just not going to put that kind of money out there for a black artist.
JazzUSA: So did all that discourage you from trying more pop?
Branford: No, it’s just a matter of me. It wasn’t that I was discouraged, because like I said, having done all of the things that I have done, particularly understanding the entertainment business much better being on the Tonight Show, different situations that I’ve been in, playing with Sting and people like that, I’m not really drawn in by what people say anymore. I’m only interested in what they do. If they say something, it sound intriguing and I give it a shot, and then I stand back and see what it is they actually do, and if they do what they say they were going to do, then it’ll be a great relationship, if they don’t do what they say they’d do, then I understand and its time to move on. So it wasn’t like I was disappointed. It was time to move on. It was just time to move on.
JazzUSA: So wItH Marsalis Music, just great jazz music, no pop?
Branford: That depends on what you mean by pop. That’s why it’s called Marsalis Music, if it was just going to be jazz, it would be called Marsalis Jazz. The whole idea is that I’m not really interested in anything radio friendly. If an artist gets played on the radio, that’s great. But the intent will never be to get a song played on the radio. The intent is to make music. If a by-product of that is radio play, that’s a caveat, that’s extra. So, I would never put myself in the situation where I’m spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, having pimp and hustler running around trying to hustle radio stations to play my record. That’s not something I’m interested in.
JazzUSA: Were you surprised when Columbia started cutting people and just started getting rid of jazz?
Branford: Like I said earlier, it’s what they do, not what they say. Is it a surprise? No. Nothing in this business surprises me anymore. Nothing.
JazzUSA: So, you weren’t surprised when your brother and Columbia parted ways?
Branford: No. It didn’t surprise me at all.
JazzUSA: Can you tell me what you learned as a Creative Consultant at Columbia that is going to help you at Marsalis Music?
Branford: Nothing really. I made great records. I know that I can make good records. David Ware records are great. David Samchez’ records are great. Tain record is great. Tain passed that same demo tape with all those songs on it to every major label and they all passed on it. All those songs on Citizen Tain, were passed to Verve and all of them passed on it. As I recall that one of the more talked about records when it came out. Tain’s a great musician. He writes good songs. He writes pretty melodies, and it’s rare for a drummer to write good melodies. I’m waiting for the opportunity for me to get Tain to come over to my label when they let him go. If Tain gets to stay at Columbia and Columbia does what a company like Columbia is capable of doing for an artist, that’s good for Tain. If they decide to let Tain go, that’s great for me. I’m happy either way.
JazzUSA: Every year, it seems the chemistry between the two of you improves.
Branford: We’re older, we get better every year. We’re trying to improve. We’re practicing, trying to get our shit together.
JazzUSA: Can you see that he’s one of the greatest living drummers out there now?
Branford: I’ve been saying that shit for 20 years and making people mad. I know. I like my ears, before I trust most. I’ve heard few musicians who I heard five years later and go wow, I had no idea they had it in them. We’re in this good place personally where we just understand each other. We understand what we bring to each other. I know how to write songs that challenges him. He knows how to write songs that can challenge me. A lot of guys want to work with Tain and they just hire him and they don’t write any tunes. So it’s him just playing his Tain-y shit, which is what they want so they can put a sticker on the record and say that Tain’s on it, like that ‘s suddenly going to sell their record. The whole idea of the sticker is just such a sticker to me. It’s funny to me. It would’ve never occurred to me to just buy a record because I saw a dude’s name on it. That doesn’t mean the record’s going to be good. That’s like a funny thing to me. I’ve always found that humorous when people say we want to put a sticker on. For what?
JazzUSA: So, I heard the record. It’s high quality, uncompromising music. And I’m thinking. How is that going to sell?
Branford: Who gives a fuck? It’s jazz, what do you expect it to sell? So it might sell five thousand records instead of ten thousand records. The only two records that I was ever affiliated with that ever really sold in large numbers were Mo’ Better Blues, and that was because it was with a movie and the music wasn’t particularly challenging, and I Heard You Twice The First Time, because it had a bunch of blues musicians on it. My jazz records have never sold. It’s like this is what I do for a living, I’m trying to challenge myself. I’ve always believeD that jazz is one of those music that you play for yourself, not for the audience. That why I stopped playing funk music, which I’d went to Berklee to learn how to do better and become a producer and started playing jazz. That is what appealed to me, to do my own shit. So the idea of playing jazz and pandering to the audience is bizarre to me, because it’s not that kind of music in the first place. It’d be one thing if you pandered to the audience and you sell five million records, oh I’m all for that. But to do that shit to sell 40 thousand records, what the hell is that? What is 40 thousand records.
I remember I was talking to a guy at Columbia who was like grilling me about all the stuff that was wrong with my tenure. How can it be, you signed these artists, and our biggest selling record is still Kind Of Blue, you’re not doing a good job, and I say man, don’t tell me how many records Kind Of Blue is selling in the year 2000, tell me how many records Kind Of Blue sold in 1961. Now go get that sheet out, and let’s use that. Now the artists I have, their records came out in 2000, so if it’s selling 5000 copies a week since 1998, which is the year Miles died, then you have to give me at least that much time from 61 to when he died, before you can even make a validation like that. This is jazz you know. So’ I’m not really understanding the question. Are we talking about pop music, or are we talking about jazz? And then he would say well, guys out on the street say you are just hiring your friends. I’m like, if I’m a book publisher, and my friends happen to be H.G. Wells, fucking William Shakespeare, should I not sign them? If Langston Hughes is my boy, you’re saying well man, I can’t sign you because it might seem improper. All my friends are bad mother fuckers , that’s not my fault. I also have plenty of friends who don’t play instruments and I have not signed them. And I have friends who do play instruments and I haven’t signed them. Just because my closest friends are great musicians, that not my fucking fault. Who am I suppose to sign instead of Tain, a lesser musician just because I don’t know them? I don’t get this. He was just playing Devil’s advocate, he didn’t really have a response to the shit I was saying, he was just throwing it out there, people are saying this, people are saying that and how do you respond to it, and that’s how I respond to it.
Jazz is a long term venture, either you’re committed to the shit or you ain’t, Now if people at Columbia thought that I was going to bring in a bunch of smooth instrumental pop musicians, under the guise of jazz, they were wrong. That was not my intent. I did an interview and they asked me about Peter White, and I said Peter White’s great, he’s important. His kind of music subsidized jazz, and Peter White got mad and his manager got mad. What was I supposed to say? This is the new jazz, this is the legacy of the future. It’s just one of those things. Did they think that just because I took a position like that, that I was suddenly going to compromise my values? That’s why I don’t work in corporate. I don’t believe in compromising my values.
JazzUSA: Even when you do funk music, you don’t compromise your values.
Branford: Because I don’t do it for them. I’ve watched people who play pop music sit around listening to the radio all day, and they got all the hits and they’re trying to write songs like the hits, because they’re trying to write what the people want. That’s not music. That’s commerce, that’s product, that’s entertainment. I’m not in entertainment. I play the shit I like. I’m the only person I’m interested in when I make my records, me and the guys in the group. When they start asking me , look do you think that’s radio ? I say man, do you like the shit? Frank, do you like that shit? Then it’s good enough for me. Radio ain’t going to play it, and, what do you want me to do. I play music for a living this is what I do. I’m old school. I’m not in that other thing. More power to them that can do that. Because not everybody can be a musician. Most people, it’s probably easier for them to be entertainers, because that is probably where their musicianship lay anyway.
I’m not saying everybody in the world is a bastard. Like all those people who jump on poor Kenny G, I am not in that group. I ain’t jealous of Kenny. I don’t want his audience, would love to have his money. I would love to spend as much time playing golf as he does. But, I don’t want his audience. I don’t want to sound like him. I’m not jealous of him. I know that if he played like me, he wouldn’t sell that many records, and he knows it too. I’m not mad at Kenny. More power to him and more power to anybody that wants to pursue shit and find out where their talent is, and pursue that and it makes them money, more power to them, I don’t have to deal with that.
JazzUSA: Record companies usually are of little help with jazz artists who want to make money outside the record business.
Branford: The reality of any kind of black music is that, there’s a book by a guy named Goldberg. I can’t remember his first name right now, called Biased, it’s about bias in the television industry, and he makes this unbelievable point that I don’t think black people understand. Black people watch one type of show and white people watch another type of show. So if you go to the average black person who watches the WB and you start asking them about the characters on Friends, they don’t know who these people are. You go to the people who watch Friends and ask them about the characters on the Steve Harvey Show, they don’t even know who Steve Harvey is. The most important point you have to remember is that the most watched show in American on the WB by black people, isn’t even one per cent of the viewer ship of America. So, if 90 per cent in America watch Steve Harvey and that’s all that watches it, it can’t even crack the top 100 of what white viewers watch. That’s the reality of being black when you want to play music that’s probably is not going to be particularly popular.
So to blame the record company is not really fair. Why should a record company give you four hundred thousand dollars to go on tour and they know they’re not going to see the money? There is not going to be a return on their investment, unless they hear a song that they think they can bring over to the white audience so that they can make their dollars. I understand their point of view. I ain’t got no beef with Sony. I understand their point of view. That’s not the business I’m in, and I happen to be a black person, so I can’t abide by that shit. I ain’t got no beef with them. I’m not going to sign Ramsey Lewis and send him on tour, and pay for this shit. I can’t do that. I understand why they don’t do it. Is it racist? Kind of, yeah. It’s racist, but not like they’re being racist. The situation is an unfortunate situation. I just show you for all of the athletes that make money and how we all like to delude ourselves about how much better the shit is, how much further it has to go. White America is essentially comfortable with black people like me. I speak well. I ain’t like Allen Iverson. I don’t have any tattoos on. Even as an unfamiliar face, I speak the language like they speak the language. I don’t speak the language the way Allen speak the language. They just can’t deal with Allen. Even though, it’s historically American society that begot that mentality. That’s the great irony of it. That’s just some shit you have to make some peace with. Like I said, there are cats, the Ken Burns people, standing on the side bitching and complaining, when the average person who watched Ken Burns was not a jazz fan, first of all, which was the whole point of the documentary, not to make a documentary for jazz fans. That’s shit. That’s a fingernail in the population.
The whole point was to get people who had never heard of jazz and would have never had an interest in it, to watch it. And if you got all these jazz musicians bitching about it on the Internet, and dogging my brother, if you got any of them to talk about jazz 80 per cent of the people who watched it, wouldn’t watch it. They would turn that shit off. That’s the reality of the situation. All of these guys talking about who should’ve been the spokesperson, who shouldn’t have been a spokesperson, anybody they name as a spokesperson would not have appealed to the audience that Ken Burns was looking for more than my brother would. Because my brother not only can play the fuck out the trumpet, he can talk about it too. I had a lady talking to me about this on the plane, she just brought it up. The thing I loved about your brother was that he could actually play the shit. He could say one guy plays this way and plays, and that Louis Armstrong play that way. And she said and I’m not musical and I could hear the difference. Now please give me the name of the trumpet player that we have today that is going to do that besides him. All of these people complaining about who it should’ve been. My brother has the talent for making complex shit very simple. He tells it in a very folksy kind of way, and people who don’t care shit about music can relate to that. He’s perfect for the job. A lot more perfect for the job than me.
JazzUSA: Do you have any plans to pursue movies again, rather it’s scoring or acting?
Branford: Scoring. The hardest part of scoring is that you’re talking to directors who want to be right and they don’t know anything about music. And then it becomes like this political kind of game that I’m not real good at it. I had a meeting with one cat for this movie. He said, I want an acoustic soundtrack like Sade. Like if I’m going to be in the movie, yes, okay, I can give you that. But what I said was, that shit is not acoustic. Which it isn’t. He said Yes it it. I said please tell me how. Well, they have acoustic piano. I said what about everything else? The guitar is electric, the bass is electric, her voice is not acoustic, it’s not an acoustic record. And the classic shit was he wanted to use a Stevie Wonder song in his movie. He wanted to use As, and he goes on the piano solo, now he’s not only a great composer but a great musician. I said, that’s not Stevie, that’s Herbie. He’s like yes that is, that’s Stevie. This is where the great disconnect is. Here’ s a cat who makes film for a living. Now if he told me who the director of photography was on an Eisenstein film, I’d say okay, because that’s his shit. Here’s this motherfucker telling me what the shit is when I know what it is. This is what I do for a living. And when you do movies, especially when the budget gets big. That’s the reality of it. The only way I could imagine is if people that I respect as artist respect me as artist and they hire me to write the music, like the situation John Williams has with Spielberg, write your shit man, it’s all good. In terms of going to Hollywood and doing those meeting and kissing all that ass , that’s not me.
JazzUSA: What about acting.?
Branford: They don’t need me. For what? Some of those roles they have for black people, I would never play those roles. I find them demeaning. All those roles that those rappers do, I ain’t going to that, and the stuff that I like, I don’t think I really have the skill to do it, so why? There are limited roles of any real substance for black people and I had an option and I didn’t want to do Beverly Hills Cop.
JazzUSA: Was that stuff getting in the way of music?
Branford: Yeah, but that was cool, I was a kid. How could it not get in the way of music? Every minute not spent playing music is a minute you don’t get better. The older I get, the less likely it becomes.
JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the band, I know you and Tain have been together 20 years, but about Joey Calderazzo and Eric Reavis
Branford: Calderazzo has been in the band for three years, and Reavis for five.
JazzUSA: So this particular quartet?
Branford: Three years.
JazzUSA: There was a huge difference in the two shows I saw, and it wasn’t just because Calderazzo wasn’t on the gig in St. Lucia. You and Tain were even different.
Branford: That’s because Tain and I are very similar. Some musicians can play their shit, no matter who’s playing with them, ala Sonny Rollins. No matter how good or bad the band is, Sonny can get to his shit. I can’t play like that and neither can Tain. There has to be a certain kind of thing with the musicians where we’re all communicating, or it just becomes stock, Blue Note Records 101. Also, down in St. Lucia, you’ve got 60% of the audience had never been to a jazz concert, the only reason they’re there is because India Arie is there, Lauryn Hill is there and they come because they know my name and a lot of them may have heard Wynton once, and they think we’re going to play some Duke Ellington shit, and we come out there blasting and they’re just staring at us like we’re from outer space. It really puts you in a situation where you say well man, let’s just survive this shit. Let’s just finish the show, take our bow and split. They’re not jazz fans, like when you go to a club like the Blue Note. The Blue Note is not a jazz club. The Blue Note is not a jazz club. The Blue Note is an entertainment club and they play jazz there. That’s why they have golf balls and t-shirts and when you go to hear most musicians, people are talking through the shit, loudly. Phones are ringing, cash registers, that’s just the jazz tradition.
Miles Davis, Live at The Plugged Nickel, mother fuckers talking. Bill Evans, Live At The Vanguard, mother fuckers are talking. Sonny Rollins Live At The Vanguard, mother fuckers are talking. Trane, they didn’t talk through his shit, because he just terrified them, so they just didn’t come to the gig. Trane finishes a song there’s about five people clapping. But when you hear, like, Charlie Parker, Live At Royal Roost, all you hear is talking. So, the jazz club has always been, a place where people can come get their drink on, and there was music playing in the background. The only part of the equation that didn’t really fit was us, because we didn’t play the kind of music that easily allowed them to talk through the shit. Songs are coming up and going down, and stopping and starting and it’s soft, then it’s loud. They just want to hear some shit that’ s like a drone. Like the shit you hear on jazz radio. The song starts, and it sounds the same from the beginning to the end, that way they can just ignore it with some easy listening movement.
JazzUSA: There is a movement in public radio, I call it smooth jazz acoustic.
Branford: They’re trying to get listeners.
JazzUSA: I happen to think that’s the wrong way of going about it.
Branford: It’s the option of every person. You can stand on a personal philosophy, or you can say, man we’ve got to get people to listen. What do the people want? It’s the creeping scope of populism. I remember when I was doing Jazz Set for NPR, they were trying to put pressure on me to include instrumental pop groups. No, I’m not going to do it. That was my personal choice. They could always just take me off the show, and then put on whoever they want, and they could put that shit on anytime they want. Me, I’m not going to do it. It’s not that I don’t like some of that stuff. It’s just that there’s a million forums for that, and very few forums for jazz. So, I just said, this is not something I want. I don’t want to have my name giving endorsement to stuff I didn’t think needed to be on the show.
JazzUSA: Hey, I love the new record. But there’s something missing from it.
JazzUSA: The romanticism of Branford Marsalis.
Branford: It’s coming. It’s next time.
JazzUSA: Paying homage to your forefathers is obviously very important to you. I remember even on The Tonight Show, I’d hear references, musically or otherwise, to Bird or Sonny Rollins.
Branford: Man, that’s the vocabulary of the language. I’m amazed the number of people who don’t believe in the vocabulary. There are cats out there, working musicians, who are like we need to develop new shit. It has to be new, It has to be new. As though, God plays no role. I’m just going to mandate that my shit be new, and I’m going to do it, and it’s going to be new. That’s like anybody saying, I’m just going to write the Theory of Relativity. Fuck it, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to write some real new mathematical shit and it doesn’t have to have any basis on old math. We’re just going to do this shit, and it’s going to rock the world. Whatever man. Ain’t nobody going to pay attention to that shit. In math, you have to justify shit. In music, you don’t. Especially to lay people. The just want to feel like they’re in on something. So you’ve got musicians and lay people saying, some guy just wrote on my website. What’s with all this learning solos of the past and all this imitation shit? What’s with all these imitators?
All these piano players sound like Herbie Hancock. That’s funny, I haven’t heard too many piano players sound like Herbie actually. A couple, but not many. I’ve heard them try, but I haven’t heard them sound like Herbie. We need innovation. I didn’t realize that it was some shit that could be that easily acquired. You see, that’s the whole quandary. You take a cat like Coltrane, or Ornette Coleman, and these cats are steeped in the blues tradition, they’re steeped in be-bop tradition, the swing tradition. But since people can’t directly hear the lineage, they just assume that it’s just a complete disconnect. You’ve got to break off the branch and start a new thing, so everybody’s trying to break off a branch and start a new thing. They don’t know the tradition. You have all these cats, they call them Coltrane clones. Play all these damn changes. They play a million changes. Play Giant Steps, play Countdown. If the shit is so profound, how come they can’t play A Love Supreme? How come they can’t play a song with one chord? And the X factor is the blues. If you’ve ain’t checked out the blues, you can’t play that one chord shit.
The thing that a lot of people don’t get, is that what I think is just fine for me. When they want to have these arguments and shit and say I’m full of shit, I’m pompous. Maybe I am. Maybe I am pompous. But you know what, feel free to do it your way, see if it works for you. My shit works for me. I ain’t trying to impress anybody. I ain’t trying to get in an argument with these people. If they want to have a dialogue, let’s have a dialogue, two people talking, not two people yelling opinions. The shit works for me. If it don’t work for you, get your own shit. But I don’t have a sect, my music ain’t got a name, I don’t have a sect, a cadre of musicians. I just play music. I’m not trying to embrace any form of populism when I play music.
JazzUSA: Even when you play so called popular music.
Branford: No. I’m not interested in populism.