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Branford Marsalis: It's All About the Band

By Published: January 12, 2005

AAJ: Doug Wamble. Is he managing to slip through a crack in the door yet?

BM: No. No. He's not selling yet. But I believe in his music.

AAJ: Although he's the least known artist on the label, it would seem that he has the best shot at breaking through the barriers?

BM: (He has) more accessibility, but because he loves jazz so much and he's influenced by jazz music, he's determined to play jazz tunes and because we live in such a fragmented society—if every song on the record was like "Baby If You Love Me," people would like it but then they'd also say "Why the hell is he on Marsalis Music?" And then you have a situation where you have a swinging song like "Sweet Magnolia Tree," but the jazz stations say we ain't going to play this record because it's not a jazz record. There's like these built-in biases. And... that's okay because I think in some ways jazz needs to be more biased rather than musicians allowing a lot of mediocre music to masquerade as jazz. So I'm not really against that per se, I just believe that guys like Miguel and guys like Doug are going to have to go out and hit the road and develop their own clientele. I think that is ultimately within the best interest of every artist—that they really believe in themselves and understand that sometimes you must go and play a club where you're not going to make no money and take a hit in order to enhance your profile among the people who frequent those places. And to just develop your clientele. And the amount of money that musicians waste on shit like demos and photographs and press clippings... I mean I'm not going to hire a musician because I like his resume. I'm going to hire a musician because I like the way he sounds.

AAJ: Okay, lets get to that part. Are you going crazy? Are hundreds of people sending you demo tapes? Are all of your friends hitting on you for record dates?

BM: Thousands. Thousands. Yeah, but it doesn't matter; that's fine. I mean I understand the power of "no" and no real friend would try to pressure me to do some stuff like that. And if they do then I know they're not a real friend, so it's okay because you learn either way.

AAJ: Do you do a lot of listening to demo tapes?

BM: Yeah. Bob Blumenthal listens to a lot more than I do and narrows it down. We'll sit down then and listen to them together or play them and talk on the phone about it. I mean the group thing is crucial. The whole idea that like... My dad told me a really cool story. Coltrane came to New Orleans one day and he was talking about the jazz scene. And Coltrane mentions that the problem with jazz was that there were too few groups and that all the club owners he'd talk to talk about that. And my dad said, "Well I loved Trane, but I thought he was crazy." And the reason he thought he was crazy was that because he lived in Louisiana, whenever he bought a Lee Morgan record he saw four names on it and he thought that was a group. He didn't think of it as just a session. He thought that because in New Orleans he had his group. He had his boys and they all played together, but that was out of necessity because there ain't but five dudes in New Orleans who wanted to play jazz and they all played together. But in New York you see it now where guys go out and they call cats and everybody does sessions. It has this general kind of functionality, but they don't have that spark that the music that Mingus had or that Miles had or Trane had. Because the group—there's no groups like Buhaina's group.

AAJ: The Messengers are the prime example of that because Art tried to keep a group together. Even though a lot of those editions of the Messengers were really just sessions, when you listen to the records by the real groups like Freddie, Wayne, Curtis, Cedar and Reggie, you can hear the difference.

BM: That's right. And I think that that's our focus. That's our primary focus.

AAJ: Well you have a band. Miguel has a band. Wamble definitely has a band. There are so few real bands out here, so I guess that that focus makes it a little easier for you to find what you're looking for.

BM: Yeah, we don't have to... we don't have market expectations; we don't have people... we don't have to make records with people. We don't have to do it. You know what I mean? Like I told them that (when they ask) "How many records do you want to release a year?" I said "Well that depends on the people who are playing. If there ain't no good shit out there, then we ain't going to release no records. There's no emphasis on... Like you could do a formula like GRP did, where you release twenty records a year, amass a catalogue and then sell it off for sixteen million dollars. That's a smart business model because the people who decide to purchase record companies don't really listen to music so they cannot evaluate taste. All they can evaluate is volume, so it doesn't even matter whether the record is good or whether the record is bad. It's just the volume of it. It's just the catalogue. The "catalogue" is the thing that they focus on.

We're not in that business. I don't plan on selling the company. I mean, I'm not trying to amass a catalogue so I can sell it off. So we can wait until something comes along.

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