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Branford Marsalis: It's All About the Band

By Published: January 12, 2005

AAJ: Yeah he's got personality. And he's lucky to have found you because otherwise he'd probably have banged around for ten years before somebody decided to give him a chance. It's funny, the cat he reminds me of the most is Olu Dara.

BM: There you go.

AAJ: And Olu was around doing his thing for years before they would let him just make a record of himself without trying to mold him into some category. At first it was what "What do we do with this cat? Who's in your band?"

BM: It's the same shit, man. The whole idea for Doug and them, and I told him that from day one when he said "What's the marketing strategy;" I told him, "You're the marketing strategy. Now get your ass on the road and go develop your clientele."

AAJ: You had a little Marsalis Music tour this summer. You got on the bus and went out like old times. Doug, Miguel, Harry Connick, Joey Calderazzo, your band. Everybody on the same concert bill.

BM: A couple of cities.

AAJ: I saw you up in Tanglewood .

BM: Yeah, that was cool.

AAJ: And you did your thing at Birdland during JVC. Do you plan on doing more of that? Taking the whole Marsalis music family on the road?

BM: It's not a plan on my list. I mean a couple of times a year in places, sure. The whole idea is to expand the brand name. Because there were a lot of people there (at Tanglewood). I don't know if they liked everything they heard, but the fact that they were there was cool. I think that, my manager told me that we had the largest jazz crowd ever there. Something like 3500 people. Yeah it was a cool thing. I'm happy for the guys. Miguel's band sounded great. We're getting ready to do his new record in December. He played a gig with me in Newport last week and the new music is killing.

AAJ: He's got something. He needs to be thought of outside of the category of a Latin jazz musician.

BM: I don't think that it really matters. If he just plays the music that he really plays, all that other bullshit just melts away. All those labels and that stuff just melt away because you make it irrelevant by your actions rather than wasting (your time). Because he's not the kind of guy that's even going to stop to talk about it. He's going to let the music do his talking and the music gets better and better.

He's a very serious student and I think that he's been able to take, I call it the nerd style for the lack of a better term, but the whole idea of associating patterns and scales and chords, that whole thing. I think that because he came from a very bona fide and viable folk tradition that he's able to incorporate that and come out with something that a lot of other guys who don't have any kind of folk tradition, it makes them sound real mathematical in the approach. So I'm impressed. The sky's the limit for the kid.

AAJ: What's on the horizon? You're making a new record with Miguel. You have your DVD of A Love Supreme coming out. Anything else?

BM: Doug's new record is already recorded. Same band. We're mixing it next week. It's amazing, I ain't got a fucking break nowhere. Yeah we're mixing next week during my ten days off before I go to Europe for a month with stop in Brazil for a day (laughs). And then we got Miguel's recording in December and we got some other things we're trying to do.

AAJ: Are you a hands on producer for these records?

BM: I'm happy and honored that they ask me to produce them, but there's no requirement that I produce them.

AAJ: Are you in the studio when they're recorded?

BM: Yeah I've got to be. But my whole thing is if there's nothing to say, then I ain't going to say it. I'll just sit there.

AAJ: I always say that when things are going well a good record producer goes for coffee.

BM: Exactly. I'll just sit there. I have little things. If you talk to Miguel and those guys, they can probably tell you "Well he made this suggestion at this point and that was cool." But for the most part the artists on the label are self-contained. They bring their concept with them, which is ultimately what I want. I don't want to be sitting in a room making the guy's record good, you know.

Like Delfayo came to me talking about a guy saying, "What about him?" I said, "No." He said, "Why not?" I told him, "Number one, he's got no band. Number two, he has no idea what he wants to play." Then Delfayo says, the curse of the producer, you know because Delfayo's a producer, "Well you know, with the right direction..." I said, "No-no-no-no. It's not like that."

AAJ: So you're kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum from Delfayo when it comes to being a producer.

BM: Well I think I understand the process, but I have a different approach to it. Like Delfayo likes to produce. I like to make records sound good. You know I mean I'm not that... I'm more like a reducer than a producer. And if an artist cannot produce themselves than I just... what's the point. It says Miguel Zenon on the record. It's like in pop music there's a joke amongst engineers that my engineer likes to use all the time. When we put on a Britney Spears record and say "Boy that song sounds great" and the engineer says, "Yeah, it does now." (laughs)

You know what I mean. We're like the opposite of that. We don't want to be in a situation where you take an artist who has no fucking idea of what they want to do and we just package them and create them and make them sound like they know what they want to do and then we go and get awards and talk about how great we are. Like "I told them to use those flamenco guitar players." I'm not interested in that. I'm like "What do you want to do, man?"

I remember Miguel called me. He called me when he was doing his first record and said, "Look man, I want to send you tunes." I said, "Okay." He says, "But I want to know what you think." I said, "I'll tell you right now. They're great." And he says, "Yeah, but aren't you going to give me any feedback?" I said, "Yeah, I'll see you in the studio."

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