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Interviews

Branford & Ellis Marsalis: The Dawn of Marsalis Music

By Published: May 1, 2002
AAJ: Oh, absolutely. So with respect to the timing of this label that you're starting. Why now? What conditions exist now? You're telling us this now that this is good timing.

BM: Are you talking externally or internally?

EM: I mean externally the conditions are always basically the same. You know, it's not that much of a change. I know Branford is right at where people would usually refer to as middle age.

AAJ: I'm the same age as he is.

EM: I'm on the other side of that, you see, so it's great. I mean, I just retired, you know, and it turns out to be a good time because everybody is of the same philosophical persuasion. And I don't think the times in and of itself, whatever we mean by that, have that much to do with it. If there's enough interest, if there's enough dedication, if there's enough understanding, and people with the skills to create a kind of an infrastructure that allows you to function... and there's good enough experience... Branford was with Columbia, how long?

BM: Twenty years.

EM: Okay, now I was with Columbia nearly seven. And to understand the mechanics of how all of that operates, you kind of have to go through that. You see, when you come out of it with some experience and then you make some decisions to say "I'm gonna start a record label..." you have the experience of having gone through this. Also, one thing, and I think it's great, is the fact that we live in a country that has a certain amount respect for entrepreneurship. You just got to figure out how to do it. (Laughs) Its not like you go around to the corner market and say "O.K. I'll take two pounds of entrepreneurship and I'll take twenty next week..." but to be here and to be able to do that!

AAJ: Are you taking any cues from some of these smaller jazz labels that are really getting a lot of note, at least in the jazz press? Basin Street, Atavistic, AUM?

BM: No.

AAJ: No?

EM: No. Well, Basin Street... it's interesting that you would mention it, because Basin Street was started by a kid who grew up with some of my kids. And what he's doing, I don't know what his capitalization is, but I don't think he's hurting. It's not so much that we would be taking cues from him. I think, essentially, there are some things that have to be done the same way. Now, he is Mark Samuels who's got Basin Street. Mark Samuels just signed Henry Butler
Henry Butler
Henry Butler
b.1949
piano
, who is a pianist, rag blues, you know. He did a recording with my younger son, Jason; he's also working with Los Hombres Calientes. It doesn't seem to me that Mark is going in that-in a specific direction as far as jazz is concerned. But I think in the final analysis, Mark is signing or recording some people who may never really be heard, if it's going to be left up to Columbia, Warner Brothers, Capitol, you know. And I think it's always been like that.

I mean, one of the first jazz recordings I ever made was in 1962. It was on the AFO label, and this guy was a friend of ours. He had a pretty good hit off of a Rhythm and Blues recording called I Know. And as a result of that, he went into the studio and said, "Well man, you guys should be recorded." And there were some other people that he recorded singing, some people around New Orleans. At the time where we were still sitting behind screens in the buses, you know, we couldn't go downtown. And that was what he was doing. And there were a lot of other little labels. You know, they were doing a lot of things, like... Allen Toussaint
Allen Toussaint
Allen Toussaint
b.1938
piano
was recording all kinds of stuff. You see, there's always been like, Imperial, or like the guy in Chicago, Chess was recording....

BM: So the way that we're different is that there will not be any sort of premium put on trying to get a hit record. You know, a hit record has... everybody has... there are several interpretations of that. Jazz guys are always trying to play pop tunes on their records. You know, always trying to get a song played on jazz radio. And, uh, I'm just not going to really try. You know, like, it was interesting when the Coltrane box came out. He recorded "My Favorite Things" and it was a hit. So Bob Thiele, in his infinite wisdom, decides that the trick is that, you know the reason the song was a success was because the song was in a minor key and it was in 6/8. So then, the next time, Coltrane records "Chim Chim Cheree" in a minor key in 6/8. And then he records one other thing, which one was it?

AAJ: "Greensleeves"?

BM: "Greensleeves" in a minor chord in 6/8. And they don't work as well. See the point is that you have to be really, really naive—or really an arrogant ass—to believe you have a formula for anything. Who knows why people buy what they buy? Anybody that says that they do is a liar. If the record companies of major labels really knew what people like, they wouldn't sign so many groups. They'd sign one group.

Like for instance, and one of things I was telling the guy, if Impulse really had their pulse on what was going on, they would have just signed Coltrane and sat on it. But instead what they did was signed him, and Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, and they signed McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
, and they signed Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
b.1937
bass, acoustic
. They signed all these people, they signed Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
Archie Shepp
b.1937
saxophone
, they signed all these people, and you know those records did really well for them. If they really knew what the hell they were doing, they would just sign one group and sit on it. And say "great, Coltrane's the guy." And people are going to forty years from now... you know, you don't know.


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