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Interviews

Branford & Ellis Marsalis: The Dawn of Marsalis Music

By Published: May 1, 2002
AAJ: So the fans missed it. The sports writers missed it.

BM: The fans didn't miss it cause they didn't see it. How, they can't miss something they don't see.

AAJ: Well then, how do you relate it to music fans missing this bassist from London?

BM: Well, they're not supposed to know. They ain't supposed to know. I mean, he's playing in clubs. People—they're not trying to listen to the music—they're sitting there talking and bull-shitting, you know. He's playing in a band and the lead guy's there, so they're looking at the lead guy. They're not going to, you know... People like Led Zeppelin, for instance. You like Led Zeppelin. You know the bassist's name? You know the lead guitarist's name? (general laugher) Ah, there you go. Thank you for proving my point. The bassist's name is John Paul Jones. He was the rock of the band. That's one of the reasons that the two best musicians in the band were the bassist and Bonham. And all the shit on top was just icing. But people love icing. So they always know the singer's name and the guitarist's name. They never know the bassist's name.

AAJ: But icing sells. I mean, if you look at pop music today...

BM: But I'm not playing pop music, so why should I give a shit? I'm not interested in icing. I am not playing pop music. I don't have to be interested in icing. I'm interested in jazz. I'm interested in meat.

AAJ: So the meat which is, from what we understand, two or three percent of all record sales.

BM: Two or three percent of all the musicians who play the music that represent two ore three percent of the record sales. That's how small it is.

EM: Boy, that's really small.

AAJ: But is that just an accepted thing, or is that just the comfort zone you're working in.

BM: That's an accepted thing. That's not a comfort zone. That's a reality.

Man, I play with pop stars, dude. I've played with pop stars. I was on the Tonight Show. I have seen what the average person likes. We aren't even in the same ballpark.

And I am not willing to tell musicians to do the things that are required to get the average person to like you, because it has nothing to do with music. Because if it had anything to do with music... you know, I'll give you a perfect example. Some friends of mine were sitting around. We weren't sitting. We were playing golf. These three guys I play golf with, and they were talking about Jim Carey having this relationship with Renee Zellweger. "Man, I can't believe he's hitting that! You know, guys, that's some fine shit, man." I said, "Man, are you guys stupid or what?" Goes, "What'd you mean?" I says, "Alright, man. Let me break it down to you. All right, the movie just came out two weeks ago. How long do you think it takes to make a movie?"—"Oh, six months."— "Yeah, six months to a year. And then after you make the movie, you have to edit the movie. Then after the movie, you have to make the copies. And then you have to send it to the people. So the entire process is about a year after you finish. So it's a 2-year project."

And they were talking on television. Renee Zellweger says that "I wasn't going to mess with Jim until the movie was over, and then we'd know if it was serious or not." Which means that when you do it when the movie's over, that was a year ago. So we just hear about this relationship two weeks ago, which just coincidentally coincides with the release of the movie. What are the odds? Like, wake up, fellows! Y'all are part of the damn problem. You know what I mean? There's a system in place, you know.

And they told Renee... "Hey, you know, we don't want you to put your shit out there with Jim, but it will really help sell the movie." And they go, "Well, we want to sell the movie, so OK. We'll just take our relationship and toss it out there to the masses." And they eat it up and they talk about Renee and Jim, Renee and Jim. And then they go see the movie. And they either like the movie or they don't like the movie. And, see, I'm not going have a musician do any of that. I'm not going to say, "Hey, man. You know, I heard you did a record with a pop star last year. So maybe we can get that pop star to do a song on your record, and then we can promote the record." And everybody wins. Everybody wins except the music. The music loses.

AAJ: So you've seen that whole thing, from Sting to the Tonight Show to the Dead to...

BM: (interrupts) Well the Dead were different. They weren't pop stars.

AAJ: But you've seen the whole marketing...

BM: (interrupted) the Dead were anti all that. They had a light show from the '70s. I mean, they.. you noticed on any pop star.

Like you could play with Sting, and there are pop star rows. Rows of people that will go 'cause it's the in-thing to do. Dead shows were not "in." You never saw any limos at Dead shows.

EM: They were interesting, man.

BM: They had these old lights. They didn't talk to the audience. They didn't have dancing girls. They didn't have dance routines. They didn't have light shows and extravaganzas on stage. It was just a big, flat stage with some amps on it. Dudes walked out wearing, you know, fucked up T-shirts. And they say, "Whatch ya'all want to play, man? Hey man, lets play. Cool." And they start playing. The audience was there because they loved the music. See, that's my point. That's ultimately... that's the ultimate gig.

EM: And they never said, "Don't tape our music."

BM: They say, "Tape whatever you want. Film whatever you want. It's all for you'all." This is great. They sold out every show. And when you get a place like that, they didn't need anybody. They didn't need record companies. They didn't need ticket sales people. They sold their own tickets. They would rent out the Garden. They didn't need Madison Square Garden Promotions to rent them out. They destroyed the concept of the middleman entirely. They were probably the biggest nightmare in the history of the business of rock music.... because if everybody starting thinking like them, the entire middle would be crushed. Radio wouldn't exist. Madison Square Garden Promotions wouldn't exist. That whole thing would be cut out. Because they would just go on the web and say, "We got a concert coming." And they'd sell it out every time.

EM: That's what they'd do.

BM: And they would show up. So they are like a model for me. They are a model for me. What the hell are we doing out here! And we don't even stand a chance of getting 18,000 people. Nor should we, cause jazz is not the kind of music that should be played in front of 18,000 people.

It's kind of like watching Pavarotti sing in Dodger Stadium. It doesn't work. It might work for the people who would never... who would rather lose a limb than go to an opera hall. But it just doesn't work. You know, it doesn't work. So, I'm saying, if the Dead can do this... and it's a lot more difficult for them to do it than for us to do it, because the expectation in popular music is so high and all of those rules are so entrenched. In jazz, they don't even pay attention to us. So I think it's a brilliant idea. Let the music speak for itself, and accept the audience that exists, rather then trying to invent an audience.

EM: Which you can't do anyway.


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