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Branford & Ellis Marsalis: The Dawn of Marsalis Music

Mark Corroto By

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AAJ: Well it sounds as if you're going to use the stock of the family name, obviously. Because everyone will take note you're in town.

EM: (interrupts) That can be kind of tricky.

AAJ: ...or this is one of your projects.

BM: No we're not going to do that.

EM: That can be very tricky. And the reason why I say that is because a lot of times it becomes like preaching to the choir, when you are serious about doing anything at all. I mean your name could be Joseph Einstein and everybody knows the name Albert Einstein. But when you cut below the surface of that and say, "OK. Now we got this physics lab over here, and this is what we going to begin to do." Then you start to find out what a difference that Einstein name means. The name in and of itself is not going to cause this to be successful.

BM: No. If we tried that, it would be disastrous.

EM: Yeah. It's not something that will hurt, but at the same time...

BM: (interrupts) I think it will hurt.

EM: ...you can't be delusional....

BM: (interrupts again) I think it'll hurt. I think it puts the artists in a position where the artists are secondary to the name.

EM: Well, that can happen.

BM: The whole point is: if you believe in artists, and you believe in their work, then you give them an opportunity to be heard. And it's not going to say, "Marsalis Music presents..." That just doesn't...that's just stupid! It's almost like, you know, Robert Flack's first record was a hit. And it was such a hit that no one remembers that they was so afraid that no one would know who she was that they hired Les McCann to oversee the record, and the record says actually "Les McCann presents Robert Flack."

AAJ: Right, Duke Ellington presents Dollar Brand.

BM: Exactly.

EM: Or Stan Kenton presented a whole boatload. It was a label.

BM: It doesn't really work. It doesn't really help. I mean, either the artist is good enough, or the artist is not good enough. But, that's—once again—one of those record company inventions to try to force an audience that they assume is gullible. Because you have to assume that an audience is gullible to believe that he'll buy something just because a guy's name is on it.

AAJ: Well, I don't think we're naive enough to assume that just because you found the next Herbie Nichols and you put out his record that people are just going to come to it. There has to be some way to get them there, yes? I'll restate that. There might be some fantastic musician, I mean...

BM: (interrupts) no there isn't. Name one fantastic musician who you found out about after the person had died, you know, who was alive at the time and no one talked about him.

AAJ: Name one?

BM: I mean like, Thelonious Monk. People talked about Thelonious Monk. He didn't get world—like Michael Jackson—recognition. But he never will anyway. The point is that when you start traveling—it's like a running joke to me...

There's always some dude in Chicago who knew a dude, who knew a dude, who was just as good as Bird. But somehow miraculously that guy never showed up. He never materialized. He decided to stay home and take care of his family and work in the welding shop. I mean, the reality is, man, you don't play like Bird and not get heard. It just doesn't happen. It's never happened in our history, and it's not about to happen. It's more likely in sports than it is in music.

EM: (interjects) Oh yeah.

BM: Music, I just can't see it happening. I mean, 'cause a cat would basically have to play in his closet. Like no one, he would just never play out publicly. Because any time you have a guy who is playing in a town, everybody knows about it in 24 hours. "Man! I heard about this cat, man! He lives in Sheboygan. He's playing his ass off!"

I mean, you live in New York long enough, man, everybody knows where everybody is. This cat's going to be coming to town in a little bit.

I'll give you a perfect example, bro. My bassist comes down with appendicitis, all right, in Europe. So we're driving in a bus from some small town in Italy to the airport, and then we fly to Istanbul—no, Athens—to do a gig. He's like, "Man, I don't feel good." The doctors check him and say, "You have appendicitis, brother." So we don't have a bassist. Tain says, "Man, I heard this cat in London, man. Bad dude, man. Name's Orlando. We should get him." This cat lives in London. Tain heard him once. But Tain is a great musician. He knows when he hears it. I call this cat... "Hey man, you want to come do some gigs?" He's like, "Sure!" So we get him a ticket, he comes over, just nails the gig. Tears the shit up. So now we go back to New York and were like, "Man I heard this cat Orlando. This motherfucker can play, man. This cat is bad, you know what I mean?" So now cats in New York know about a dude in London who... they don't even know what he looks like... one day, the dude's going to come to New York.

And he came to New York two weeks ago. You know, he says, "Hey, man. I'm in town." I said, "Call this guy; call this guy; call this guy." The guy says, "Yeah, yeah. Branford gave me your number. My name is Orlando." They say, "Yeah, man. I heard about you. Man, what are you doing? You want a gig?" Now, he doesn't have a label. He doesn't have a contract. But I betcha he will in about two years. The musicians, we all know who the cats are, man.

EM: You know what, I'll tell you another thing, especially with the sports thing. That brother who's playing quarterback for the Saints... he was sitting over there in Green Bay underneath Brett Favre, you see. And when one of the, either coach or whatever,

BM: (interjects) The quarterbacks coach became the official coordinator of the Saints...

EM: Yeah, came there. And he said, "Look, we..." Brooks...

BM: (interjects) "We need to go get him."

EM: And that's what they did...

BM: And he was third string, so they gave him to them. But the part that's ironic is that the exact same thing that happened with Brett Favre. The quarterback coach from the Falcons came over to the Packers and said, "There's a guy sitting' at the end of the bench that's the greatest quarterback I've seen. Let's get him." That's the way music is, man.

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.
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