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Branford & Ellis Marsalis: The Dawn of Marsalis Music

Mark Corroto By

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AAJ: So it wasn't a conscious thing at all, that you've seen that indie jazz labels are doing better...

BM: No. Because what I want to do is different that what the indie jazz labels do. The indie jazz labels do the same stuff. They get guys and they make them do standards... "You got to do a standard on your record!" They have all these ridiculous rules.

AAJ: There's no indie jazz label that you respect?

BM: It's not that I disrespect them. I respectfully disagree with them. It's not that I disrespect them. I mean, the fact that they're out there busting their ass. Labels like Justin Time. I mean, I'm glad they exist.

AAJ: Well when you were in your position at Sony—the A&R position—you signed David S. Ware. With respect to musicians playing now, who do you believe are the innovators of this age?

BM: (interrupts) I ain't telling you that, man! Because if I try to sign them, then they're going to want more money!

(Laughter)

BM: Once you put out there that you're interested in somebody, then they're going to say, "OK. The price just went up." So I can't, you know...But most of the cats that I find innovative... there's not a lot out there that I actually find innovative. And some of the stuff is innovative, but it's just not impressive to me. It's kind of like, you know, doing a record with a koto player. It's innovative, but why? What's the point of that exactly? I just don't like... there are a lot of popular piano players and they play so light. I don't like light-playing musicians. I don't like anything light. You know what I mean?

I have a really strong idea about the kind of musicians I like to be around. They're not people who are interested in breaking rules. They just break the rules. But to them, it seems normal. You have some musicians who are so interested in calling themselves innovators that they spend all their time detailing how they broke the rules. But then there is this other kind of thing where they way that they naturally hear the music is just odd. They hear the music differently than other people do. Those are the guys I want to be around. Where it is completely natural, completely logical in their mind, and it's just some strange shit.

EM: That's the way Ornette was.

BM: Yeah. You know what I mean, like they try to make it look like Ornette, "Well, here's Bird, and here's this, and I'm just going..." He just heard it that way, man!

EM: He sure did.

BM: That's what made it work. It's like he studied the blues. It's obvious he's a blues man. All great jazz musicians to me come out of the blues.

There are jazz musicians who everybody seems to be wowed out by their technical ability. There are a bunch of them out there now. "Unbelievable technical player! What great players!" they call them. "Man, that guy's a great player, great player." You hear people saying that all the time. And they have this amazing technical facility, but the music they're playing... I mean, it's... I mean, every great jazz musician that I know of, you know, prior to 1970, they find a way to make an innovative expression on a blues-based music. And now there's just a bunch of musicians out there, that they have avoided the blues completely. The blues to them is a 12-bar form. And they have avoided the whole blues tradition completely, which is why when they try to play Coltrane's music it comes out as a series of patterns. And it doesn't have the same kind of emotional impact. All the notes are right, but it's just.... that's what it sounds like. It sounds like a flat line, for me.

AAJ: We were having a discussion this morning about your recording of "A Love Supreme" for Impulse!

BM: Oh, that one.

AAJ: We were trying to figure out why nobody will touch "A Love Supreme" now.

BM: Because they're scared.

EM: A lot of people don't really understand what that is, too. So it's coupled with a certain fear.

BM: They're scared. It's the blues. It's the one thing they don't know how to do. See you can't... That's the whole point, my whole point... One of the things I always tell young students is that, I talk about, "Who's your favorite saxophonist?" They say, "this guy." (Names aren't really important.) I say, "Well, man, if a guy can play a song and move his fingers where the chords are changing two chords per bar, and every bar a different set of chord changes... How come they can't play on songs that only have one chord?" And you look at something like A Love Supreme is basically one chord.

The reason, the X-factor, is the blues. All the technique in the world will not serve you when have to play on one chord and the songs going (making musical sounds) they start moving their fingers then they get high notes (more sounds). They don't know... they can't get to that. Check this one out. There's that blues form that everybody likes. You know the song by Muddy Waters, "The Seventh Son." Well, it's not his song, but he recorded it. Willie Dixon wrote it. (Sings) "On the seventh hour, seventh day." Slow it down and give the line to Jimmy Garrison instead of going (sings) you go (do dah do duh, do dah do duh). It's the blues baby, the motherfucking blues...
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