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Branford Marsalis, taking the long view / Q&A with Boston Globe

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Branford Marsalis has a lot more in common with his brother, Wynton, than some may assume. When Branford started working with Sting in 1985, and later became the first musical director of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," he was introduced to casual observers as the accessible, mainstream jazz guy who wasn't afraid of pop music. Wynton directed Jazz at Lincoln Center; Branford stretched the bounds of fusion with Buckshot LeFonque and sat in with the Grateful Dead.

But Branford champions a populist vision of jazz that emphasizes its pre-bebop roots, remaining critical of players who focus only on the latest new thing. While sharing his warm saxophone sound in his acoustic quartet and in a long list of high-profile collaborations, he's expanded his expertise by writing for the stage (garnering a Tony Award nomination for his score for a revival of August Wilson's "Fences") and sitting in with symphony orchestras.

On his latest Marsalis Music - Sony/OKeh Records release - In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral, Marsalis continues to prove that there is no context too large or small to contain his gifts.  He prepared by listening to solo recordings by a range of preferred artists, including Sonny Rollins, Steve Lacy and Sam Newsome from the jazz world as well as Anner Blysma, Angela Hewitt and Arno Bornkamp among classical players.  He also committed himself to a program that transcended blatant displays of virtuosity.  "From my time playing r&b and rock and roll, I can listen like a casual listener," he notes, "but the challenge for 80% of any audience, for any kind of music, is hearing melody and improvisation based on melody.  Playing a lot of notes can be impressive at first, but will quickly make every song sound similar.  So everything I played at Grace Cathedral was based on songs with great melodies, not being too `notey,' and utilizing the feeling in the room." 

Marsalis and his quartet play the Sanders Theatre on Thursday. He spoke with the Boston Globe from his home in North Carolina. READ THE FULL Q&A