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In mid-1980, while still a Berklee College of Music student, Marsalis toured Europe playing alto and baritone saxophone in a large ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. Other big band experiences with Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry followed over the next year, and by the end of 1981 Marsalis, on alto saxophone, had joined his brother Wynton in Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Other performances with his brother, including a 1981 Japanese tour with Herbie Hancock, led to the formation of his brother Wynton's first quintet, where Marsalis shifted his emphasis to soprano and tenor saxophones. He continued to work with Wynton until 1985, a period that also saw the release of his own first recording, Scenes in the City, as well as guest appearances with other artists including Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie
In 1988, Marsalis co-starred in the Spike Lee film School Daze, also rendering several horn-blowing interludes for the music in the film. His witty comments have pegged him to many memorable one-liners in the film.
In September 2006, Branford Marsalis was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. During his acceptance ceremony, he was honored with a tribute performance featuring music from throughout his career.
Classical and Broadway projects: 2008-10
Under the direction of conductor Gil Jardim, Branford Marsalis and members of the Philharmonia Brasileira toured the United States in the fall of 2008, performing works by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, arranged for solo saxophone and orchestra. This project commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the revered Brazilian composer s death.
Marsalis was nominated for and won a 2010 Drama Desk Award in the category "Outstanding Music in a Play" and was also nominated for a 2010 Tony Award in the category of "Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre" for his participation in the Broadway revival of August Wilson's Fences.
On July 14, 2010, Marsalis made his debut with the New York Philharmonic on Central Park's Great Lawn. Led by conductor Andrey Boreyko, Marsalis and the New York Philharmonic performed Glazunov's "Concerto for Alto Saxophone" and Schuloff's "Hot-Sonate for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra." Boreyko, Marsalis and the Philharmonic performed the same program again in Vail, CO later that month and four more times at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, NY the following February.
Branford Marsalis at a concert in Bielsko-Biala, Poland at the Lotos Jazz Festival 2019
In June 2011, after working together for over 10 years in a band setting, Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo released their first duo album titled Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, on Branford's label, Marsalis Music. Their world premiere performance was on June 29, 2011 in Koerner Hall at the 2011 TD Toronto Jazz Festival.
In 2012, Branford Marsalis released Four MFs Playin' Tunes on deluxe 180-gram high definition vinyl, prior to Record Store Day 2012 on April 21, 2012. This is the first recording of the Branford Marsalis Quartet with drummer Justin Faulkner, who joined the band in 2009 and was the first vinyl release from Marsalis Music. The CD and digital release of Four MFs Playin' Tunes followed on August 7, 2012. Vinyl purchases came with a download card that enabled purchasers to receive a free digital copy when it was released. The album was named Apple iTunes Best of 2012 Instrumental Jazz Album of the Year.
In 2019 Marsalis released The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul, which he recorded in Australia with his quartet. Marsalis, commenting on the longevity of his band and their approach said, ahead of the album's release: '"Staying together allows us to play adventurous, sophisticated music and sound good. Lack of familiarity leads to defensive playing, playing not to make a mistake. I like playing sophisticated music, and I couldn't create this music with people I don't know."
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Guest on the "Not My Job" section of the show. On this performance he claimed the saxophone was the sexiest instrument, then insults the accordion. In a later episode of the show, "Weird Al" Yankovic stands up for the accordion; later guest Yo-Yo Ma claimed the saxophone was in fact the sexiest.
Interviewed on Space Ghost Coast to Coast Episode 10: "Gum, Disease" (aired November 11, 1994). Although the Coast to Coast crew said, "He was the most pleasant, and well mannered guest we had ever interviewed", he didn't sign a release for merchandising rights, so the episode couldn't be on the Space Ghost Coast to Coast Volume One DVD.
Marsalis was featured in Shanice's 1992 hit "I Love Your Smile". In the second half of the song, he has a solo and Shanice says, "Blow, Branford, Blow"
On April 28 and 29, 2009, Marsalis played with the Dead (the remaining members of the Grateful Dead) at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, rekindling a relationship started when he performed with them at a legendary set at Nassau Coliseum March 29, 1990 during which, according to Dead aficionados, one of the greatest renditions of "Eyes of the World", was performed.
On July 21, 2010, Marsalis guested with Dave Matthews Band on the songs "Lover Lay Down," "What Would You Say" and "Jimi Thing" at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, NC. This was the first time Marsalis had guested with Dave Matthews Band, although he had previously played with Dave Matthews and Gov't Mule on a cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" on December 16, 2006 in Asheville, NC. Marsalis performed with the Dave Matthews Band again on December 12, 2012 at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC. For the Summer 2015 tour Marsalis has returned to guest for 3 shows, May 22, 2015 in Raleigh North Carolina ("Lover Lay Down", "Typical Situation", Jimi thing), June 12, 2015 in Hartford, CT ("Death On The High Seas", "Spaceman", "Jimi Thing", "Warehouse"), and July 29, 2015 in Tampa, FL ("Lover Lay Down", "Typical Situation", "Jimi Thing").
Marsalis appeared as a special guest of Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby at two festivals in the summer of 2012. They first performed at the All Good Music Festival in Thornville, OH on July 19, 2012 and then headed to Bridgeport, CT for a performance at Gathering of the Vibes the following day, July 20, 2012.
Marsalis appeared as a special guest of Furthur for their performance at Red Rocks on September 21, 2013.
Branford Marsalis- The Soundillusionist. Documentary. Germany 2016, 88 min. HD Stereo Language: English. Directed by Reinhold Jaretzky. Produced by Zauberbergfilm, Berlin, Germany.Cameo in living single season 2
^National Endowment for the Arts (June 24, 2010). "National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters". Washington: National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved 2010. For the first time in the program's 29-year history, in addition to four individual awards, the NEA will present a group award to the Marsalis family, New Orleans' venerable first family of jazz.