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The loins of Ellis Marsalis are certainly no slouch in the siring-of-jazz-prodigies department. The respected New Orleans pianist is father to a fantastically talented brood of jazzmen--trumpet virtuoso Wynton, drummer Jason, producer/trombonist Delfeayo and first-born Branford. That last event occurred almost 35 years ago, and in that amount of time, Branford and his tenor, soprano and alto saxophones have been busy, to put it lightly.
If you need proof, his press kit contains 41 pages of bio material chock-full of facts such as these: He's released 14 albums of his own, and has toured and/or logged studio time with Sting, Public Enemy, Dizzy Gillespie, Bruce Hornsby, Tina Turner, Gangstarr and the Grateful Dead, to name but a few. He's got a pair of Grammys on the shelf, and has delved into music from classical to blues to jazz to pop without prejudice. Musical boundaries matter little to Marsalis, who really pushed the envelope by taking the job as bandleader on The Tonight Show, a position he recently relinquished "indefinitely."
Which brings us to Buckshot LeFonque, the musician's latest release (along with Gangstarr's DJ Premier) that gives "eclectic" a run for its money. The album blends jazz, hip-hop, blues, rock and reggae, even spoken word from poet laureate Maya Angelou. All in a day's work for Marsalis, who at the moment is tooling down New York's Henry Hudson Parkway, cellular phone in hand.
New Times: What exactly does Buckshot LeFonque mean?
Branford Marsalis: It's a name that an old jazz musician named Cannonball Adderly would use whenever he wanted to play on a record that his record company didn't want him to play on. It's a tradition that is maintained even today. I've done it three times this year.
NT: What are the names of the albums?
BM: I can't tell you.
NT: Can you describe Buckshot LeFonque?
BM: I've never considered this to be a jazz record; the band is decidedly a nonjazz band. We are more of a strange fringe rock funk band. But there are certain jazz elements and a certain sort of jazz logic, much like when you listen to Bruce Hornsby's or Sting's music. There is a certain sort of jazz logic in it. Ya know, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, guys like that. There is a certain kind of logic that is from another place. Ours is just another strange blend of that kind of hybrid mix.
NT: How do you handle the heat you get from jazz purists who criticize a hip-hop-flavored album?
BM: I have had more criticism from the hip-hop people and the pop people than the jazz people, 'cause they feel I am inching in on their territory and they don't like it. I'm supposed to stay over there with the jazz people. I mean, most jazz people do not really give a flying fuck what you do. When I came back to NY, I went to Sweet Basil, a jazz club here, and everybody gave me a hug, and their only question was, "When ya comin' back?" It wasn't like, "Why you playing that bullshit?" Just like hip-hop people like hip-hop, jazz people like jazz. Most of the jazz listeners don't listen to hip-hop, so they don't even know about the Buckshot record, and they don't care. It's really not a big thing to them. It's big in the eyes of the press and all, especially since I'm Wynton's brother. It ain't even a big deal with Wynton. NT: Speaking of your other famous brother, has there ever been any real competition between the two of you?
BM: Yeah. Football. It's the fuckin' worst situation. I'm faster than him, I'm bigger than him and I'm stronger than him; I should win. But why do my teams always lose? It's a serious problem. I feel like kickin' his ass. That shit is really not cool.
NT: The video for the Buckshot cut "Breakfast at Denny's" depicts racial tension, not too far from the real controversy that went down with the chain restaurant. What sort of racist experiences have you encountered?
BM: I never really saw the video as depicting racial tension. When we did the song, it was more of a humorous view rather than an angst feel to compare to racism. Every black person has stories to tell about racism. I mean, the first time I got called a nigger was when I was 6. When you're in first grade and they're reading Tom Sawyer and whenever the paragraph comes where they use the word nigger, the teacher made me read it. It's all kinda shit. That's just like some shit that you learn to deal with. And you realize that there're ignorant people of all races, of all forms, of all shapes. I basically try to spend my time dealing with people who think like I do. It's not that the racism doesn't hurt, but it's not a surprise, either.
NT: Have you had any damaging experiences, racial or otherwise, that affected your music?
BM: I think that everything that happens to you and everything that you experience influences your music. But I don't think you can put a finger on it and pinpoint it and say, "That was the turning point." With the exception of my divorce. That was a turning point.