Branford Marsalis: On Jazz Fathers And Sons Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has jazz in his genes. His father is pianist Ellis Marsalis, and all three of his brothers — trumpeter Wynton among them — are jazz musicians. On Fresh Air, he recalls growing up surrounded by music.

Branford Marsalis: On Jazz Fathers And Sons

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This is FRESH AIR. We're concluding our Father's Day salute with jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis, brother of Wynton and son of the great jazz pianist and teacher Ellis Marsalis. As a kid, Branford spent more time listening Elton John and Led Zeppelin than he did checking out the music that his dad was into. But Branford now has a long string of jazz albums to his name as well as some genre-busting efforts including his group Buckshot LeFounque, which combines jazz and hip-hop. In the pop world he's performed with Sting, The Dead and Bruce Hornsby, and for a few years led Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" band. Terry spoke with Branford in 2002.

TERRY GROSS: You grew up in what is now America's probably most famous jazz family - the Marsalis family. Your father, Ellis Marsalis, is a pianist. When you were growing up, liking the music that you liked, did you feel about his music the way, say, I felt about my father's old Benny Goodman records?

Mr. BRANFORD MARSALIS (Singer): I felt about my father's music the way that my next-door neighbor felt about his father the chauffeur driver. That was just what he did.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. MARSALIS: How did you feel about you father…

GROSS: Oh yeah (unintelligible) I really disliked them until about much older, till in my 20s, anyways.

Mr. MARSALIS: Jazz is not for kids. You know, there's an argument. My brother says jazz can be for kids. I don't think - jazz has a level of sophistication that's just too hip for kids. It's not a music for kids and it certainly wasn't the music for me. But it wasn't like he'd playing and I'd go, arrhhh! I would just leave the room.

GROSS: You just didn't care.

Mr. MARSALIS: I turned on the television in the other room until it was my turn to listen my music and then I play on Cheech and Chong and Elton John and James Brown and whatever I wanted to put on. And my father would stay out, and then when James Brown came on he'd come in and say, yeah kid, yeah Jack, I like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: And he would always dance to it. When he danced to it he would snap his fingers on two and four (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's great. Yeah, yeah.

Mr. MARSALIS: "Cold Sweat's" going on, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MARSALIS: (Singing) Like a cold sweat down, duh duh duh.

(Speaking) My father's going, yeah. Da-da-da-da-di-da. And I'm, no dad. Just funny.

GROSS: (Unintelligible)

Mr. MARSALIS: Oh yeah, it was classic, it was classic.

GROSS: Oh, great. So - what was your first instrument?

Mr. MARSALIS: My first instrument was the piano. And then when I was a freshman, when I was in the first grade or second grade, went and started playing the trumpet. And I wanted to play an instrument. So I said I want to play the trumpet. And my father says, no, we're not going to have two people playing the same instrument in the same household. So you have to pick something else. Okay, clarinet. Okay, fine, you get the clarinet. And I played the clarinet for seven years until I was a sophomore in the high school and then I switched to the alto saxophone because I wanted to be a funk band.

GROSS: Yeah, that's the thing. There are no clarinets in funk bands.

Mr. MARSALIS: If there were, it would be really bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: It wouldn't work. It wouldn't be a good vibe at all.

GROSS: So tell me, is your father, has your father been really pleased over the years that you've come to love jazz and play it?

Mr. MARSALIS: Now he does. But my whole career to him is just one -because my dad is, he has two words. I mean he always said, in typical for Ellis Marsalis fashion (unintelligible) because he went into concrete sequential and you're a random abstract - I actually named a record "Random Abstract."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: I said, what're you talking about, man, just talk to me like I'm your son. What's this concrete sequential crap, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: And he went through it, you know, Winton does things like A,B,C,D,E,F, and you're like A,F,B,Z. And he just didn't understand that because if you have that really - he is the concrete sequential.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARSALIS: So it just seems like - it seemed just rampant, just like a pell-mell kind of thing, like what in the hell is he doing? I mean, I just confused the hell out of my poor dad.

BIANCULLI: Branford Marsalis, speaking to Terry Gross in 2002. He concludes our special Father's Day salute. So on behalf of fathers everywhere, and of daughters and sons who love them, Happy Fathers Day this weekend.

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