Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis continues to thrill audiences around the world while racking up achievements across diverse musical platforms, even after four decades in the international spotlight. From his initial recognition as a young jazz lion, he has expanded his vision as an instrumentalist, composer, bandleader and educator, crossing stylistic boundaries while maintaining an unwavering creative integrity.

In the process, he has become an avatar of contemporary artistic excellence, winning three Grammy Awards, a Tony nomination for his work as a composer on Broadway, a citation by the National Endowment for the Arts as Jazz Master, and a 2021 prime-time Emmy Award nomination for the score he composed for the “Tulsa Burning” documentary.

Growing up in the rich environment of New Orleans as the oldest son of pianist and educator, the late Ellis Marsalis, Branford was drawn to music, along with siblings Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason. The Branford Marsalis Quartet, formed in 1986, remains his primary performance vehicle. In its virtually uninterrupted three-plus decades of existence, the quartet has established a rare breadth of stylistic range as demonstrated on the band’s latest release: “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul.” 

But he has not confined his music to the jazz quartet context. A frequent soloist with classical ensembles, Marsalis has become increasingly sought after as a featured soloist with acclaimed orchestras around the world, performing works by composers such as Copland, Debussy, Glazunov, Ibert, Mahler, Milhaud, Rorem, Vaughan Williams and Villa-Lobos. His legendary guest performances with the Grateful Dead and collaborations with Sting have made him a fan favorite in the pop arena. His screen credits as a composer include original music for: Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (starring Oprah Winfrey), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom" (starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman) and the History Channel’s documentary “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.” 

The critically acclaimed “Ma Rainey” is the Netflix film adaptation of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play, produced by Denzel Washington. In reviewing the score, Vanity Fair proclaimed: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a story in which the music has to be authentic and the details need to be correct. It requires the musical oversight of someone who has this history in his blood. It requires Branford Marsalis.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian noted that “Marsalis’ work, both re-creation and original composition, is as close to perfection as I could imagine.”

He recently received a 2021 Emmy nomination for the original music he composed and produced for “Tulsa Burning” in the outstanding music composition for a documentary series or special (original dramatic score) category. His work on Broadway has garnered a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination for the acclaimed revival of “Fences.” His previous Broadway efforts include music for the revivals of “Children of a Lesser God” and “A Raisin in the Sun,” as well as “The Mountaintop,” which starred Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson.

Marsalis is also committed to the development of the next generation of musicians. He enjoys working with students and has formed an extended relationship with North Carolina Central University, where he has been teaching for the past 18 years. He has also taught at Michigan State University and San Francisco State University and continues to conduct workshops throughout the world.

In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, Marsalis, along with friend Harry Connick Jr., conceived of Musicians’ Village, a residential community in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The centerpiece of the Village is the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, honoring his father. The center uses music as the focal point of a holistic strategy to build a healthy community and to deliver a broad range of services to underserved children, youth and musicians from neighborhoods battling poverty and social injustice.

Please note: Biographies are based on information provided to the CSO by the artists or their representatives. More current information may be available on websites of the artists or their management.