The oldest of the four musical Marsalis brothers, Branford Marsalis has had an impressive career. After studying at Southern University and Berklee, Branford toured Europe with the Art Blakey big band in the summer of 1980 (playing baritone), played three months with Clark Terry, and then spent five months playing alto with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1981). He mostly played tenor and soprano while with Wynton Marsalis' influential group (1982-1985), at first sounding most influenced by Wayne Shorter, but leaning more toward John Coltrane at the end. The musical telepathy between the two brothers (who helped to revive the sound of the mid-'60s Miles Davis Quintet) was sometimes astounding, as on 1985's Black Codes (From the Underground). He also toured with Herbie Hancock's V.S.O.P. II. in 1983 and recorded with Miles Davis (1984's Decoy).
In 1985, when Branford left Wynton to join Sting's pop/rock group, it caused a major (if temporary) rift with his brother that made headlines. Marsalis enjoyed playing with Sting but did not let the association cause him to forget his musical priorities. By 1986, he was leading his own group, which eventually consisted of pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Bob Hurst, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts; sometimes the band was a piano-less trio that really allowed Marsalis to stretch out. Signed to Columbia, he issued inventive albums like 1986's Royal Garden Blues, 1988's Trio Jeepy, and 1991's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. He also experimented with mixing hip-hop and jazz in his Buckshot LeFonque project.
After a couple of film appearances (in School Daze and Throw Mama from the Train), Marsalis became even more of a celebrity when he joined Jay Leno's Tonight Show as the musical director in 1992. However, being cast in the role of Leno's sidekick rubbed against Marsalis' temperament, and after two years he had had enough. He returned to his own genre-bending jazz work with the 1996 trio album The Dark Keys and 1999's Requiem (his final album with pianist Kirkland, who died several months after the session).
In 2002, having left Columbia, Marsalis formed his own label, Marsalis Music. Intended as a true independent label focused on supporting the development of musicians, Marsalis Music has released albums by such diverse artists as guitarist/vocalist Doug Wamble, pianist/vocalist Harry Connick, Jr., saxophonist Miguel Zenón, and others. Marsalis himself also kept busy releasing a handful of albums on the label including Footsteps of Our Fathers, which featured his take on the classic John Coltrane composition "A Love Supreme" in 2002, Romare Bearden Revealed in 2003, Eternal in 2004, Braggtown in 2006, and Metamorphosen in 2009. In 2011, Marsalis delivered the duo album Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, featuring pianist Joey Calderazzo.
In the spring of 2012, the Marsalis Quartet -- Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and the young drummer Justin Faulkner -- released Four MF's Playin Tunes. Marsalis also played a solo saxophone concert at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral in October of that year. Two years and three weeks later, it was released as In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral by Okeh. In 2016, Marsalis paired with vocalist Kurt Elling on Upward Spiral. The quartet date The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul arrived in 2019. ~ Scott Yanow~ Rovi