Coming to take part in the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival (June 5-15), Branford Marsalis, a member of America’s most famous jazz family, talks about the Musicians’ Village he founded with Harry Connick Jr. in New Orleans, his new album, and the American art form’s next generation.
Washington Life: This year’s Duke Ellington Jazz Festival honors your father, Ellis Marsalis, a mentor to you and an inspiration to many young musicians. What did you learn from him?
Branford Marsalis: Things I learned from dad: Integrity, embracing the process perfects the product, and the power of no.
WL: Tell us about “Marsalis Jams.” What is the best way to bring jazz to young people?
BM: “Marsalis Jams” was inspired by a young saxophone player I met in 1979 on a flight from Atlanta to Boston. He was going to a jazz school and had never heard a lick of live jazz. We decided to bring working bands to play for students like him, so that they can learn what the music is and see where they stack up against the professionals.
WL: Your new album, Metamorphosen, celebrates your quartet’s 25-year journey. How is that jazz tradition portrayed on the album?
BM: The record documents our progress, or lack of progress, as a group. I hope people who listen think it the former over the latter.
WL: What makes Washington’s Duke Ellington Jazz Festival unique and why is it so important to have a major jazz festival in our nation’s capital?
BM: Jazz is one of the cultural achievements that we Americans can call our own. So it should be represented in the nation’s capital, along with all of the other cultural things that are there. That the festival is named after Washington’s native son makes it doubly prestigious. I’m happy to be a part of it.
WL: The Musicians’ Village in New Orleans, which began construction in March 2006, now has 70 homes with another 12 being built. What is the next phase?
BM: Thanks to Habitat and over 70,000 volunteers and donors from around the world, the Village is now home to dozens of musicians, many of whom had never owned a home. We will be building the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music this year. The Center will have classrooms, a performance hall, recording capability, as well as facilities for the Mardi Gras Indians. Check us out at www.nolamusiciansvillage.com.