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A Conversation with Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis, in addition to being a hugely influential and important jazz saxophonist, is a straight-talking, no-nonsense music lover with a quick wit and fantastic sense of humour. On the morning of February 13th at UBC Robson Square he gave an hour-long talk moderated by UBC School of Music director Richard Kurth where they discussed everything from his love of Beethoven, to the early days of his career, to getting “schooled” by jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.


Branford is passionate about the importance of being a life-long learner, and spoke about how moving into classical music later on in his life challenged him as a musician and kept him humble:

“Of course I [had] my voice! I just didn’t have the vocabulary yet. My mother had six boys and when I call her on the phone she doesn’t say ‘which one is this?’… Someone told me once that through repetition everything becomes validated. And I thought that was just frighteningly accurate. I strive to have a huge vocabulary, so my songs always sound different.”

Related to that notion, Branford also discussed what he called “one of the greatest myths in music”, which is the idea that burgeoning musicians must search to find their voice. Instead of finding their voice, he talked about the importance of musicians having a varied musical vocabulary. Of himself as a young musician, he joked:

“It’s impossible to develop as a musician if you are horrified of exposing your weaknesses” he stressed, “Growth is impossible if you ignore your liabilities and just play your strengths. It wlll impede your ability to play different types of music.”



Later that evening (Feb 13, 2016), The Branford Marsalis Quartet performed a fantastic concert at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts to an enthusiastic full house. 

This talk was a UBC Centennial Session, supported by the University of British Columbia in celebration of their 100th year. Visit 100.ubc.ca for more.

Sat Feb 13, 2016