Growing up in the rich environment of New Orleans as the oldest son of pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, Branford Marsalis was drawn to music along with siblings Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason. His first instrument, the clarinet, gave way to the alto and then the tenor and soprano saxophones when the teenage Branford began working in local bands. A growing fascination with jazz as he entered college gave him the basic tools to obtain his first major jobs, with trumpet legend Clark Terry and alongside Wynton in Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers. When the brothers left to form the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, the world of uncompromising acoustic jazz was invigorated.
Branford formed his own quartet in 1986 and, with a few minor interruptions in the early years, has sustained the unit as his primary means of expression. This is not to say that he has confined his music to the quartet context, however. In addition to guest turns with a legion of giants including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock and Sonny Rollins, he has excelled in duets with several major pianists, including his boyhood friend Harry Connick, Jr. and the longtime pianist in his quartet, Joey Calderazzo. Branford is the recipient of numerous awards, including three Grammys and (together with his father and brothers) a citation as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.