Like his brother Wynton, Branford Marsalis is known for recording both jazz and classical. But Branford is quick to point out his limitations. He's up-front about not being "in the upper tier" of classical performers, and notes that his current 27-city, 30-day tour with Philharmonia Brasileira, making its U.S. debut, is his most challenging and gratifying live classical project to date. The program focuses on the music of Brazil's Heitor Villa-Lobos and France's Darius Milhaud, who, beginning in the 1920s, was Villa-Lobos' mentor, later becoming his mutually influenced colleague.
Marsalis spoke with Metro Times recently from the road
On his classical prowess: Because I'm nowhere near the upper tier of classical players, I usually get to do three or four, maybe five weekends a year. It's very sporadic. You don't get to gauge your development. It's like you being a writer and only getting to write four or five times a year. It would be very difficult to maintain a high level of quality. I'm in a situation where I've already heard quantum levels of improvement having played seven shows in nine days of really technically demanding pieces
On Villa-Lobos and Milhaud: They write with a great sense of adventure and a great sense of melody; I think that's a very important aspect of music that sometimes gets lost.
On their era of collaboration beginning in the 1920s: It was a great time in musical history when all these composers and artists were milling about, hanging out, inspiring one another. Milhaud and Villa-Lobos hung out in Brazil, where Villa-Lobos introduced Milhaud to Brazilian culture, and Milhaud returned the favor when they hung out in Paris. Friends of mine who came out to the concert said, "Man, there are times where you hear Stravinsky in there. There are times when you hear Ravel. Times when you hear Debussy." And they're all correct. It was a time when being a student of music was more important than laying claim to innovation. It meant there was more room for curiosity, more room for expansion and more room for development
On lessons for jazz in the above: There are lessons for all musicians. You should always think of yourself, for the rest of your life, as a student. Because the learning doesn't stop — and if the learning stops, then you stop.
Marsalis Brasilianos at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 23, at Music Hall, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit; 313-887-8501; tickets $27-$47.W. Kim Heron is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org