Branford Marsalis – Shooting From The Hip

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Branford Marsalis, whose eclectic career includes work with Miles, Sting, Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock, has always brought a fearsome intellect and razor sharp wit to the task of playing jazz in its hallowed, acoustic setting.

It’s within the context of his long-running quartet that he’s recorded the hard-hitting Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, an album that’s as emotionally direct and playfully irreverent as its title suggests. In an outspoken interview with Stuart Nicholson, Marsalis explains why jazz in America is losing its audience and why it’s time to get real.

What’s in an album title? Quite a lot when you consider how titles like Kind of Blue, Blues and the Abstract Truth, Out of the Cool, Time Out or Mingus Ah Um have become woven into the fabric of jazz history. But these albums were released more than 50 years ago, so where are the memorable album titles that are woven into the history of the nervous, jittery, new millennium years? Ask ten fans of the music and you’ll get ten different answers – once they’ve struggled to remember one title, let alone make a list of four or five. But chances are you’re going to remember Branford Marsalis’ latest album – Four MFs Playin’ Tunes.

The Americans would call a title like this chutzpah, a North countryman brass neck. Others might smile at its impudence and audaciousness. A Latin scholar might suggest it smacks of aut vincere aut mori – to conquer or die – because with a title like that you’re going to have conquer the heightened expectation the title arouses or fall flat on your face. But the eldest of the famous Marsalis brothers has been around the block – for those of you who have not been keeping count you may be surprised to learn the perpetually youthful looking saxophonist is 52 this month – and he knew he had an album that was something special. After listening to the album with his manager she asked, “What are you going to call it?”

Famous for his witty, off-hand one-liners he said, “Call it four motherfuckers playing tunes!” The response was not quite what he expected. “It was very funny,” he says down the line from his North Carolina home. “Usually it’s me saying something edgy and them all pushing back against me but I guess we’re all getting older and although I said it as a joke they said, ‘That’s a great title!’ And I’m saying, ‘Oh no. No, no it’s not! Let’s not use that.’ They said, ‘No, no it’s really edgy and we like it and we’re going to run with that.’ And I said, ‘Oh, Jesus.’”

This is an extract from Jazzwise Issue #166 – to read the full article click here to subscribe and receive a FREE CD...

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