Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Branford Marsalis Founds New Label

After 20 years with Columbia Records Branford Marsalis has decided to leave and do something quite extraordinary: start his own label, Marsalis Music. Going out on a limb is nothing new to the 42-year-old saxophonist, however, whose detours from the mainstream jazz world have led him to work with Sting, Jay Leno, Buckshot LeFonque, the Grateful Dead and Rahzel from hip-hoppers the Roots. This latest departure, though, seems to be one of necessity and determination. Marsalis sees trouble all around, and in true heroic form, he’s taken it upon himself to come to the rescue.

Marsalis’ decision to leave Columbia was not out of “anger or bitterness. There wasn’t a calamitous event. I’ve learned lessons from being on a major label [but] it’s time to say thank you and move on.” Marsalis cites the fact that “the consolidation of the record industry…has turned the business into a mega-hit pop music machine with a very short term focus.” The formation of Marsalis Music, according to Branford, will “provide a real alternative…where the music I play is at the forefront, not on the fringe.”

Heading up Marsalis Music will be label president Sherry McAdams, senior executive advisor Ann Marie Wilkins (Marsalis’s long-time manager) and, as of Mar. 1, the former jazz critic for the Boston Globe, Bob Blumenthal, who will handle the educational aspects of the label, most notably Marsalis Jams, a program aimed at college students.

Where does Marsalis fit in? “Titles don’t really interest me. Call me a janitor,” he says. Marsalis is more interested in scouting out potential talent and bringing them in. Marsalis’ goal: “To find jazz artists not quite ready for prime time,” and help them establish long-term careers. As of now, however, Marsalis is his only commodity. His new album, Footsteps of Our Fathers, a tribute to John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and others, is due to appear later this year.

A shortage of signed talent aside, Marsalis sees his label someday reaching out to other genres. “We hope to make history,” he says. “We guarantee that we will give artists the freedom to make great music.”

Originally Published