A Grammy-winning saxophonist and composer will make his long-awaited debut at the North Carolina State Fair this year, as the Branford Marsalis quartet comes to the Homegrown Music Festival at Dorton Arena Oct. 21.
Marsalis, who lives in Durham, has been a mainstay in the Jazz world for decades. The Branford Marsalis Quartet, formed in 1986, has earned five Grammy nominations over the years, with a win in 2000 for best jazz instrumental album, individual or group. That nearly three-decade span has seen the group release 16 albums of both original music and classic jazz tunes, including a 2004 concert DVD recitation of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
Marsalis himself is a member of a prolific musical family. He grew up in New Orleans, the oldest son of pianist Ellis Marsalis. He began his foray into music with the clarinet, but quickly transitioned to the saxophone while working in bands where he grew up. After entering college at Berklee College of Music, he and his brother Wynton – also a Grammy-winning Jazz and classical artist – set out together in the Wynton Marsalis Quintet before Branford formed his own group in 1986.
Since then, Marsalis has gone on to be one of the most prolific artists in all of Jazz. Marsalis has performed with a laundry list of stars including Harry Connick Jr., Dizzy Gillespie, Sting, Stevie Wonder and many more, and led the band on The Tonight Show from 1992 to 1995.
David Menconi, North Carolina Piedmont Laureate and curator of the State Fair’s Laureate Stage, called Marsalis a “genius” and his quartet “amazing.”
“Branford Marsalis is one of the most unique and individual voices in mainstream music today, and it’s amazing that he lives right here in North Carolina,” Menconi said. “If you’ve gone to concerts around the Triangle over the past 10 or 15 years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen him sitting in with everybody from the North Carolina Symphony to the Allman Brothers.”
Marsalis has performed all over the world, and has created teaching relationships with Michigan State, San Francisco State and North Carolina Central Universities. A humanitarian, Marsalis helped found the Musicians’ Village in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, providing homes for displaced musicians and their families.
While Marsalis is widely known as a giant of jazz, classical music has also become a mainstay of his repertoire. He has performed works by Copland, Debussy, Glazunov, Ibert, Mahler, Milhaud and more with orchestras in the United States and Europe and served as creative director for the Cincinnati Symphony’s Ascent Series in 2012-13.
Marsalis joins a long list of other North Carolina artists for the Homegrown Music Festival, which will run from Oct. 17 through 24. Artists including The Embers and the Charlie Daniels Band are among the other well-known acts to share the stage, with the Branford Marsalis Quarter playing on Monday, Oct. 21.
The fair will also feature a variety of musical acts at the Waterfall stage, with live acts throughout the day, every day, with genres ranging from rock and heavy metal to Latin pop and country. The Heritage Circle Stage will feature even more music, including mostly folk, bluegrass and Americana.