The saxophonist and bandleader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet grew up in Louisiana and has lived on both coasts.
But nearly a decade ago, Marsalis picked up his family and moved again to the South, where he appreciates the small-town vibe of Durham and neighbors who say hello. “New York and Los Angeles are the same place, with a slightly different smell,” he said.
It wasn’t until around 1999, when he was nearly 40, that Marsalis said he became serious about studying his craft. “I was just living off my talent,” he said. He had just finished a stint touring with Sting, where people would tell him that he was an amazing player. But it wasn’t until he started poking his head into jazz and classical circles that he was told the truth. “They told me I was terrible, and ‘You suck,’ ” Marsalis said.
Since then, he plays the saxophone every day (instead of once a month, which was his practice) and has assembled a quartet that features Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass and young Justin Faulkner on drums.
Faulkner is headstrong and thinks highly of himself, Marsalis said, but added that “it’s rare to find a person that young with such an extraordinary talent.” When the drummer joined the band three years ago, each of the three other members gave him a list of things he needed to work on. “Over a period of two years, he addressed everything we had on our lists,” Marsalis said.
But setting aside minor squabbles, Faulkner’s talent has elevated the band. “We always play with an incredible intensity,” Marsalis said. “[But] we had to relearn to match his intensity.”
The most recent album from the quartet is “Four MF’s Playin’ Tunes,”and the remarkable aspect is that this record has two originals by each of the three veterans of the band. Marsalis said he always wants to record music from the best of what is out there, regardless of who wrote it. In music, as in football, a quarterback might get the credit and glory, but the on-field generals are only great when they have a great offensive line.
“You can’t have a band unless they are equals. Mathematics says you can’t write 10 great songs [for one album],” said Marsalis, before adding: “Stevie Wonder did it once.”
Calderazzo and Revis have played with Marsalis for years. But then there’s his road manager and sound engineer, who have worked with him 27 and 22 years, respectively. “I guess it means I’m not as much a jerk as people say I am,” he joked.
When • Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $34.50-$64.50; kingsburyhall.utah.edu; $5 for U. students with valid ID
Parking • Free parking is available at Rice Eccles Stadium, with shuttle service available from south side of the lot before and after the performance.