Steve Smith says Branford Marsalis brought a “gracious poise” to Glazunov’s “Concerto for Alto Saxophone And String Orchestra” last week at a New York Phil show. A few weeks prior, when I sat down with the five Marsalis men who are working musicians, the subject of growing up with the Glazunov cropped up, too. Patriarch Ellis, a longtime educator and superb jazz pianist, ruminated on the rigors of addressing classical works. And then Branford and brother Wynton weighed in with a quip or two. The entire Q&A is coming out in the April issue of Down Beat, due in two weeks. Here’s part of the piece that had to be edited out for space reasons.
Ellis: When I was teaching at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, I began to notice the level of professionalism. There would be competitions for high school students, and Wynton would be working on classical music. He’d play the different concertos, either the Hummel or the Haydn. The people who were making the choices weren’t interested in the Glazunov or the saxophone, because they had a lot of kids who were playing different instruments and could make it as a part of the symphony program. Later, there was a strong sax player at the school. He had a good shot at playing the Glazunov with the orchestra. Whereas when Branford auditioned with the Glazunov, they didn’t even want to hear that.
Branford: I played it like crap, too. That had something to do with it. It’s hard to play the Glazunov when you spend your time listening to Sly & the Family Stone and the Commodores.
Wynton: Actually, he just played the hell out of it again this summer with the Philharmonic.
Branford: But I ain’t listening to the Commodores no more. So it’s a different story.
Here’s the family dodging the Glazunov at a rehearsal for their NEA Jazz Masters show.