Few musicians have a resume as eclectic as Branford Marsalis’ list of accomplishments.
The eldest member of the revered Marsalis brothers (trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and drummer Jason Marsalis) made a name for himself playing baritone saxophone with the Art Blakely Band three decades ago. The Grammy Award winner recorded with his brother Wynton, the iconic Miles Davis and innovative keyboardist Herbie Hancock during the mid-1980s.
“It was a great time,” Marsalis said. “I got to play with some musicians that I really respect. It was an extraordinary experience.”
Marsalis surprised his brother by leaving his group to join Sting’s band in 1986 after The Police splintered. Marsalis’ horn play added layers to Sting’s adventurous tunes.
Marsalis went even further into the mainstream when he became the music director of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” in 1992.
“I tried different things,” Marsalis said. “Many musicians and also many people do the same thing for much of their life. I had some interesting experiences, while I did some things that were unexpected.”
But Marsalis also stayed true to his love of jazz. When on break from Sting’s band during the ’80s, Marsalis led his own band, which also featured pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Bob Hurst and drummer Jeff Watts.
“You don’t have to do just one thing,” Marsalis said. “I have enough energy to work on more than one project. That was especially so when I was younger.”
During the ’90s, Marsalis put together Buckshot LeFonque, an underheralded act that fused jazz and hip-hop.
“You never know how things are going to go until you give it a shot,” Marsalis said. “I had a lot of fun with that band.”
Marsalis, who will perform Friday with his accomplished quartet at Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre, formed his own label, Marsalis Music, a decade ago. The record company, which has released albums from a cast of musicians ranging from popular pianist-vocalist Harry Connick Jr. to saxophonist Miguel Zenon and of course, Marsalis.
Marsalis oversees the label, records and also somehow finds the time to tour.
“But I love performing live,” Marsalis said. “I especially enjoy playing in America. There’s no place like it. In Europe, the music fans are so different. They come out to hear the music. In America, the fans come out to see the show. You have to give them something to see. It’s a good thing.”