For decades, the Marsalis family has been New Orleans jazz royalty. They even were dubbed "The first family of jazz."
The eldest prince, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, will bring his renowned act, The Branford Marsalis Quartet, to the Savannah Music Festival this week. Billed as "An Afternoon with Branford Marsalis," the Trustees Theater will play host on April 5.
The musical patriarch, Ellis Marsalis Jr., has been a prominent musician and teacher in New Orleans since the 1950s. His sons, Branford and trumpetist Wynton, rose to international acclaim and have been at the heart of modern jazz music history for most of their lives.
The youngest sons, Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drums) have both had their own success in the jazz world, as well.
Branford's career has meandered through a variety of places and sounds. The saxophonist began his professional career in 1980 and since has received Grammy Awards, Tony nominations and played with some of the greatest jazz musicians to ever add the sevenths and swing the beat.
April 5 will not be his first trip to Savannah, and while his home is often compared to the Hostess City, his heart dwells in the city that birthed some of the greatest American music ever.
"I've visited Savannah more times than I've played there," he said. "But we are looking forward to playing there again. Architecturally, there are amazing similarities (to New Orleans). While it doesn't fill the homesickness hole completely, it's a great place to relax and walk around. New Orleans might have a slight edge in the food department!"
The Quartet don't consider themselves recording artists, but rather just a live band. They play to get paid. But, for Branford, his family and his bandmates, getting paid is just a benefit. It's not at the heart of what they've spent their lives doing.
The family's work in and around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was at the soul of the rebuilding process. Wynton's work in New York as the co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center and Branford's residences in major American universities have helped to keep jazz alive into the 21st century.
"I don't think of us as preservationists," Branford said. "Perhaps we are, if players are considered preservationists across the board. But I am a lover of jazz, and that is what I feel I do - spread the joy that the music has given me. I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity, and an avenue to express my love of the music."
Although the quartet doesn't tour to promote an album, they have 14 studio albums that date back to 1986. Their latest contribution was 2012's "Four MFs Playin Tunes." Branford admitted that the set list for Savannah will contain tunes from the latest album, but the rest is up to you.
"A few songs from 'Four MFs,' and the rest will hinge on the energy of the audience," B. Marsalis said. "We can go in a lot of different directions, and we take our lead from them."