With so many musicians in his family, people sometimes imagine that it was a non-stop family jam session growing up. But no. With almost seven years between him and his younger brother, there was "no way" he was going to be jamming--in or out of the house--with a ten year-old when he was seventeen, despite what his parents might have wished. But Branford and his distinguished brother Wynton Marsalis, who were much closer in age, did work and play together. Growing up, Wynton worked hardest to become the amazing classical trumpeter that he continues to be to this day. If you're not familiar with this side of his work, check out his classical discography. But, of course, we all know him as the man who lead Lincoln Center to become the jazz bastion that it is today. And it was Wynton who first moved to New York, the jazz capitol, and persuaded Branford to join him, which he does not regret.
How to learn songwriting? "Learn every tune ever written," he said, then smiled. "It's all about melodies," he continued. When improvising, he's thinking of melodies, not simply chord progressions.
He doesn't aim to please an audience of 20-something people. Why? "My music is for adults," as he put it. It takes years to develop one's art and craft in jazz. One has to be willing to suffer "humiliation," but not to succumb to defeat; to admit that there are things to learn, and to keep on working to improve.