March 01, 1993 12:00 PM

>Branford Marsalis


DURING THE WEEKS NBC LET JAY LENO twist in the wind, Tonight show staffers would often drop by the bandstand to cool out. “There was always less stress in our area,” says Branford Marsalis, 32, the show’s musical director. One reason is that jazz musicians are used to finding work on a moment’s notice and juggling different kinds of jobs, few steady. “People would say, ‘How can you remain so calm?’ But that’s something you learn from jazz—just go with the flow.”

Marsalis—who has strong opinions on race, politics, sports and most other matters—also knows when to resist the flow. “People keep saying you should banter more with Jay,” he says. “Jay doesn’t need a sidekick, and if he did, I’d be the wrong guy. Musically I can reflect who I really am on this show, so I’m happy. But the more opportunities I have to spout off at the mouth, the more people will realize I’m a very unconservative fellow. So I think I’m fine the way I am.”

Among his unconservative opinions is that Tonight’s new opening theme, which he composed last year, “should change. I’ll have a new one every year if they let me.” He adds, “I’ve always thrived on change. I went to three different elementary schools, three different high schools. Discovering new things is what I liked about being on the road. The drag is that none of the cities are new to me anymore. I’d like to see some cities on Mars.” One thing that never changes is his bond, musical and personal, with his brother, Wynton, 31, who helps ignite Heard You Twice’s most joyful cut. Says Branford: “We play like we’ve got one brain.”

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