top of page



Germany, 2015

88 min
HD Stereo
Language: English
Directed by Reinhold Jaretzky
Produced by Zauberbergfilm, Berlin, Germany.



Zauberbergfilm Berlin

+49 171 5439074




Saxophonist Branford Marsalis not only is a virtuoso of contemporary jazz. He is an allrounder who likes to explore adjacent music genres and styles such as pop or European classical music. In the 1980s he played with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Sting, later on with Tina Turner, and he wrote several soundtracks for film director Spike Lee, a friend of his. Ever since, he is known and famous for his unique velvety, melodic sound, as well as for oscillating between traditional ways and new arrangements, and for crossing borders between diverse musical languages, styles and genres. The documentary Branford Marsalis- The Sound Illusionist captures this exceptional musician on stage at jazz-concerts in his home town New Orleans, in San Fransciso, and at classic concerts in Europe. The film shows him as a private person with friends, while jamming with his father, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, and at his „Musicians’ Village“, an artists’ colony for homeless musicians who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina. It is a retrospect on his career, from his own point of view and with comments from his companions such as Sting, his father Ellis, friends from New Orleans and classical musicians.



Film production with a focus on documentaries on music, literature and philosophy. Founded in 2000. Based in Berlin.


Reinhold Jaretzky:
Director and producer, specialized on documentaries. Teaches documentary film at ZeLIG school for documentary, television and new media in Italy.


Branford Marsalis: „Do you know in the heat that illusion that there's water on the road – have you ever seen that? And you see it, and everytime you get to it you think you know where it is and it's still ahead of you. And you just keep thinking ... - as a young kid I remember thinking: Oh, we're gonna catch that water! There it is! And you just keep ... - that's kind of how music is for me. You say I wanna get to this place and when you get there you realize: Oh, it's actaully over there! And you just keep going. You keep going, you keep working, you don't settle, you don't settle for where you are at the moment, because there's always a place to go.“

Branford Marsalis: “It's easy to find saxophone music now that has no melody at all. Those pieces are very popular in the saxophone community but I really have a difficult time. In my Jazz band we call those types of songs "Brasil nuts", because the Brasil nut has a very, very hard shell. And it is almost impossible to open it. And you bang away at it and you bang away at it and when you finally open it, it's just this little, gnarly, crappy-tasting piece of nut! So you spend all this work and you get nothing in return - and that's the Brasil nut. And a lot of these pieces are pieces where when you finish, you basically say: Well yeah - I played it. But you don't finish like: Well, that was great! Or: Oh, that was terrible! It's just: I survived it.“

Sting: “Branf has never been anything but a Jazz musician. I know that he was accused, when he worked with me, of becoming a pop musician, but that's not strictly true. I've never told Branf any note he played. I just gave him a harmony, a set of chords, the mood - and I said: Just play! So in essence I was asking him to be a Jazz musician. With a set of changes. That's exactly what he did. He's incredibly inventive. What he does have is an incredible economy of line - he doesn't waste ... there's not a lot of waffle in what he does, he's very economic in his lines. And very modern. And also kind of pristine - there's something that fits in with my voice.”

Sting: “I think Branford is exactly as he appears to be. There's no artifice with him. He is very in touch with his feelings, his emotions - and he will express them, very candidly, sometimes painfully. But you always know you're listening to a man's honest appraisal - of any situation, if it's politics or sport or music. He can be abrasive but none the less lovable, and extremely intelligent. And he's a very good friend of mine and I'd like to see him more often. I've worked with him about a year ago, at a Jazz festival. He came and signed in with the band and it was like putting on a glove that you've worn all your life. It was just a perfect fit, comfortable, elegant. And then he was gone.”





The Sound Illusionist is an apt title for Reinhold Jaretzky's film. At first it would seem that the Illusion is that an R&B musician is disguised as a jazz instrumentalist. However, it soon becomes clear that though the film is marketed as a Branford Marsalis biopic of sorts, it is moreso a documentary about        Louisiana. The film may be centered on a famous saxophone player, but the main theme is really the history of New Orleans. The food, the community spirit, the post-Katrina events are all touched upon. It's as though Marsalis is welcoming the viewer to his hometown and acting as tour guide. And he is a very   knowledgeable host. He's well read and has an extensive data bank of knowledge. The film is therefore very informative. There's nothing stuck up or snooty about Marsalis. He seems to be in touch with the world around him. He is candid, casual and human. He tells jokes, shares silly anecdotes and even swears like a normal every-dude. The film quickly becomes a warm narrative about life in New Orleans seen through the eyes of a local. It's almost incidental that this local happens to be a revered jazz musician. Though he is well recognized, Marsalis remains humble. He continues to strive for more knowledge. Something he said shows that he is not someone with saxophone superpowers. In a way, he is just a normal guy seeking to always better himself. "You keep going [.] You don't settle for where you are at the moment, because there's always someplace to go.“ Marsalis' warmth is emulated by the film's aesthetics. At times, the cinematography employs extreme closeups of Marsalis' face during performances. These shots are intimate. The framing is often so tight that it's just eyebrows to chin, with only a hint of saxophone mouthpiece. It's fitting, considering the relationships Marsalis has with his onscreen partners. The bromance between him and longtime collaborator Sting is quite charming. In two separate interview clips, they each use a form of the word symbiotic to describe their musical relationship. It's equally adorable to watch the younger and elder Marsalis tease and interact with each other. However, from a cinematic perspective, some of the camerawork could have been more straightforward. The rack-focus effects during most of their conversations ends up being a distraction. As focus alternates between Ellis and Branford, the intimacy gets muddled when one person is blurred while the other is crisp. The director of photography could have better portrayed the connection between father and son by keeping them both within the same margin of depth of field. This is a minor drawback overall. In general Jaretzky's film is engaging, and the jazz is rich. It would delight any Marsalis fan, but beyond the music, this is a well-made slice of Americana. A documentary about life. Relationships. Learning and striving for knowledge. Marsalis is the perfect host to introduce general audiences to his world, whether they know music or not. Don't miss the Montreal premiere. From July 1st - 7th at Cinema du Parc

Daria Gamliel for Cinetalk/    1.7.2016

bottom of page