"We certainly recycle and force our children to recycle and we compost," says saxophonist Branford Marsalis, adding that his wife's attempts at gardening have lacked success "because the deer and rabbits and raccoons love the garden more than you do." He lives in Durham, N.C., "an environmentally conscious area. I'm trying to convince the city to invest in hydrogen cars for the fleet they drive. BMW and Hyundai make them. Right now there are no stations, but if they buy them the stations will follow. I have a hybrid, but I would love a hydrogen car."
Marsalis is featured in the premiere episode of PBS' ten-part series "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." in which the Harvard professor traces the ancestry of such celebrities as Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon, Geoffrey Canada, Barbara Walters, Michelle Rodriguez, Margaret Cho, Robert Downey, Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Martha Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend and Condoleezza Rice. Marsalis' friend and fellow Louisiana jazz musician Harry Connick Jr. is also in the opening episode.
"I've always been really curious about my family," says Marsalis, who grew up in New Orleans, with lots of musicians on his mother's side. He recalls an awkward moment in school when he wasn't able to tell the class about his ancestors. "We were slaves. We didn't have that information. So it was great to find out that my family tree goes so far back," he says, happy to be able to trace his lineage on his father's side to slaves and on his mother's side to, more surprisingly, a free black woman. "I don't feel shame about that," he says of his slave ancestry. "I feel good about it because all that stuff puts me here, and I'm cool with that."
Marsalis is touring the U.S. now before heading to Europe next month.