Anthony Branker

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Composer Anthony Branker in Brooklyn, New York (2012), photo by Gulnara Khamatova

Anthony Branker (born August 28, 1958) is an American musician and educator of Caribbean descent whose work as a composer, educator, scholar, conductor, and performer has been featured on the international stage in Brazil, Switzerland, Poland, Finland, Italy, Estonia, Denmark, Greece, China, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Russia, Lithuania, and Japan as well as throughout the United States. Branker was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and raised in Piscataway and Plainfield, New Jersey.[1] He attended public schools in Piscataway and graduated from Piscataway High School where he was involved in the music program under the direction of R. Bruce Bradshaw and Joseph T. Mundi. Following high school, Branker attended Princeton University where he received his B.A. in Music and a Certificate in African American Studies. His graduate studies took him to the University of Miami for a Master of Music in Jazz Pedagogy and later to Columbia University, Teachers College where he received the degrees of Master of Education and Doctor of Education; both with specialties in Music and Music Education.

Family Background[edit]

Branker's family hails from Trinidad and Barbados and he is a first generation American. He comes from a musical extended family that includes his uncle Rupert Branker who was the music director and pianist with The Platters. Another uncle, pianist Roy Branker was with the Copasetics, a fraternity of male musicians in Harlem organized after the death of William "Bojangles" Robinson, primarily to support dance. Billy Strayhorn was a member of that group and Roy wrote music with Strayhorn (Roy was mentioned in Duke Ellington's autobiography, "Music is My Mistress"). Roy Branker was also a member of a trio called The Three Peppers. Anthony Branker's cousin, Nicholas Brancker, who spells his last name slightly different, is from Barbados. He's a music producer and bassist who has worked with Roberta Flack, Cyndi Lauper, Simply Red, Shabba Ranks and Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz. Nicholas was also nominated for a Grammy Award for a jazz piece on flutist Sherry Winston's album "Love Is.".[2]


Dr. Anthony Branker holds an endowed chair in jazz studies, is founder and director of the program in jazz studies, and serves as director of the university jazz ensembles program and associate director of the program in musical performance at Princeton University, where he directs an extensive list of ensembles and teaches courses in jazz theory through improvisation & composition, jazz performance practice in historical and cultural context, jazz composition, evolution of jazz styles, and the improvising ensemble. He has also been a member of the faculty at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre in Tallinn, Estonia as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar, Manhattan School of Music, Rutgers University/Mason Gross School of the Arts, Hunter College of the City University of New York), Ursinus College, and The Hill School. In addition, he has served as a visiting composer at the Southern Danish Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Esbjerg, Denmark; Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg, Germany; Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre; and for "Crossing Borders" – the Socrates/Erasmus Intensive Programme in cooperation with the European Union, the Association of Baltic Academies of Music, and the Estonian Academy of Music & Theatre.[3]


The music of composer Anthony Branker stands firmly on jazz traditions while simultaneously pushing the boundaries in bold and beautiful new directions. Recently, he was named in Down Beat magazine's 62nd Annual Critics Poll as a "Rising Star Composer." Branker has recorded for Origin Records[4] and Sons of Sound Records and has seven releases in his fast growing and musically rich discography. They include: The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite (Origin, 2014), Uppity (Origin, 2013), [5] Together (Origin, 2012),[6] Dialogic (Origin, 2011),[7] Dance Music (Origin, 2010),[8] Blessings (Origin, 2009),[9] and Spirit Songs (Sons of Sound, 2006).[10] He leads two jazz collectives that include Anthony Branker & Ascent and Anthony Branker & Word Play, which have featured David Binney, Mark Gross, Tia Fuller, Steve Wilson, Antonio Hart, Ralph Bowen, Conrad Herwig, Clifford Adams, Andy Hunter, Eli Asher, Jonny King, Jim Ridl, Bryan Carrott, Kenny Davis, John Benitez, Belden Bullock, Donald Edwards, Adam Cruz, Ralph Peterson Jr., Wilby Fletcher, Renato Thoms, Kadri Voorand, Alison Crockett, and Freddie Bryant. Dr. Branker's most recent CD project for Origin Records, The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite, features a new 12-movement work composed for the group Anthony Branker & Word Play with performances by David Binney, Ralph Bowen, Conrad Herwig, Jim Ridl, Kenny Davis, Donald Edwards, Renato Thoms, Alison Crockett, and 5th Grade students from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Piscataway, NJ.

Branker has received composition prizes, commissions, served as composer-in-residence, and has had his music featured in performance in Italy, Denmark, Finland, France, Estonia, Russia, Australia, China, Germany, Lithuania, Japan, and throughout the United States; as well as at such venues as New York's JVC Jazz Festival, Iridium Jazz Club, Sweet Basil Jazz Club, The Five Spot, New York's Symphony Space, the Fez under Time Café, Trumpets Jazz Club, Puffin Cultural Theatre, and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.[11] His music has also been performed and/or recorded by the Princeton University Orchestra, Talib Kibwe (T.K. Blue), Kenny Barron, Eddie Henderson, Victor Lewis, Steve Nelson, Stanley Jordan, Winard Harper, Joe Ford, Benny Carter, Valery Ponomarev, Cecil Brooks III, Onaje Allen Gumbs, Alex Blake, Sarah Jane Cion, Michael Cochrane, Jann Parker, Curtis Lundy, Steve Kroon, Rick Margitza, and the Spirit of Life Ensemble.


As a conductor, Dr. Branker has worked with such artists as Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Jon Faddis, Ted Curson, Oliver Lake, Frank Foster, Benny Carter, Conrad Herwig, Stanley Jordan, Bobby Watson, Steve Nelson, Bob Mintzer, Don Braden, Ralph Peterson Jr., Bryan Carrott, Mark Gross, Antonio Hart, Freddie Hendrix, Jacky Terrasson, Benny Powell, Michael Philip Mossman, Rick Margitza, Jeffery Smith, Walt Weiskopf, Valery Ponomarev, Guilherme Franco, and Patience Higgins. He has conducted trumpeter Terence Blanchard's Grammy Award-Winning score for "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)" featuring Blanchard and His Quintet along with tenor saxophonist Brice Winston, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Joshua Crumbly, drummer Kendrick Scott, and members of the Princeton University and Rutgers University orchestras.

Dr. Branker has conducted several world premieres of commissioned works for big band, that have included Michael Philip Mossman's "John Coltrane Suite"; Bob Mintzer's "March Majestic"; Jimmy Heath's "For the Love Of"; Ralph Bowen's "Little Miss B"; Conrad Herwig's "Reflections of a Man Facing South"; Randy Bauer's "Wide-Eyed Wonder"; and Laurie Altman's "In Another Time" for orchestra, big band and vocal ensemble. Branker has also collaborated with the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra and conductors Wycliffe Gordon, Loren Schoenberg, and Cecil Bridgewater on joint big band performances of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's Far East Suite and Ellington's New Orleans Suite at McCarter Theatre in Princeton.

Recently, Dr. Branker conducted Pulitzer Prize Winning Composer Wynton Marsalis' "Abyssinian 200: A Gospel Celebration" featuring the Princeton University Glee Club and University Concert Jazz Ensemble. He has also led the Princeton University Orchestra in the world premiere of his composition "Ballad for Trayvon Martin for Orchestra and Jazz Quartet" featuring tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen, as well as in world premieres of two dance works choreographed to the orchestral music of Claude Debussy's "La Boîte à Joujoux (The Toy Box)" – including the U.S. Premiere of Debussy's newly discovered "jazz overture" for this work – and John Alden Carpenter's "Krazy Kat." Dr. Branker has also conducted Princeton's Orchestra in performances of Ellington's extended orchestral compositions "A Tone Parallel to Harlem" and "New World A Comin'." In addition, he has conducted "The Sacred Concert Music of Duke Ellington" with the Princeton University Chapel Choir, Glee Club and Gospel Ensemble as well as the Ellington/Strayhorn collaborative adaptations of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" and Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 & 2" for big band.

Dr. Branker has appeared as conductor with the Jugend Sinfonie Orchester (Bremen, Germany), Israel's Kiryat Ono Symphonic Youth Band, Japan's Fukui Junior Orchestra, Estonian Academy of Music Big Band (Tallinn, Estonia), Hunter Jazz Repertory Orchestra (New York), and the Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble.


As a trumpeter, Branker performed and recorded with the Spirit of Life Ensemble – including a five-year residency at New York's internationally renowned Sweet Basil Jazz Club. He also appeared at the Pori International Jazz Festival (Finland); Leningrad/St. Petersburg International Jazz Festival (Russia); Kaunas International Jazz Festival (Lithuania); Estonia International Jazz Festival (Tartu, Estonia); JVC Jazz Festival at Sweet Basil (New York); Panasonic Village Jazz Festival (New York); as well as jazz club performances in France, Finland, Germany, Russia, and New York. In addition, he has shared the stage in a variety of musical settings with such artists as Ted Curson, Talib Kibwe, Guilherme Franco & Nova Bossa Nova, Steve Nelson, Marcus Belgrave, Billy Higgins, John Hicks, Michael Cochrane, Calvin Hill, Eddie Henderson, James Weidman, Stanley Jordan, Benny Carter, Ralph Peterson, Terence Blanchard, Big John Patton, Roscoe Mitchell, Gary Burton, the R&B group Tavares, and has performed in the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Dinah Was: The Dinah Washington Musical. In 1999, medical problems stemming from two brain aneurysms and the discovery of an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) led him to yield his trumpet playing and forced him to take a leave of absence from teaching.[12]

Scholarly Work[edit]

Dr. Branker’s work as a scholar has been shared at conferences and/or published by the International Society for Music Education, International Society for Improvised Music (ISIM), Research in Music Education (RIME), International Symposium on Assessment in Music Education (ISAME), College Music Society (CMS), International Jazz Composers Symposium (IJCS), International Association for Jazz Education, Foundation for Educational Administration (FEA) / New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA) School Leadership Conference, New Jersey Music Educators Association (NJMEA), Down Beat magazine, and the Princeton University Regional Conference – "Big Ideas: Science, Innovation, and Discovery.” He has also served as program scholar for Looking At: Jazz, America’s Art Form, a six-part documentary film viewing and discussion series at the Princeton Public Library in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Humanities, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the American Library Association.[13]

Dr. Branker has received fellowships or grants from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board/Council for International Exchange of Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, Princeton University, and Ursinus College. He has also appeared as a guest lecturer for the Department of Pop & Jazz Music at Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia in Helsinki, Finland; Õismäe Russian Lyceum, Tallinn, Estonia; Heino Elleri Nimeline Tartu Muusikakool, Tartu, Estonia; Kuressaare Music Academy on the Estonian island of Saaremaa; the Pop/Jazz Program at Viljandi Kultuuriakadeemia Muusikamajas in Viljandi, Estonia; Winmalee High School, Blue Mountains, Australia; National Endowment for the Humanities Paul Robeson Institute at Rutgers University; “Teachers as Scholars” program for New Jersey Educators at Princeton University; Princeton University Alumni College Seminar "New Orleans: City of Jazz” in New Orleans, Louisiana; the Plexus Institute; and at Drew University.[14]


Selected Discography[edit]

  • The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite – Anthony Branker & Word Play (Origin Records, 2014): w/David Binney, Ralph Bowen, Conrad Herwig, Jim Ridl, Kenny Davis, Donald Edwards, Alison Crockett, Renato Thoms
  • Uppity – Anthony Branker & Word Play (Origin Records, 2013): w/Ralph Bowen, Andy Hunter, Eli Asher, Jim Ridl, Kenny Davis, Donald Edwards, Charmaine Lee
  • Together – Anthony Branker & Ascent (Origin Records, 2012): w/Mark Gross, Ralph Bowen, Jonny King, Kenny Davis, Donald Edwards
  • Dialogic – Anthony Branker & Word Play (Origin Records, 2011): w/Ralph Bowen, Jim Ridl, Kenny Davis, Adam Cruz
  • Dance Music – Anthony Branker & Ascent (Origin Records, 2010): w/Tia Fuller, Ralph Bowen, Clifford Adams, Jonny King, Kenny Davis, Adam Cruz, Freddie Bryant, Kadri Voorand
  • Blessings – Anthony Branker & Ascent (Origin Records, 2009): w/Steve Wilson, Ralph Bowen, Clifford Adams, Bryan Carrott, Jonny King, Belden Bullock, Wilby Fletcher, Renato Thoms
  • Spirit Songs – Anthony Branker & Ascent (Sons of Sound Records, 2006): w/Antonio Hart, Ralph Bowen, Clifford Adams, Jonny King, John Benitez, Ralph Peterson, Jr.
  • Voicings – Jann Parker (Self Produced, 2001): w/Jann Parker, Mark Gross, Aaron Graves, Curtis Lundy, Payton Crossley, Steve Kroon, et al.
  • Twenty-5ive – Spirit of Life Ensemble (Rise Up Productions, 2000): w/Talib Kibwe, Vinnie Cutro, Michael Cochrane, Belden Bullock, Guilherme Franco, Bruce Cox, Anthony Branker, et al.
  • Another Blue – T.K. Blue [Talib Kibwe] (Arkadia, 1999): w/T.K. Blue (Talib Kibwe), Anthony Branker, Bob Ferrel, Michael Cochrane, Calvin Hill, Greg Bufford
  • Collage – Spirit of Life Ensemble (Rise Up Productions, 1998): w/Talib Kibwe, Anthony Branker, Clifford Adams, Guilherme Franco, Ted Curson, et al.
  • Live at the Pori Jazz Festival 1996 – Spirit of Life Ensemble (Rise Up Productions, 1997): w/Talib Kibwe, Anthony Branker, Bryan Carrott, Ted Curson, Everald Brown, Cleave Guyton, James Stewart, Mamdouh Bahri, Michael Cochrane, Belden Bullock, Greg Bufford, et al.
  • The Panasonic Village Jazz Festival 1997 Compilation CD – Spirit of Life Ensemble (International Music Factory, 1997) [recording also features performances of groups led by Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Evans, Geri Allen, Kenny Garrett, et al.]

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