COMPLIMENTS are widely distributed within the tight-knit circles of jazz artists living in New York City.
It seems no one of late has come close to the quantity or quality of praise that saxophone player Branford Marsalis has received.
Called a "Renaissance man" by several media critics and ''the future of jazz music" by others, Marsalis has virtually left his younger brother Wynton behind with his volume of work that includes writing, composing and acting.
Yet despite his immense power, not even Marsalis could save his piano player, Kenny Kirkland -- whom he said was "the most sought after player in New York" -- from being snatched away by a greater force.
When Marsalis appears at Lisner Auditorium in Washington tomorrow night, Kirkland won't be with his band.
"Kenny went on the road with Sting," said Marsalis, who met Kirkland while playing with Sting after he left the Police in 1984. "I could try all I want, but it's impossible to replace him. So all of a sudden we're a trio instead of a quartet."
So once again the gypsy spirit and rival forces of jazz are at work, the same ones that caused Branford to leave Wynton's band five years ago to go with Sting after his trumpet-playing little brother gave him his start in the industry.
"I went with Sting because I respect his music and I like rock 'n' FTC roll," Marsalis said. "I was always a purist as far as jazz goes. What I did with Sting wasn't jazz, it was rock 'n' roll. That's why it sold 3 million albums."
But the money and the numbers of rock 'n' roll don't impress Marsalis.
"Why should I do what everybody else does when I can do what very few people can do," he said. "I'm happy as hell because I'm making a good living doing the stuff I love to do."
Marsalis, who said he's better off in some ways since the split with Wynton, has become a fixture on the soundtrack of Spike Lee's movies and appears on his latest, "Mo' Better Blues." In addition, he has recorded a new album called "Crazy People Music" with his band that includes Jeff Watts (drums), Bob Hurst (bass) and Kirkland, before he left. He also contributed to the soundtrack of the upcoming Sean Connery film, "Russia House."
"It's just a matter of having my people book my schedule so it all works," said Marsalis. "I'm always busy but I like it that way."