Michael Marcus: Truth, Love and Soul
AAJ: One of the things that is noticeable about your career is that you tend to work with cats on-and-off for considerable lengths of time. I think of Ted Daniel (the duet Duology), your recordings with Sonny Simmons and we already mentioned the late Frank Lowe.
MM: There is nothing more important in life than having a friend. All three of the names you just mentioned are my friends. When you develop a connection with fellow artists, it's natural that a life-long exchange, productive growth process and love for each other will occur.
Sonny Simmons has been a mentor, a teacher, inspiration, a partner, a buddy, a comrade in the arena of music, shared all the (good and bad) realities of a friendship that has lasted over 27 years with me. "Sunyo continues to integrate in my life as we co-lead the great band The Cosmosamatics and also always, we both look forward to practice together (sharing and exchanging multiple musical ideas) when we are not individually in another country or working in our respective individual groups. I am one of the few horn players that has the ability to telepathically hook up with Sonny in a frontline. His music is very advanced and sophisticated. We have had many memorable experiences within the tours we did together internationally.
Simmons is a giant in the music and has a voice that needs to be heard by all. He is the modern day bridge to Coltrane, Dolphy and Bird, continuing their message through his unique, spiritual and individualistically original music. I think that the U.S. Government should immediately acknowledge all the artists like Sonny (particularly in his age bracket), who are obviously innovators in the music and are national treasures, by supplying them with at least all the basic necessities of life that they need, so they can continue to flourish with their contributions in the American indigenous art form called jazz. I must, though, acknowledge the fantastic contributions that the Jazz Foundation of America have provided for the community of jazz artists in need in this country. Hats off to them!
I still see a bright future for The Cosmosamatics. We have recorded seven CDs and one recording is in the can for a fall '07 release on Not Two Records. Without prejudice, this is one of the best bands on the avant-garde scene, though we play bebop, too [laughs]...hey, just ask Sonny if you don't believe me.
Ted Daniel, like Lowe and Sonny, is one of my best friends. Ted is one of the most decent, ethical human beings that I know, besides being a master trumpet player in the new music. Ted and I go back about 24 years...friends for life! What a tone Teddy has on trumpet. Incidentally, I knew Ted many years before I arrived in NYC from his prestigious discography and kinda knew I would hook up with him well when we finally performed music together. T.D. is on my debut and second recording (Under The Wire and Here At!). Ted and I created our special duet called Duology about a year ago and, without a doubt, it is one of the most enjoyable groups that I ever have been part of. Our first release of this duo is on Boxholder Records and it is called Duology. We keep getting better and better as a performing entity. The sound of this duet is made up exclusively of me on Bb clarinet and Ted on assorted brass (trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, etc.). We are planning our next recording to be a live date from an upcoming concert. This group is a sound ecosystem that enables the improviser to reach multidimensional corridors while in the immediate improvisational statewhat a terrific feeling.
AAJ: We have talked about the fact that you feel some of your recordings have been neglected; although the discs reflect key aspects of your artistry. Please elaborate.
MM: The problem with being an artist that has recordings of quality out in the world, is that they can get lost in the shuffle if they are not advertised by the label who produced the recording or written about by the critics that are in the current pool of journalism in the Jazz arena. Fortunately, in my case, it seems that longevity in the recording and performance field might be a good factor in order to get some of my personal recordings talked about and listened to. I love that I am getting better all the time as a composer, as I am as an improviser and interpreter of other great jazz artists' music. Something to look forward to in the development of a modern day artist.
AAJ: I wondered if you would be more detailed and mention some of the discs in particular and what some of these dates mean in the development of your artistry. For example there are some dates which did not get wide distribution but still illustrate my point; the recording Soulifications (Soul Note, 2006) or your solo date, Speakin Out(Drimala, 2002).
MM: Actually, every one of my recordings all have a relationship in my development as a composer and improviser in sort of a continuum, all being in the chronological order of my sound story. Every artist must accept that their voice is their voice. I just found out that my friend in San Francisco, pianist/composer, B.J. Papa, recorded one of my compositionsa tune I wrote specifically for B.J. called "Cruisin' With B.J." By the way, B.J. has mentored many upcoming, aspiring musicians in the Bay Area over the years. He's a San Francisco institution in the jazz community. Everyone loves B.J. Papa! When I heard the news that B.J. honored me by recording my tune, the feeling I felt was so wonderful, a reward much greater than when you record your own music, knowing a fellow musician believes in what you're contributing.
Having said all that [laughs], I would love to talk about each of my thirteen or fourteen recordings under my name, but that would take too much time in this interview, so let's just address a few, including the ones you just mentioned.
Soulifications, on Soul Note, a trio I did with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits which was recorded in Milan during a small tour we did in Italy. Both Tarus and Nasheet are extraordinary and inventive artists on their respective instruments. I have worked and recorded with them each individually, but this was the first time we all worked together. They are, by the way, the rhythm team in the Jason Moran Trio. I am very proud of a ballad on that album called "Harmonious Beautious." Also in this recording was the first time that I overdubbed myself on some of the melodies. I got the idea from a Zoot Sims recording that he did on ABC years ago. The title cut came out real nice, tootwo clarinets! Leo Parker was the first artist to do this in modern jazz and I know Rahsaan did it as well.
Speakin' Out, on Drimala Records...a solo outing...actually my first on multiple woodwinds. Unfortunately it's out-of-print, however, I think it can be still found on the 'net. An important challenge for any instrumentalist to try and tackle is mainly to keep in mind to keep the listener's interest while you're expressing yourself. I did a hip tune for Jimmy Giuffre on Bb clarinet and also a tune I like called "ZoneTones" on tenor sax. There was no overdubbing on this recordingstraight melodies and/or improvisations. There is something to be said about being the only person in the studiono distractions...just you.
I would also like to talk briefly about my latest release that came out in January '07 called The Magic Door on Not Two Records. Not Two is a wonderful label out of Poland that is documenting some fine music, mainly of American artists. The Magic Door is my debut recording exclusively on Bb clarinet and so this recording is special to me, because as I mentioned earlier in this interview, Bb clarinet is now my main focus. There are some of my best-to-date compositions on this recording and the performances by all the musicians involved in the recording (François Grillot, Jay Rosen, Rashaan Carter, Daniel Levin, Eric Revis and Newman Taylor Baker) were spiritual and true.
François and Jay make a fine rhythm section, which lays the carpet or groove for the majority of the tunes on the date. Jay Rosen and I work in several bands together including The Cosmosamatics and our friendship is special. This recording has an extremely important and historical cover. The photo of the door is taken in Krakow, Poland...Blue Reality. The radio DJs might enjoy this recording.