Michelle Marie: Two Countries, One Language
AAJ: What genres do you prefer to perform?
MM: I love playing jazz, and classical guitar. Lately I have been listening to what I grew up onR&B and rock. There is something about what your roots are and what first connected you to music. In my house, growing up, there was a lot of music except jazz. I found jazz on my own; I think when I did my parents were happy cause I would blast crazy rock stuff that the house would make the house shake.
AAJ: Who were your influences? What do you like to play?
MM: My first influence was and still is Eddie Van Halen. I still freeze when I hear him play. I found Pat Metheny by chance on a bike ride in the park and that's how jazz was brought into my life. I respect players such as Paul Gilbert, Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, George Benson, Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett.
I love Wayne Shorter's compositions and have added my own arrangement to some of them. I love R&B artists songs as well, for example Jill Scott, and Erika Badu are [artists whose] songs I love to play on guitar. I like to add compositions from other artists 'cause I simply love what they are doing, and I want to feel their music through my own hands in my own way.
AAJ: Latin influences in jazz today: your thoughts?
MM: Latin jazz remains very strong, and the element of adding Latin/African rhythms is a strong tool to use in jazz. I feel that at this moment jazz is in a state of change. I am not sure what is going to happen, but artists like [pianist] Danilo Perez are important speakers about using the influences of Latin American culture and connecting it with jazz. The great thing in jazz is that it is left up to the most important element, which is improvisation. It is left up to the composer to express something meaningful with the music, and that is what attracted me to jazz. The openness and wide array of options you can use over a progression is endless; making it sound melodic is my route and goal.
AAJ: What is your trio up to today? Who plays with you?
MM: In July  I plan a video project with my trio, and plan to add piano on it. I am also planning a new recording due for release on my label MM Records Group in the fall. I use John Davis on drums; he has been with me since 2008. The first time we played, I felt a strong connection musically, especially with my music, like no other drummer. He senses the vibe I'm looking for. And I use Carlos Mena on bass. He is unique in style, and can play almost any genre, which is what I love 'cause my music can be classified as jazz, but it really is not; it's a collective of styles that I love, and he is the perfect balance needed between drums and guitar.
The new addition to my trio is pianist Rie Tsuji. I knew of her from Beyoncé's band, but I got to meet her during one of the rehearsals for Black Girls Rock. She stopped by to say hi to the band. We both live in the same borough in New York City, and we talked on the way home and I thoughtafter a project we did, a concert in Los Angeleshow awesome it would be to have her play with my trio. So July is when it will all happen, and I'm looking forward to hearing my songs with piano once again. I have been playing just with my trio for awhile now; change is always good.
AAJ: You have been busy with Black Girls Rock; what is this all about?
MM: I Love this project so much; I really feel honored to be involved with the project created by Beverly Bond. I have been the guitarist for the show since 2010, and I can't express how much I look forward to it. We practice hard for a week, and then perform a show that is filmed live. It is a true empowerment for youth. When you see these outstanding woman who simply rock, and you hear their stories, it takes your breath away. Each story is special. When you watch the program, apart from the music you really understand what it took for these women to achieve their goals. The program conveys to the audience that faith and believing in yourself can make your dreams come true. I truly support the Black Girls Rock Organization.
[Note: Black Girls Rock is a project created by Beverly Bond. Her goal is to empower young girls of color and give them better images than the often negative depictions seen in the media. Since 2006, Black Girls Rock has been dedicated to the development of young women and girls. It seeks to build the self-esteem and self-worth of young women of color by changing their outlook on life, and helping them to empower themselves.]
AAJ: What are your current projects?
MM: My main focus is to record new music with my band. I want to establish my record company more and make use of it. One of the main reasons I created it was to release my music whenever I wanted.
As for my festival, it´s going great, The third Michelle Marie Jazz Festival will be held at the end of this summer . I plan to continue producing jazz festivals in New York City Also, I have several artist videos to complete: one is a documentary for Gretsch Guitar. I have a Zoom artist video that I have already completed. It´s a great device that captures video and audio amazingly. I have also an artist video coming up for Mogami cables.