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Marvin Sewell: Stepping Up to the Plate

By Published: August 15, 2013
[Laughter] It's a great honor to play with somebody on that level, on that level of listening. The conversations that he has...I listen to him talk, and the amount of knowledge that he has. It's not in an "I know this" type of way, it just flows out of him. Just like the music that comes out of him. He's constantly aware of things. I remember one time, when I first did a gig with him. I was so damn nervous. I was on stage with Gary Thomas, Lonnie Plaxico, Michael Cain
Michael Cain
Michael Cain
, and Jack! And I was so nervous that I was kind of facing the band instead of the audience, and I remember Jack came to me, this was years ago, and he said in a loving way, as just a suggestion, "if you notice when I'm playing, you notice sometimes I'll look up when I do my solo. I'm checking the audience, I'm trying to make a connection to them, make a connection to somebody."

Years ago I heard Arthur Rubenstein say the same thing. Making a connection, because it's not just about us over here playing it. "It's just a suggestion," he said, "why don't you check that out?" It really helped me, the next concert I felt the energy. Even if it's just one person, or the aggregate energy of the crowd, the flowing energy. It's that type of stuff that really helped me. I think playing with Jack in that short amount of time I did really helped me accompany singers, playing with Cassandra [Wilson], and playing with other people. I said "man, this cat really hears everything and is really open." Playing with him has been an invaluable experience.

GC: Would you say that playing with Cassandra is probably your most steady, high-profile gig?

MS: Yeah, and I got a lot of mileage out of that gig.

GC: This was over ten years, right?

MS: Yeah. I first did a gig with her in 1995. I subbed for Brandon Ross
Brandon Ross
Brandon Ross

and then, in 1996, I did my first tour with her. But prior to that I did a couple of record compilations with her. And then it just kind of went on, on and off, for the next 10-15 years. I learned a lot of stuff playing with her—I developed a lot of stuff. My slide playing, playing in alternate tunings with her, accompanying, more different styles of music from playing with her. Using different sounds, textures, and effects, because she was always open to experimenting and trying new things.

One of the great things about her is that she was always open to that and, like Jack, didn't want the same thing every night. She was looking for something different, and even off the tour I was always investigating new sounds. What new sounds are happening, what can I develop? So it was good. All of that stuff with the tunings, and the slide guitar, I had been working on, but Cassandra's gig was the vehicle for me to develop it. I remember this saxophonist in Chicago met John Coltrane, and he asked Coltrane what he could do to improve his playing and Coltrane simply said "get a gig." [Laughs] Get you a gig!

GC: That is so true.

MS: I found no matter how much I practice, which is good, there's still something about playing, when you interact with people and the tempo is swirling around, you get into real time instead of metronomic time. Things change, and you have to make the adjustment. It puts up your chops a little bit, if you're open to listen.

GC: I think about it sometimes, I compare musical interaction to if you go to a party or something. Or you're having dinner conversation. How can you practice going to a party?

MS: Exactly.

GC: That's really interesting. So to my knowledge, you have one record as a leader. Do you have aspirations to do more as a leader, so that we know more about you?

MS: Yeah I would like to, it's just a matter of time and leader. One of the problems of being a journeyman is time. Your fellow colleagues are journeymen too, and you're trying to get them together and in the studio. And writing takes up a lot of time, you have to kind of be in it. Sometimes I come up with ideas on the road, and I develop them, and other times tunes write themselves.

So I plan on trying to put out a few more things. I have enough music to put out two or three more records. The tunes aren't necessarily great, but I'm constantly writing and trying to work stuff out. I never even envisioned myself having a band until somebody asks me what my music sounds like. So I started writing, and Jerome Harris
Jerome Harris
Jerome Harris
has been in my band since it started, and it's a great ensemble. Joe "Sonny" Barbato, Rachelle Garniez, Satoshi Takeishi and Jerome Harris. I love that group.

And it's an ensemble. I didn't want to do the whole Concerto concept; it's definitely a group with a particular sound. So yeah, hopefully something else can happen, we can go into the studio and record again. We haven't explored all the possibilities. All the people in the band can do so many different things and it needs to be on wax or MP3, or whatever you call it.

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