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Band Ambition: Sherrie Maricle and Diva

Richard J Salvucci By

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No women in jazz that I know are focused on the women part. We're always focused on the jazz part. Other people care more about the women part than us. —Sherrie Maricle
In the iconic photo A Great Day in Harlem (1958), bandleader and pianist Count Basie has taken a seat on the curb. Eleven neighborhood kids and one ringer, Taft Jordan Jr, are seated single file to Basie's right. Marian McPartland and Mary Lou Williams stand behind the kids, chatting. They are bookended, appropriately, by Oscar Pettiford and Monk. The only other woman is Maxine Sullivan. I never noticed her until now—a telling oversight.

Fifty years later, the photo was updated, but not duplicated, with a wink and a nod. There are exactly three males: Stanley Kay, Billy Taylor and Bob Cranshaw. As with Sullivan, I never noticed Cranshaw until now. The rest of the musicians are women—hence the photo is called The Girls in the Band. There are ten children seated up front: two of the kids, slyly, are the offspring of Diva members. To their left, occupying Basie's "chair" is Sherrie Maricle. Maybe, like Basie, she just got tired of standing and sat down, but I doubt it and have no plans to ask. I suspect the seating is hardly accidental.

When the (historically mostly, but not exclusively) female band Diva was established by Stanley Kay in June 1992, Maricle was not the leader, but she soon would be. Early publicity for the band advertised that it played in the style of Duke Ellington, Woody Herman and Buddy Rich. I assume that characterization reflected the joint taste of Kay, Maricle, and Slam Stewart's final album, "The Cats Are Swingin," which was recorded at Clinton Studios in New York City. So Sherrie moved to New York with an extensive network of contacts. There the pattern repeated itself, with a lot of gigging around, sessions, and running a Sunday afternoon jam session at the Village Gate for eight years. It stopped when the Village Gate was forced to close. There was also the usual subbing for Broadway shows, although, as she puts it, that kind of work was "not high on her radar screen." Maricle was not exactly an itinerant musician, but she wasn't an established name either.

Sherrie's big break came in 1990, as breaks are wont to come, by serendipity. She was playing at the 75th anniversary of the Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut in 1990. Both Skitch Henderson conducting and Stanley Kay were there, with Kay conducting for Maurice Hines. They turned out to be critical mentors , "[who] transformed my life quite a bit." Henderson, the former NBC Music Director who had founded the New York Pops in 1983, liked Maricle's playing, and invited her to "audition" as a percussionist for the orchestra. That was more than 20 years ago and Sherrie is still with the Pops, so things obviously worked out. Kay, who had been Buddy Rich's relief drummer and the band's straw boss in the late 1940s was also in attendance. Sherrie and Kay stayed in touch, but did not work on any projects together. Maricle invited Kay to gigs at places like the Blue Note and Birdland, "But he never came."

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