There is a new saxophone star in the making. He is in New York as you read this article paying his dues on the scene where countless others before him have toiled in bars and clubs for decades often for little in return. In my estimation this will not be the case for baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall.
After spending the past two years as a music major at Florida A&M, the Silver Spring, MD native made the move to full-time status in the jazz and contemporary music program at New School University (located near Manhattan’s Union Square). In New York, Marshall has been learning from reigning masters of the trade Ronnie Cuber and Gary Smulyan (both of whom consider Marshall a protégé and a good friend). He has worked with the Cab Calloway Orchestra, the Jason Linder Big Band, and sat in with the Mingus Big Band in his short time in the city.
With facility in all registers of his instrument Marshall employs an authoritative take-no-prisoners approach. His low end is thunderously sharp, distinguishing him from so many other baritonists who sound muffled or weak, while his upper register lends itself to Kenny Garrett’s vehement vibrato. Marshall also utilizes his altissimo with surprising agility for a player the tender age of 20. Marshall’s playing is marked by an ever-present but never gratuitous soulfulness.
At the same time, like all serious reed players he is honing his clarinet and flute skills to be a more versatile and marketable instrumentalist.
Unlike many players of today, he knows tunes –loads of ‘em. “I spent a good part of my time just listening, learning tunes, and shedding,” says Marshall of his time in Florida. He credits Mr. Lindsay Sargeant and Dr. Marty Robinson at A&M and Dr. Bill Kennedy, Leon Anderson, and Rodney Jordan at neighboring Florida State University for guiding him in his studies over the past two years.
The repertoire Marshall prefers ranges from soulful standards like “Sermonette,” “Moanin’,” and Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” to lesser-known compositions by baritonists of today and yesteryear such as Pepper Adams, Leo Parker, Cecil Payne, Ronnie Cuber and Gerry Mulligan. “My biggest saxophone influences have got to be Johnny Griffin, Stanley Turrentine, Pepper Adams, Nick Brignola, Cannonball and Leo Parker,” says Marshall.
"Bird and Trane came much later in my musical development relative to most jazz saxophone students. I believe that this gives me a different point of departure for improvisation. I believe in total musical and instrumental freedom," he continues. As for other instrumentalists Marshall is particularly fond of pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Charles Mingus, and vocalist Billy Eckstine.
One can find Marshall jamming on a regular basis at Niagara in the “Alphabet City” section of the Lower East Side or at Cleopatra’s Needle in the Upper West Side. As far as a website is concerned, Marshall comments, “It’s in the works. I’m just trying to do the school thing right now and play as much as possible.”
It’s likely that he’ll continue to do exactly that.