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Thomas Marriott: Balance in Life and Music

Paul Rauch By

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If one should by chance be curious of what is happening with jazz in the city of Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest, one would do well to check out what trumpeter Thomas Marriott is up to. Thomas has established himself as one the most exciting artists to emerge on the national jazz scene in the past decade, in part by releasing eleven albums as a leader on the Origin Records label, and with his riveting live performances on stage with the best musicians the region has to offer. His insight into the music, those who perform it, and the Seattle jazz scene in general, is informed, enlightened, and valued. As a musician, he has certainly paid his dues, performing with some of the top names in jazz both nationally and locally, including Joe Locke, Maynard Ferguson, Brian Lynch, Kenny Kirkland, Orrin Evans, George Colligan, and scores of others. After a period spent in New York, Thomas returned to Seattle with a standard that has raised the bar ever higher here in Seattle for all musicians on the scene. He can be seen frequently at his performances, and at jam sessions around town. Equally adept as a composer, he has earned the respect of both veteran and young musicians, and understands fully his place and responsibilities as an artist of note, in a city that has produced a historically significant amount of talent and impacted jazz music in America in an unique and meaningful way. I sat down with Thomas at Caffe Fiore in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, and thoroughly enjoyed our time chatting about his career, and more importantly, about the continually evolving jazz scene in Seattle.

All About Jazz: Let's start at the beginning, when did jazz music come to your attention?

Thomas Marriott: My Dad had a jazz radio program, and he was always a collector of jazz records, so he had thousands of jazz records in our basement, which when we were kids, my brother and I , were off limits, don't touch Dad's records, so of course we did! He had Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Thelonius Monk, and we would go down there and play his records and listen to them. My uncle and my Dad were huge fans and collectors, and my grandfather was, I would hesitate to call him a jazz pianist, but his music almost predates jazz. He was born in 1910, so he was coming up learning to play music, as a teenager in '26, so that would be the period of time of the Hot Fives, he certainly was always a fan of Louis Armstrong, he played popular music in a certain stride style. How much improvising he did, was he down with the blues, I'm not really sure, but he knew a million tunes and he was a professional musician, he played many, many instruments. His favorite band was Jimmie Lunceford. So my upbringing was always music. My uncle used to blindfold test us, as kids of 10 or 11, he had this tape we used to play, "the bop quiz,"and it had Sonny Stitt on it, and Barry Harris, it had some hip music. He would bring it up and there would be a little questionnaire to fill out-my brother and I grew up with blindfold tests! Those were some of my earliest recollections of hearing the music. And they would drag us to see music. My Dad would took me to see all kinds of people, Art Blakey. His friends were piano players, he worked the late night shift when he was working in radio, he'd get off work at four in the morning and go to the jazz club, they were open back then, or he'd go to the places where the jazz musicians were hanging out, he had a lot of friends who were musicians.

AAJ: You chose trumpet, and your brother David, trombone, how did that come to be?

TM:We both started playing piano, and we had a bunch of these instruments, and my grandfather had a bunch of instruments, because he played all these instruments, so starting at three or four years old, Thanksgiving would be, "Come upstairs and play the tuba,"or "Come upstairs and horse around with the trumpet or trombone," so we always had access and exposure to the instruments. My Dad played trumpet and my uncle played trombone, so we had a trumpet and trombone in the house, and so when it came time to sign up for school band, we had already been fooling around. We actually both started playing trumpet, but then my brother's band director said, "We need a trombone player!" So he started playing trombone. Dave actually continued with piano, and is an accomplished pianist, sight reading on the piano, knows tunes on the piano. He could work as a pianist if he wanted to, but he decided not to....I cannot play anything on the piano!

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