A Fireside Chat with Michael Marcus
AAJ: When you put the stritch and the manzello, you must have gotten your fill of Rahsaan comparisons.
MM: Yes, and that's sort of been a little bit of a problem for me.
AAJ: I hear no resemblance.
MM: Thank you so much for saying that, Fred. I really appreciate for you to say that. A lot of critics, in fact, did you read that review I just got in Jazz Times?
AAJ: I only read John Corbett's Vinyl Freak. Critics are mere mortals and need to draw comparisons. And in no way is your playing anything like Rahsaan's. It is an annoyance to me, so it must really be a thorn for you as an artist.
MM: It does. You are like the coolest cat, Fred. You're the first writer that is so in tune to that because I've never tried and I've said this before and I even said this in the Rahsaan book that I've never tried to copy Rahsaan. I was just attracted to the tones of those horns. As a matter of fact, I'm not even playing those particular horns anymore. Now, I'm playing just a straight alto. When Kenny Garrett plays a straight alto or when Joe Lovano plays a straight alto, no one ever compares them to Roland Kirk. But because I use the horns he played and all I was trying to do was maybe keep his tradition alive, but for example, when Rahn Burton, who had played with Rahsaan and Jaki had played with Rahsaan, they never, they used to tell me that Rahsaan would be proud of me that I was continuing to play these horns in my own image. I never copied Rahsaan. Anybody with ears can hear that I've always tried to play this music in my way. And really, I am tired that the critics never say, "Michael Marcus writes some beautiful tunes. Check out the bass line he wrote for Rahn Burton." I guess I just appreciate that you have been able to have foresight. I've changed. As of now, for example, the straight tenor, Fred, that horn was never even in existence when Rahsaan was alive. It came out a couple of years ago.
AAJ: I saw Lovano play it.
MM: Right and he's not even playing it anymore. I know George Braith, who is another one of the underrated, who is another one of the underrated masters. I'm sure he had the problem back in the Sixties. But when I saw that review in Jazz Times, I thought that In the Center of it All, there was a lot more to talk about. If you read the liner notes, Rahn was right there with Rahsaan. I think he describes who I am and what I'm about. It's been a little bit of a problem for me and I appreciate your intuitiveness and foresight in that. I'm going to try and see how it goes now because I'm not going to call up the stritch no more and play straight alto or straight tenor and soprano or flute. I'm going to try some other instruments to see if we can see that there's a Michael Marcus there.
AAJ: What does it say about today's musical landscape and the muscle of critics that you are having to contemplate dropping an instrument to avoid an association?
MM: Right, exactly. I'm not really going to drop it, I'm just going to, for example, let's just say that I made a record on straight tenor, would they say that I'm playing like, Rahsaan never played straight tenor or now, I'm playing a newer stritch and so now it's a straight alto. Also, one of the problems, Fred, is that the record company will really publicize the "guy who plays the horns of Roland Kirk." So there is faults even in myself and everybody and like you said most critics have to compare you to something instead of really getting to the spirituality of the music, which is the most important thing.
AAJ: How much of an emphasis are you placing on composing and arranging?
MM: My first three albums, I did all original material and then when I got with Jaki and we did a few standards because I just thought it was the right thing to do with him because he felt comfortable doing that. But on my latest, Sunwheels, it's all back to originals. But I've always felt that some of the classic tunes have been great vehicles for improvisation. I feel that if you can go and explore it and tell your own unique story in it that it's still a way of contributing to the music, like David Ware did a record on Columbia a couple of years ago doing a lot of standards. So people do explore and go back to some of the classics and still tell it in their own image.
AAJ: Burton plays the Hammond B-3 on your last two albums.
MM: Right, I have been writing for that. I love the pillow-esque sound that Rahn plays and I connect with him real well. We met in sort of a funny circumstance. He actually called me because a friend of mine was up in Harlem at a jam session and he told Rahn that I know a guy who is looking for an organ player. So Rahn came over to my house and we played for a little bit and I knew he was hip, but again, it is one segment of my musical spectrum that I hear that. If you hear the record that I did for Soul Note, Live in New York, I was back to the old trio. I just think all group settings are beautiful. I'm not limited to just one with just a trio or with trumpet, bass, and drum. I love the pillow-esque sound of the Hammond because you can really sing over it on top of it and hear those sonic vibrations and overtones. It's a gorgeous marriage of sound.