Monday, August 20, 2012

Marcus Strickland Interview

Marcus Strickland and his quartet kick off a heavy week of music at the Blue Note tonight. We caught up with Marcus to discuss his musical upbringing, how he approaches leading his band, and why he enjoys playing with his brother.

Tell us a little bit about how you got into music and when you decided you wanted to make it your living.

Music was always playing in my household, thanks to my father. And there was only one classification of music in our home, GOOD music. My brother and I wore holes into the backseat of our parents Toyota because we were always bobbing our heads to Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Parliament, etc... So it wasn't a surprise that we, at the age of 11, chose band as our extracurricular class. From the moment my band teacher introduced the saxophone I was in love with how it looked and sounded. The joy that filled my heart after two weeks of blowing hard to finally produce a sound was so profound that I think right then and there I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Football, car designing, and track all fell to the side because they had no chance against how much music compelled me.

Talk to us about the musicians who will be joining you on Monday evening. How did this group form? What makes these musicians special to play with?

I couldn't have asked for a more fitting band. Our sensibilities are quite compatible, and that's what I felt when I first met each of them on the New York City scene (Exception: I met my brother in the womb, LOL). We are all musicians who developed a sound that is outside the vacuum of limitations. At times I feel we all form a quite dynamic sampler of world music. My twin brother, E.J. Strickland, is an extremely versatile drummer. He is immediately able to shape and propel each piece from the first time he plays it, and it doesn't hurt that he is an amazing songwriter too. David Bryant's piano playing is provocative and sets the mood of any given tune we are playing. His ears and rhythmic flexibility make his sound the perfect environment for my sound. The bass is an instrument that requires a groove master at its helm, and that is what Ben Williams is. He always makes the bass lines I write into his own manifestation with incredible creativity. We are all rhythmic boxers on stage, jabbing n' ducking at spontaneous occurrences - playing with these guys is guaranteed fun for all.

Discuss your approach as a bandleader. On your bio it states that you try to adhere to Art Blakey’s saying, “Leave the band alone!” How does this influence the way you compose and arrange for the group?

When writing a song or rehearsing my band, I always try to leave room for each person's personality and ability to shine. I don't like to instruct and if I do it's very minimal. I just make sure I get incredible musicians, and I trust that whatever they don't understand immediately (which is rare) they will eventually hook up on the bandstand or in the studio. I want all of us to shine, my concept is not self-serving. This is what I feel Art Blakey meant when he said "Leave the band alone". Art also felt that if the band doesn't make any mistakes the music is being played too carefully, so I adopted that approach to band leading as well.

How is it playing with your brother? You are both band leaders and play in each other’s groups. Do you each contribute compositions and arrangements to both groups or does it depend on who is leading?

Ever since E.J. and I first started playing music we were experiencing the same thing with each other. We often played duo, sax and drums, while growing up - so it is not a surprise that both of us are very rhythmic and interactive with each other and all others. Every now and then I play a tune of E.J.'s in his band that I feel would fit with my band too. So I sometimes ask politely if I could add choice songs of his to my band's repertoire, very rarely though. Despite our blood connection we have different yet compatible approaches to songwriting and band leading.

What are your plans for the upcoming future? Any new records or collaborations we should know about?

There's a whole lot in store for my audience and those who will join the fun. I have plans in the near future to revive my Twi-Life project with a very fresh approach and some special guests. Every project I do is of course the most up to date version of me, so I am always exciting to get it on wax, plastic and bytes. My latest recording with my quartet Triumph of the Heavy, Vol 1 & 2 has a whole pile of music on it - 2 discs, 17 tracks. So, my output has always been extremely generous. I also have plans to showcase my skills as a producer now that more opportunities are arising. Many great things on the horizon, you'll see!

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