Marcus Strickland - banging a Fifer's drum


Jazz musicians visiting New York to pay homage are quite commonplace. For a New York-based musician to be attracted by Scotland, because it’s the birthplace of one of his favourite players, is a bit rarer.


This, though, is the case with Marcus Strickland, currently one of the hottest young saxophonists on the New York scene. When Strickland learned that he was coming to Edinburgh Jazz Festival, his first thought was that he would see where Joe Temperley comes from.


Temperley, from Fife, settled in New York in 1965, quickly became established as a top baritone saxophonist, and still works at the highest level with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. "He’s definitely one of my heroes," says Strickland. "Not many people can play baritone like Joe."


It was a saxophonist playing at the opposite end of the range, John Coltrane and his famous soprano appropriation of My Favorite Things, that inspired Strickland to take up the saxophone at the age of eleven.


"We used to hear lots of music growing up in Miami but when I heard that track it was the first time I was really conscious of the saxophone," he says. "I wanted to be a musician from that point."


Starting on alto, he was playing Charlie Parker solos within a year. He and his identical twin brother, drummer E.J., practised together all the time – E.J. still plays in Marcus’s band – and the pair went to a high school where the focus was on performing arts.


"It was like creative competitiveness and that turned out to be really good because it really made you concentrate," he says. "I’d see these seniors and think, Why should they get all the solos in the school band – and all the girls, too?"


His first professional gigs, a residency at a small local restaurant, gave him priceless experience at fourteen.


"It was just a trio - saxophone, bass and drums - and having no piano, I really had to get the juices flowing," he says. "I had to keep it interesting for me because if I couldn’t keep myself interested, I could hardly expect the people listening to be interested. So that taught me a lot."


Joining legendary drummer Roy Haynes’s band taught him even more.


"Roy’s amazing. When you look at the people he’s played with – Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker through to Chick Corea and Kenny Garrett – that’s an incredible reach. Other musicians might have been around as long but they’ll usually have played in the same band or the same style. But Roy has moved with the generations. His versatility really taught me about being a musician, as opposed to being a jazz musician."


Strickland’s own style draws on the music around him – including rap – as well as jazz’s history. He cites the jazz club scene from the latest Spiderman movie as an all too popular misconception.


"Jazz is always portrayed as being played in smoky dives to a bunch of lowlifes and druggies," he says "And people might believe that until they see what’s actually going on out there. My favourite audience reaction – and this has happened quite a lot – is when people come up and say, I didn’t like jazz until I heard you guys."


From The Herald, July 2007



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