Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Ehrlich, Marty, Alto, Soprano, and Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet and Bass Clarinet, Flute, and Composer; b. St. Paul, Minnesota, 31 May 1955. He grew up Louisville, Kentucky (from age of one) and started on clarinet at age 7 at a summer band program. When he was 10 his social-worker parents moved to the integrated and politically conscious St. Louis suburb University City. He picked up the sax in junior high, playing in the band and studying with members of the St. Louis Symphony. A weekend arts program introduced the eighth grader to dramatist Malinke Elliott, who was a founder of the Black Artists Group (BAG). Elliott gave him records by Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler; Ehrlich's sister brought home Eric Dolphy's "Alone Together." He became involved with the alternative poetry scene, and began improvising music to poet's readings. He began performing with saxophonist Jim Marshall and his Human Arts Ensemble, which included Oliver Lake, Charles "Bobo" Shaw, Lester Bowie, and J.D. Parran. He also performed in St. Louis' jazz clubs with guitarist Marvin Horn and trumpeter David Hines. Oliver Lake and especially Julius Hemphill became mentors. Soon jazz overwhelmed his classical training, and Ehrlich went from being a key member of the school orchestra to being asked to leave rehearsal after making three mistakes in a row. He was studying Coltrane records as well as Dolphy, John Gilmore and Pharoah Sanders.
Rejected at first by the jazz program at the New England Conservatory of Music, he entered the classical department as a clarinetist, then the next fall got into the jazz department, where classmates included Jerome Harris, Ricky Ford, Michael Moore, Fred Hersch and Anthony Coleman. He had private lessons with Joe Allard. By his third year, he was in both George Russell's and Jaki Byard's big bands, as well as Gunther Schuller and Ran Blake's third stream department. He also worked locally with guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson, and with saxophonist Stan Strickland. In 1977 he graduated with honors (he was the first first Jazz major to win NEC's medal for outstanding achievement; he received an Outstanding Alumni Award in 1992), and at the beginning of 1978, he went to N.Y. to move in with Tim Berne, a fellow protege of Hemphill. His first New York gig was with Hemphill and John Hicks, for family day at Hicks's father's church in Harlem. His first year in New York included many performances at the Village Vanguard with George Russell's Living Time Orchestra, and a west coast tour with Chico Hamilton. He made his first European tour that year with Anthony Braxton's Creative Music Orchestra, joining this ensemble a few days before the tour. Later in 1978, he would tour Europe with Charles "Bobo" Shaw's Human Arts Ensemble (opening the Antibes Jazz Festival for Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman), and with George Russell. He played with Hemphill, Lake, Anthony Davis (including the N.Y. City Opera premiere of "X" in fall 1986), Leroy Jenkins (on bass clarinet), John Lindberg, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wayne Horvitz, Bobby Previte, John Carter, Roscoe Mitchell, Jack DeJohnette, George Gruntz, and John Zorn. He also accompanied dance classes for twenty-five to thirty hours a week, taught private lessons, and did weddings and parties. In the 80s he settled in the East Village and became active in the so-called downtown New York scene around the Knitting Factory.
His own trio in the 80's consisted of Pheeroan Aklaff and Anthony Cox. In the mid 80's Ehrlich formed two performing ensembles, his Traveler's Tale quartet with Stan Strickland, and his Dark Woods Ensemble, featuring his clarinet work with cello and bass. He began touring America and Europe with these ensembles, and recording his compositions with them. He also began performing with Wayne Horvitz and Bobby Previte in their ensembles and as a member of the New York Composer's Orchestra.
In the 90's, Ehrlich began to be commissioned increasingly as a composer, by the New York Composer's Orchestra (who recorded his "After All"), the Boston Jazz Composer's Alliance, the New York String Trio, and others. Mid-90s premieres include String Quartet No. 1, commissioned by the Lydian
String Quartet and "Bright Canto," commissioned by pianist Ursula Oppens. He received commissioning grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer.
In 1990, Julius Hemphill asked him to join his newly formed Sextet, which would perform extensively over the next 5 years with Hemphill's saxophone opera "Long Tongues", and tour with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. After Hemphill's death in 1995, the Hemphill Sextet continued with Ehrlich as musical director. In 1995, he and his wife had a second child just before he underwent successful surgery for a persistent larynx condition. Also in 1995, he toured Europe with Don Grolnick's octet including the Brecker Brothers, and played at the Knitting Factory in a quartet led by Braxton on piano.
He played saxophone in Anthony Braxton's piano quartet, while Braxton played piano. He began a number of collaborative musical ensembles, recording duos with Muhal Richard Abrams, Mike Nock, and Myra Melford, and trios with Mark Dresser and Andrew Cyrille (C/D/E) and in 1998 Relativity with Michael Formanek and Peter Erskine.
In 2000 Ehrlich began performing with the Andrew Hill Sextet, and continued working with Bobby Previte's ensemble. He also toured Europe extensively with his piano quartet, Craig Taborn, Michael Formanek, and Billy Drummond. In 2002 Ehrlich was an artist in residence at Harvard University, composing an hour long work for 23 musicians called The Long View. He has taught at the New England Conservatory and at Hampshire College.
As leader or co-leader:
Welcome (1984); Pliant Plaint (1987); Traveller's Tale (1989); Emergency Peace (1990); Side by Side (1991);Can You Hear A Motion? (1993); Just Before the Dawn (1994); New York Child (1996); Live Woods (1996); Light at the Crossroads (1997); Open Air Meeting (duo with Muhal Richard Abrams; 1997); Relativity (1999); Sojourn (1999); C/D/E (2000); Malinke's Dance (2000); Yet Can Spring (2001); Song (2001); Julius Hemphill--One Atmosphere (2003); The Long View (2003); Line On Love (2003)
As Sideperson (selected):
C.B. Shaw and Human Arts Ensemble: Under the Sun (1973; Ehrlich's first recording); Michael Gregory Jackson: Gifts (1979); Ed Wilkerson: Eight Bold Souls (1986)
The Nation, March 11, 1996, Marty Ehrlich, by Gene Santoro.
"Not Your Same-old Song", by Ed Hazell. Jazziz.
Highway 61 Revisited, by Gene Santoro (Book)
Complete discography by Patrice Roussel:
"A Fireside Chat With Marty Ehrlich", Fred Jung. AllAboutJazz.com
Can You Hear a Motion was honored in The New York Times and Billboard 1994 Top Ten List, Musician's Top 40 CDs and The Village Voice The Year's 10 Best Jazz CDs. Just Before Dawn was cited in Billboard's 1995 Critics' Choice and CD Review's Best of the Rest in January 1996.
The Jazz Journalist Association named him Clarinetist of the year in 2003 and in 2004 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in music composition.