In conversation with marcus strickland
by Jared Pauley
You were born in Miami, right?
What year were you born in?
Oh! That was 1979.
I was reading that your dad was a drummer.
Yeah, he was a drummer. A classical percussionist mostly and he played the trap set.
Wow, a classical percussionist. What kind of styles did he focus on that were non-classical?
He was doing all kinds of R&B and things like that. He was also a jazz drummer, a great jazz drummer. He had some chops too. There are very few jazz drummers that I hear these days doing a press roll thatís flawless. And heís one of the few cats that could do that [laughs]!
Yeah, yeah. No doubt.
But, now heís a lawyer. He got smart [laughs].
Heís a lawyer now. Now heís making money, right?
Uh huh, exactly.
What kind of law does he practice?
Heís practicing criminal defense.
So you were around eleven or twelve when you started on the alto?
When did you decide to switch to tenor?
When I realized that all of my heroes played tenor. And I also started to realize that all of my favorite alto players approached the alto like a tenor
What kind of stuff were you into during your adolescence, teenage years? Who were you digging?
I started out with Charlie Parker, which was the first person I got enlightened to. . . . My dad was playing the music around the house. But it wasnít until I picked up the instrument that I startedÖ
Really digging in, finding the roots.
Were you learning solos and things like that with Bird?
Yeah, my band teacher. He noticed that my brother (E.J.) and I were extraordinarily interested in jazz because we had been exposed to the stuff from the womb. We didnít even know what it was but our palette was much more open than the kids around us. They were kind of like, ďIím a rock head." "Iím a rap head.Ē
And growing up in Miami in the early Ď90s you were exposed to everything from 2 Live Crew to Cuban music to whatever.
With that place (Miami) being such a melting pot, were you taking in kinds of music other than jazz?
Oh yeah. It actually comes through my compositions. You know like, youíll hear some Haitian rhythms, some Cuban rhythms, some 2 Live Crew up in there [laughs].
Both of us being hip-hop heads, I grew up listening to people like Herbie Hancock just as much as I did DJ Premier and Boot Camp Click. How do you feel about hip-hop making its way into jazz?
I think itís cool and I think that people need to stop trying to police it because theyíre going against the natural flow of things. Jazz is a . . . Iíve said this many times in interviews but jazz is a sponge. You know. It both absorbs and extracts.
I couldnít agree more. Jazz has absorbed everything from Latin music to classical music.
Yeah, I donít see any reason why we uhÖthereís a lot of purists out there. You know. Theyíre like; ďWeíve got to keep it pure.Ē The stuff never was pure [laughs].
The jazz police are alive and well. Thatís the unfortunate part [laughs]. So, 2006 was a big year for you, right?
You were on Roy Haynesí Fountain of Youth and it was nominated for a Grammy. How was that, learning from Roy?
Itís the best situation that any musician could be in no matter what age. It was a great experience and I absorbed every minute of it.
The first time you played with him what was going through your head?
You know, it was the same reaction when I first started playing with ďTain.Ē
With Jeff ďTain" Watts?
Yeah, a lot of those things that I heard on those records all those years. To hear them played back at me when Iím soloing, you know, I kind of pause and kind of like snicker because I heard that on Chick Coreaís record. Whatís the name of that record?
Oh, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs [a Chick Corea album featuring drummer Roy Haynes].
Yeah, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Like I heard that on that record or I heard that on that Sarah Vaughn record [laughs].
You were voted Jazz Times Best New Artist in 2006, right?
Yeah, I was very surprised to get that because Iím not on any major label or anything.
You know, it seems like thereís a second groupÖI donít want to call it another group of Young Lions. But in the early 1990s, you had people like Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau doing their thing. Now you have people such as yourself, your brother E.J, and people like Stacey Dillard that are starting to do their own thing.
Itís a much different time then when they came up. When they came up people were getting signed left and right. The minute they got off of the plane they were getting signed to Columbia. Itís a different time and itís kind of good in a way because itís allowing us to formulate ourselves a little bit more before making it big and stuff like that.
Yeah, the idea of developing your sound and paying your dues. Maybe that was the problem with some of the Young Lions. And you donít hear about them anymore.
I mean that was the last real height of commercial jazz. So with your new album Open Reel Deck, the live set, E.J. plays drums on that, right?
So playing with E.J., Iím sure people ask you this a lot but you guys have an interesting bond?
Iím not sure if it has to do with the fact that weíre twins but itís probably has more to do with the fact that we started music at the same time. We listened to everything at the same time.
Regardless of your sibling relationship.
Yeah, if he was my cousin, or even my friend or my enemy [laughs], if we had done the same things we had done at the same time, I think we would have that same bond!
We talked earlier about hip-hop. Obviously like a lot of other cats, youíre experimenting with different kinds of music, the spoken word thing, you know?
Itís a really nice thing. I knew I was onto something when a certain festival calls me up and theyíre like, ďWeíd love to hire you guys. The musicís great but could you lose the rapper.Ē I felt like trying to break it down like with the rappers, every single syllable is on the beat.
So your new album came out on your label Strick Muzik. Is this the first release for the label?
Itís actually the third release because the first release was a double CD Twi-Life.
I see, technically itís the third release.
Yeah, itís a great thing. Iím glad that I did it in the first place.
You have plans to venture out, when the moneyís right, and seek out new talent?
Oh yeah definitely. If I can get to the point where I can pay for other artists, great. If I can get another artist thatís willing to pay for their own thing and put it out under my label, that would be great too. I can do all of the paper work and everything. Itís a great thing. My brotherís actually going to release an album on Strick Music. Itíll probably be by either late this year or early next year.
Cool, youíve got some good things to look forward to this year. The money these days, being an artist on the indie scene, is the key. So you play with Charles Tolliverís band some and you played with the Mingus band.
The Mingus band, how was that?
Itís a great band. Itís filled with all of these stellar musicians. Every time I go there thereís a different combination of guys on the stage and different interpretations of Mingusí music. It keeps you on your toes.
Mingus is definitely alive in sprit.
I know Sue Mingus is involved with the band. How hands on is she?
Sheís always the one who calls each band member and puts the band together for that week. Sheís keeping it alive.
Oh man. Iím very excited. I just started up a new trio and weíve been playing some gigs here and there around the city. What I want to do is play with these guys for a while before we record. Itís a different playing field. We donít have a chordal instrument.
Thereís no guitar or piano.
So whoís playing bass and whoís playing drums?
Itís Ben Williams on bass. Heís a young bassist out of D.C. Heís just phenomenal. Heís great. My brotherís on drums and when my brother canít make it I use Justin Brown on drums.
Well, Marcus thanks for your time. Itís been great interviewing you and weíll be speaking soon.