"We are living with an attitude of gratitude and we perform that way," says Sherrie Maricle the bandleader for The Diva Jazz Orchestra and drummer with her quintet Five Play based out of New York City. Maricle is one of the most delightful and talented people that I have spoken to. She is engaging and genuinely grateful for the opportunities that have come her way. Early in her career, she kept overcoming obstacles placed in her way because she is a woman musician in jazz music. Her talent simply could not be denied.
I went to someone who knows Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra very well, the legendary Tommy Newsom (the Tonight Show, Benny Goodman, and Erich Kunzel). Newsom has worked on a number of the arrangements that the big band has performed and in 2004, the Diva Jazz Orchestra released the Tommy Newsom Tribute CD. Newsom had this to say when I spoke to him, "I was just talking to a friend of mine and saying that band plays with exuberance, with a flair that almost no other band has. I think they realize this is their shot. They give it their best every time. I have never seen anything like it."
It seems wherever Five Play and the Diva Jazz Orchestra have performed, they have drawn rave reviews from the critics for their energy and the passion with which they approach their music.
The gratitude that Maricle expresses concerning the direction her career has taken infuses both the quintet and the big band. "I think doing this as a career and having an opportunity to play in a group like Diva, to play the venues that we have been so fortunate to play all around the world (combined with) the high quality of music that we get to perform would make any musician happy," says Maricle.
She says that attitude of gratitude in addition to the various cultural backgrounds of the women who make up the group, infuses both the ensemble and the big band with energy that strikes an immediate connection with their audience.
"Our only goal is to make the audience happy. Fortunately we seem to be able to do that. The audience can tell that we truly are having a great time doing what we are passionate about, playing jazz. It reminds me a lot of films you seem of bands from the swing era. A lot of those bands seem very happy and not afraid to express that," she says.
Maricle theorizes that, "It is like when (progress) from finger painting to having your (work) hang in a museum. It is not fun anymore because now you have to make a living at it. Now it goes from fun to being professional. I don’t know if that is what really happens, but I do know sometimes when I go to listen to music, I watch no matter what is coming out of people’s instruments and voices. If they don’t look like performing, it takes something away from the whole experience. No matter how good the music is, I sometimes think, 'Gee they look like they are at their best friend’s funeral.'"
Another factor Maricle says that contributes to the tight sound on stage is the fact that the members of both Five Play and the Diva Jazz Orchestra don’t just get together for gigs, but are friends off stage as well. They hang out together in New York City. "When you get to work with the people that you love, it is a little piece of heaven on earth or heaven on the stage," she says.
Newsom says those friendships transcend to the stage performance and in his words contributes to the impact the players have on an audience. "It’s their enthusiasm and talent. They take care of business when they’re on. They have a rapport and camaraderie in that band. All of that goes together to make the music come alive," says Newsom.
Sherrie, we know the approach that you take to the music you perform, but how do you take your music away from the spotlight? "When I want to feel really, really happy, I put on something that swings. I love Oscar Peterson’s trio. I love Jeff Hamilton’s and Ray Brown’s trios. When I want to feel instantly happy, smiling and tapping my foot, I put on any of that music and it makes me feel great," she says.
Still referring to the music she listens to Maricle says, "It swings like crazy. The swing and the bounce of it is very infectious. The groove and the feel that those musicians play with is something that I aspire to every single day in my own playing. The way that they interact supporting each other’s efforts is phenomenal for me. I love that. Everything always has a slight edge of aggression to it which I really like too."
Five Play just returned (second week of November) from a tour in Ireland and Portugal. For this tour, Five Play consisted of Maricle as the bandleader and drummer, Noriko Ueda on bass, pianist Tomoko Ohno, Anat Cohen (tenor sax/clarinet) and Portuguese songstress Maria Anadon.
The tour renewed old friendships and memories for Maricle. It was twelve years ago while touring Europe that Maricle first met Anadon and earlier this year, recorded on her new CD.
In 1991, and now by her own admission, a somewhat young and naïve Maricle approached the head of the annual jazz festival at Cork Ireland, played upon her Irish roots and suggested he might want to have her perform. After listening to her music, she got a call from festival organizers and appeared in Cork performing with pianist Oliver Jones. This fall, Five Play performed at the same festival.
Five Play also toured in Japan early in September. "We played everything from the smallest intimate jazz clubs that could seat maybe 50 people to the 500 seat concert hall. They were all spectacular," says Maricle. As for the type of music Five Play performed she says, "We played stuff that really swings, with great melody and tried to make their feet tap."
While Five Play was in Japan, Maricle got to make her own snare drum during her visit to the Yamaha factory. She enthused first about the quality of the drums and then about making her own, which she took on the recent European tour. "I have really loved the drums because they have always sounded amazing. Once I saw the care and craftsmanship, it astounded me that every drum that is brought to the world market is handmade. I couldn’t believe it," she says.
"They let me make my snare drum, from picking out the wood to gluing it into the mold. It was unbelievable. It was incredible when they asked me (questions such as) what angle do you want your rib cut and do you want your snare bed sanded?" I learned by describing the different sound that I like and they explained to me how the different angles affect the sound. It was really fascinating. I made a very deep pitched drum, a very old, warmer sounding, dark and woody, acoustic sounding drum. It’s great, I love it," says Maricle.
Maricle has a special place reserved in her heart and career for Tommy Newsom. "His writing helped create the sound of our band. He knows us so well and we know his writing so well. We can say, ‘Tommy we need this and we need that,' and he knows immediately what to do to make us sound good. He is brilliant at crafting orchestrations and adding a new interesting twist to them while retaining a lot of originality for the songs," she says.
One of the band’s more memorable and spectacular tunes is "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" from the Wizard of Oz. It was at the prompting of the Diva Jazz Orchestra’s co-founder Stanley Kaye that Newsom came up with some new arrangements. Newsom says, "When that song came out it was like hitting one out of the park."
Newsom uses the word stunning to describe the Ella Fitzgerald medley that the Diva Jazz Orchestra performs. "The audiences go nuts when they hear this," he says.
Maricle says, "On our last CD Tommy Newsom wrote an arrangement for us for "Too Late Now", I love the song and I love the lyric. He wrote a spectacular arrangement. We go up to the climax near the end of the song and we all have goosebumps moments. (It is) just the way that he built up the orchestration for the ensemble. Our lead trumpet player comes in with this beautiful note and it is amazing."
Dr Sherrie Maricle has a doctorate in philosophy in jazz performance and composition earned from New York University. She hasn’t quit studying yet and is still trying to hone her craft. "Recently I have been listening to a lot of Brazilian music, in particular Ellis Regina. I am embarking on a much bigger quest to create a deeper understanding of Brazilian music. I love the groove and the feel of samba and bossa nova. I love the sound of it," she says.
"I always want to expand my musical understanding so I have CDs that I listen to from a drummer’s perspective or a composer’s perspective. (It is) music that I really like and respect because it is so different and challenging. It is going to help push me and expand as an artist," says Maricle.
If you are a young jazz artist starting out you might want to consider looking to Sherrie Maricle as a mentor.