Drummer Douglas Marriner, originally from London, is based in New York – full biography HERE. His music choices in this lockdown interview are marvellously eclectic and wide-ranging…
First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”?
I grew up surrounded by my father and grandfather’s vast classical music collections, but my mother had Pat Metheny records playing in the house from as early as I can remember. I was very lucky to have incredible music and musicians floating around, and joined many of my dad’s tours with the London Symphony Orchestra as a child. I was always fascinated with improvisation and the drums beckoned me in as the drummers seemingly occupied the dual roles of conductor and composer simultaneously. So my first pocket-money jazz purchase was Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Live at Olympia, from the foyer record shop of the Royal Festival Hall. The exuberance, joy and passion of their performance overcame the challenging recording quality. The growling and yelling on stage suggested jazz musicians were actually allowed to have fun and show it too – the propulsion and integrity of Blakey’s time feel is undeniable.
What are you listening to right now?
My dad recently re-introduced me to Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu’s recording of Mozart Sonata for 2 Pianos in D Major and the Schubert Fantasie in F Minor. Their touch is breathtakingly exquisite, especially in the Andante of the Mozart – there’s a stillness and beauty that defies belief, it’s some of the most sympathetic musicianship and artistry I’ll ever hear.
I’ve always admired Aaron Parks’ melodicism and storytelling craft, so his new record Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man (review by Jon Turney) has been on repeat. I’ve also been diving into some of my favourite orchestral repertoire, including Scriabin’s Symphony no. 2 and Henri Dutilleux’s The Shadows of Time – an apt soundtrack for these times. Bobby Timmons’ Trio – In Person is effortlessly elegant and swinging (how I miss the Village Vanguard), and the discographies of Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ahmad Jamal, Bill Charlap and Tigran Hamasyan are always close by.
Have you done or watched any livestream gigs/events since lockdown?
The duo livestream of my old friend Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner in March was very powerful. I saw them live at the Village Vanguard with her Quintet a few weeks before the lockdown, and there was already an ominous feeling around New York that life was imminently about to change for everyone. The club was packed and the performance was simultaneously heartbreaking and life-affirming – goosebumps, tears, everything. Sullivan Fortner paints the most vivid imagery and subplots at the piano with an infinite musical imagination, and Cécile is simply one of the great voices of any time. It’s one of life’s great privileges to experience artistry at that level.
I’ve also enjoyed online performances by pianists Fred Hersch and Tigran Hamasyan, whilst Wynton Marsalis’ interview series Skain’s Domain has provided some fascinating insights as well as a regular dose of motivation.
Most memorable incident/event in your career or education?
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living, studying and working in New York City for a decade now, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to surround myself with incredible mentors and colleagues. At Juilliard, Wynton Marsalis was our Artistic Director, and he sent our ensemble out to tour internationally and teach masterclasses, including performing with Makoto Ozone at the Tokyo Jazz Festival, and sharing the bill with Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and our own ensemble coach Kenny Barron.
Over the last 18 months I’ve been performing with Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks Orchestra, which is one of the most demanding and musically rewarding gigs anywhere. No rehearsals, ever, and literally thousands of 1920s and 1930s pieces to sight read and perform on vintage instruments. On one of my first gigs, mid-tune I heard the ominous clink of the rusty bass drum spur hitting the floor beneath the drum riser, the huge 27.5” bass drum with 4 cymbals and “traps” table attached started to cartwheel anti-clockwise off the stage. To avoid decapitating the brass section, I had to catch and hold it in one hand, whilst sight-reading a tricky vibraharp, snare and woodblock part with the other hand, disaster narrowly averted.
What are you most looking forward to once this is over?
Aside from the obvious social factors, and to get back to playing live music – I can’t wait to set foot in my favourite jazz clubs and to being moved by organic sound again. There are some existential challenges that the clubs are going through, especially in NYC where the rents are astronomical anyway. I’m thinking particularly of Smalls Jazz Club and Mezzrow in Greenwich Village, a legacy which Spike Wilner has built and is the musical lifeblood of New York musicians. Also, the Village Vanguard, Jazz Gallery, 55 Bar, Dizzy’s and Smoke and in London Ronnie Scott’s, The Vortex, Kansas Smitty’s and the smaller musician-run nights. I’m concerned that the avalanche of free livestreams may further devalue the arts, making it even harder for musicians to survive in the long run, especially considering the jazz club is the least socially distanced scenario imaginable! Sir Simon Rattle recently said something along the lines of “musicians are the essential workers of the soul” – I can’t wait for us all to be able to start that work where it will surely be more meaningful than ever.