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Meet Marlon Martinez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marlon Martinez.

Marlon, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It all began when I was about 7 or 8 years old… My parents play all kinds of classical and jazz music around the house during Christmas. I remember my parents played a Berlin Symphony Orchestra recording of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, in rotation with Harry Connick Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas album. I remember feeling the rumble and bounce from the bass lines on those recordings, particularly Ben Wolfe’s playing on Harry Connick Jr.’s album. These gave me a lasting thirst to find out what instrument made that sound. My parents showed me photos of the double bass (upright bass) standing next to the other members of the violin family. I was impressed by the size of the bass and I knew that drawing pictures of upright basses wasn’t enough for my craving– I had to get my hands on one! My dad surprised me one day with a real bass he picked up from his friend’s music shop. The instrument was so large I had to stand on the bedside to hold it up! My obsession for bass led me to presenting a cardboard instrument for an art demonstration in kindergarten. I remember the first bass performance my parents showed me was a Herbie Hancock Trio VHS with Billy Cobham on drums and Ron Carter on bass. Ron’s elegance and dedicated bass playing was exciting to watch. I was influenced by music, but I would say that the music bug really got me some years later.

Music runs deep in my family. My father, Nigel Martinez, is a songwriter and producer from England. He was the only UK producer signed to Motown Records and produced Billy Ocean’s Nights (Feel Like Getting Down). His output in 70s/80s British Funk, R&B and jazz-fusion led him to work with legends like Barry White, Paul McCartney, Herbie Hancock, and Maurice White from Earth Wind & Fire. Nigel was Al Jarreau’s first drummer to tour Europe with him, while he was known locally as Nigel Wilkinson. He played drums on pop songs like “I Believe In Miracles,” “Kung-Fu Fighter,” and Marvin Gaye’s album In Our Lifetime. Nigel’s recent work on Light Of The World’s Jazz Funk Power has brought a resurgence in UK funk-disco. My mother, Josie James, is a Grammy-nominated vocalist from Los Angeles. Her professional debut was a solo feature on Patrice Rushen’s “What’s The Story,” which soon led to her international debut on Stevie Wonder’s seminal Songs In The Key Of Life album with her lead soprano vocals. She was an original member of The George Duke Band and recorded extensively throughout George Duke’s career. She’s on countless projects with titans like Quincy Jones, Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, Whitney Huston, Al Jarreau, Jazz Crusaders, BB King, and for over 25 years, she’s shared the spotlight with Burt Bacharach as one of his key soloists. She gets a standing ovation after virtually every performance of “Anyone Who Had A Heart.” My sister, Marlyse Thayer, is a violinist who plays with the San Diego Symphony along with her husband, Jeff Thayer, the concertmaster of the symphony. My wife, Rachyl Martinez, is a violist and Suzuki certified educator whom I met at Colburn Conservatory.

I grew up around my parents’ session life and backstage adventures, and I’ve witnessed many of those standing ovations my mom receives around the world. I thank my parents for exposing me to all kinds of deep music from Hendrix, Hancock, Hubbard, all the way back to Haydn! But music wasn’t something they required I pursue because of the harsh realities as a working musician in a pretty competitive field.

I had my mind set on becoming an animator. I was interested in traditional pencil-paper animation, and I dreamed of working for Disney Animation Studios. I later grew discouraged by CG animation and felt a little ‘old-fashioned,’ but music came calling as soon as I entered middle school when I was 11.

There were no bass players at my school for the first two years, so I volunteered to switch from violin to bass. My teacher, Linda Price, gave me an instrument for free with a method book, and that was it– I had to figure it out myself. It didn’t matter to me because I was playing along to acoustic jazz CDs at home, particularly big band music from the swing era. It was strange because I was the only one in my family that gravitated towards Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and others from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. I wasn’t grooving to the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock quite yet– that came later. But the contagious dance beats from the swing era built my bass playing, and I developed an obsession for walking bass lines. It might be because my grandmother, Ellen James, danced the Jitterbug and Lindyhop back in those days, hanging out backstage with people like Louis Armstrong. The orchestrated textures of the big bands also resonated with me, especially the saxophone sections. It was a sound I picked up in the old cartoons and movies from that era when I studied animation as a kid.

My enthusiasm for jazz bass and big band led me to help form the middle school jazz band at my school. I taught myself how to play while playing bass for both string ensembles at their seasonal concerts. Things really started progressing for me once I came to high school. When I was 14, I watched the bassist Brian Bromberg give a set at the bass shop Lemur Music in San Juan Capistrano, and I was blown away by his dexterity. His bass growled and had a liveliness that influenced me. One of my basses I play to this day is modeled after the Italian bass I watched him play that evening. I decided it was time for me to develop my technique with serious training. So I began studying privately with orchestral bass instructors who not only built my technique from the bottom up but really created my bowing chops and introduced me to the world of classical music. I especially thank Christine Allen and Douglas Basye for the knowledge they shared with me. They both introduced me to the masterful bassist and composer Edgar Meyer, who influenced my playing profoundly.

Most young black people of my generation grew up listening to hip-hop, rap, R&B, and other popular music. So much had changed in art and culture, so I felt a little out of place listening to older jazz, and especially European classical music! But I knew I loved these things deeply and I needed some direction in life.

It all changed for me at age 15 when I met Stanley Clarke. The iconic virtuoso bassist and film composer broke out into the 70s jazz-rock scene with Return To Forever. He became the first jazz bassist to headline tours worldwide, sold-out shows, and he won 5 Grammys. My dad took me to see his band play the Long Beach Convention Center. I saw Stanley do things that I’ve never seen on both electric and upright bass. The band was electrifying! They traveled through jazz, funk and rock, with a screaming audience that often bounced in their seats to their grooves. Near the end of the show, Stanley pulled out his upright bass for a solo feature. He started out with a lyrical, flamenco guitar-like interlude which demonstrated beautiful bass chords with a warm sound and a bluesy atmosphere. Then he turned up the heat by popping the strings and drumming the bass, bringing out all kinds of colors I never heard before. I wasn’t used to this because I was listening to walking bass and swing music. But I immediately observed that there was more to learn about personal expression and possibilities in jazz beyond traditions. Watching Stanley Clarke lead the band outfront with the bass in a way that let the bass shine and still preserves its role in the group never left me. I had to meet him, so my dad snuck me backstage and I had the chance to get his autograph. He signed an album of his, Rocks Pebbles and Sand, from 1980. My mom sang on that record and Stanley was glad to discover that I was an aspiring bassist.

About a year later when I was 16, my parents took me to NAMM and I bumped into Stanley again. This time, I asked him for a bass lesson. I said I wanted to learn how to play jazz and get better at bass. I was awestruck when he said yes! Next thing I know, I was playing a blues for him in his home. He taught me jazz scales, walking bass line shapes, then he sat down with his acoustic bass guitar and jammed with me. Then he assigned homework for “the next lesson!” I think he took a liking to what I was trying to say through jazz and the bass, and he saw I had developed some solid classical techniques at that point. We kept meeting outside of school whenever he wasn’t on tour. He introduced me to bebop, modal, fusion and beyond– all styles and concepts that influenced my approach to the bass. Most of my homework assignments were conceptual things that have taken me years to develop and appreciate much later. I went to see him and Chick Corea play when Return To Forever had their reunion tour in 2008. That really opened my ears to modern playing and jazz fusion. Stanley encouraged me to join a band and start learning songs, write my own music, and get gigs among so many other things. I have always looked up to Stanley as a black role model because he created a career that was revolutionary and celebrated internationally. I admired that he was also classically trained in a rigorous orchestral conservatory, which was groundbreaking for black Americans. He always encourages me to explore my classical lyricism with the bow in my compositions, and he inspired me to deepen my understanding of classical music by getting into a prestigious college.

Throughout high school, I was Principal bass in our top string orchestra class, and I played in various after school groups including the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra and a local jazz group led by my longtime friend, Kevin Homma. Every year in high school, I premiered a new upright bass solo for the orchestra program’s annual spotlight feature. One of my compositions, “Where DEM Biscuits At?” became a mainstay in my instrumental sets to this day. Meanwhile, I was studying privately with Los Angeles Philharmonic bassists Dennis Trembly and Oscar Mesa to prepare serious symphonic music for college auditions.

I entered a whole new chapter of my life when I got accepted into the bachelor program at the prestigious Colburn Conservatory of Music. This internationally acclaimed conservatory in downtown Los Angeles is highly competitive, offering full scholarships to a student body of around 120 a year. I honestly felt I wasn’t cut out for Colburn due to my devotion to jazz. But I played honestly and with feeling, and it turns out I was just what they were looking for! From 2009-2015, I was fully immersed into the classical field, playing in front of some of the greatest faculty in the industry; each educator has their own illustrious performance career. Special guest visitors while I was there included Gustavo Dudamel, James Conlon, and Edgar Meyer, to name just a few! Being at Colburn gave me skills I never had before and a love for the masters in classical music. I trained under two phenomenal orchestral bassists: Leigh Mesh from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York City, and Peter Lloyd from Philadelphia Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra. Leigh coached me at the noteworthy Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland for two summers, where I performed with celebrities like Charles Dutoit, Valery Gergiev, Yuja Wang, Mischa Maisky and others. I was only 18 when I first joined in 2010, one of the youngest, and I had to sound like everyone else who was in their 20s and 30s. I had a great time in Switzerland, learning insider tips and a taste of party life… but I felt I needed to slow down and pursue other needs in Los Angeles.

My jazz output throughout Colburn was scattered but started finding its place. It happened in 2009 when I first met my longtime friend, pianist Isaac Wilson, who was studying with Jeffrey Lavner at Colburn’s high school division, Colburn School of Performing Arts. Isaac and I began playing duets together at on-campus recitals, scholarship auditions and private gatherings. We developed a consistent musical chemistry and he introduced me to so much of the evolution of jazz from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. I owe a lot of my musical development and ‘ears’ to Isaac. I learn from him to this day when we play! Over time I got to meet Isaac’s colleagues in the high school jazz division at Colburn, and new musical connections began.

The first jazz compositions of mine I wanted to try publicly were “Jazz Marlonius,” “Fay,” and “Biscuits.” Those were played when I began booking my own gigs after school, including Matsumoso’s 2nd Street Jazz (2nd Street closed and became the Wolf & Crane Bar) in Little Tokyo. Eventually, Colburn Conservatory caught on to my jazz endeavors and has hired me as their main-call jazz contractor for private gigs around LA with my bands labeled The Jazz Marlonius Trio.

Major professional connections sparked when I successfully re-entered Colburn Conservatory for my master’s program. I began playing with Mike Garson, who not only was David Bowie’s longtime pianist, but he also played with jazz heavyweights like Freddie Hubbard, Stan Getz, Elvin Jones and Stanley Clarke. Mike mentored me and gave me wonderful opportunities to work up and down Southern California. I was featured at the debut of his Symphonic Suite For Healing at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in the spring of 2014.

I got a call out of the blue from Stanley Clarke while I was starting my master’s program. His “good friend,” Stewart Copeland — the drummer and founder of The Police — was looking for a rising upright bassist, equally adept in classical playing and improvisation. He required that I groove and read complex music for an eclectic, classical-rock band called Off The Score that he formed with celebrated concert pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Stanley recommended me to Stewart, and I nervously called him from my dorm at Colburn. I couldn’t believe I was about to say YES to Stewart’s job offer: a promo concert that fall, followed by a spring tour around the US. Days later, Stewart invited me over to his home studio, The Sacred Grove, to record some bass lines as sort of an audition. I was still in school, but I wanted to get myself out and tour! Thanks to my teacher Peter Lloyd, who was very encouraging of my experiences, I joined Off The Score and still graduated with my Master’s degree in 2015! Together with electronic valve instrument (EVI) pioneer Judd Miller and violinist Yoon Kwon from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Off The Score rocked the classical canon in big concert halls and classical chamber festivals around the US and Canada. Our version of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring is definitely my personal favorite! Up until 2017, we’ve played Ottawa Chamber Festival, 21C Music Festival, and Orcas Island Chamber Festival. As a separate gig, I performed alongside Stewart Copeland at Long Beach Opera to promote his 2018 opera “Invention of Morel.”

By the time I joined Off The Score, the internationally acclaimed French group Quatuor Ebène was giving their artist residency at Colburn, where I first saw them perform. Not only was their string quartet interpretations masterful, but their sudden shift into jazz arrangements of Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter — with improvisation– blew my mind! I just had to play with them, as I realized this kind of stylistic blend was what I’ve been looking for all this time. I befriended them and arranged after-hours jam sessions when they weren’t coaching the conservatory students. We hit it off immediately and in the summer of 2015, Quatuor Ebene hired me as their bassist to tour Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany, playing jazz arrangements. I visited Europe again in the summer of 2016 at the Gstaad Menuhin Festival and Academy in Switzerland where I played with Quatuor Ebène alongside Stacey Kent. I also got to premiere my first composition for strings, “Jazz Impressions For String Orchestra, No. 1” at Festival du Haut Limousin in France.

By 2017 I felt it was time to record some of my favorite compositions I wrote back in the Colburn days. I was ready for a solo album, produced by my dad, and I turned to my friends, alumni from the Colburn School jazz division: Isaac Wilson on piano, Jacob Scesney and Aaron Blumenthal on saxophones, and Cam Johnson on drums. I was humbled when Stewart Copeland and Judd Miller both agreed to make a special appearance on the album, so I wrote a jazz-rock jam for them. “HD” not only showcases the iconic Copeland drum sound but offers an other-worldly performance by Judd Miller with his synthesizers and EVI. We released my debut album Yours Truly in 2017 with a CD release at Blue Whale, the prominent jazz club in Little Tokyo.

There was this streak of huge opportunity that definitely felt larger-than-life. But soon after the album release, I had no tour bookings, no album reviews yet, and it was time for me to build my career locally and get my album off the ground myself. While freelancing in orchestral and jazz circles, I found passion for teaching. I coached music programs around Capistrano Unified School District and collaborated with the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. I took film and TV sessions as well; one of my favorite experiences was playing on Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville, Season 2. I played with the San Diego Symphony as a substitute bassist, and I used my classical training to apply for orchestral-salary jobs. I took auditions in and outside California, but the traveling and competition lifestyle was draining physically and financially. No jobs were offered to me at that time.

An opportunity to lead a big band in 2016 turned into a resurrected dream of mine: I wanted to start my own big band and learn to compose for it. So I took local lessons from Joey Sellers at Saddleback College, a great mentor of mine, and I applied to jazz college programs for the first time. I felt ready to take on school life again, this time for composition. I was relieved when I got accepted into New England Conservatory of Music and Manhattan School of Music, but the chances of maintaining financial security after graduation was slim. There was no guarantee of work, even with successes with Off The Score and Quatuor Ebene. I also intended to marry Rachyl Duffy, now my wife, who was living in New York City at the time. I wanted to take responsibility for myself, hustle and create connections from the ground-up. New York City was definitely calling me.

Around 2018, I took my first private lesson with legendary bassist Ron Carter. The 2015 Guinness World Records documented Ron as the most recorded jazz bassist in history, and he made international fame as Miles Davis’ seminal bassist of the 1960s. I wanted to learn from the master whom I first saw on VHS as a kid, and he offered to teach me if I moved to New York City. I saw that I could learn jazz ‘from the source’ and live in the city were game-changers in jazz frequent to this day. I was ready to schlep my bass across subway platforms and the streets in the freezing chill of New York winters and the blazing heat of New York summers.

Moving to New York City in 2018 as a freelance bassist gave me the opportunity to really find what matters to me in life and music. While studying with Ron Carter, I was getting playing experience with seasoned jazz artists like Antoine Roney, Gerry Gibbs, Donald Vega, and Mark Johnson. One highlight was when I shared the stage with Ravi Coltrane at Gerry Gibbs’ Thrasher People CD release of Our People. Another highlight was playing with the Kojo Odu Roney Experience at Blue Note NYC, and Nicolas Payton sat in. I worked with many phenomenal millennial artists, and some of them were featured in my own shows, both in New York and in Los Angeles. I began a frequent collaboration with dancer Emily Chamberlin, and we composed a duet Open Gate, where we fuzed bowed bass with modern dance choreography. I learned life lessons from the new friendships I made with other artists traveling similar journeys as mine.

I wasn’t willing to close off my connections in Los Angeles, so I was living bicoastally for a time. I established my big band, Marlonius Jazz Orchestra (MJO) in LA, and we had amazing turnouts with sold-out audiences and a debut at Laguna Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters in 2019. Back in New York, I proposed to Rachyl Duffy and intended to spend more time in New York in 2020… until COVID-19 hit and Rachyl and I hunkered down in California.

2020 has been a difficult year, with job loss left and right. The music industry has tanked, and all my gigs in New York are gone, but some light is shining through the tunnel now. During this pandemic, Rachyl and I got married in June and we shipped our items out of New York. I eventually secured a faculty position teaching bass at CSArts San Gabriel Valley, and I took on socially distanced gigs with Martin Chalifour of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and an upcoming Neo-Baroque ensemble Kontrapunktus.

In July, I became a proud recipient of the Colburn School’s New Venture Prize, which offered me funds to perform the music of the unsung jazz legend Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn’s music always moved me, and his output behind the scenes for the legendary Duke Ellington Orchestra is impressive. I grew interested in how he’s a quiet game-changer in American music, who faced racism, homophobia and loss of recognition in order to express his art freely. Even more promising, Colburn School hired me as an artist-in-residence for their 2020-21 Amplify Series, which serves to celebrate the art of people of color. Next year, I’ll be giving lectures and performances about Billy Strayhorn’s life and music, and the Marlonius Jazz Orchestra will get to record our first album at Colburn! With projects in the horizon and a new change of pace, I feel ready to take major leaps into the next chapter of my life.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’m 29 now and looking back on the start of my career, I’m awestruck by the way things began! I believe that I’ve been Blessed with opportunity and doors yet to be opened. But there were obstacles along the way that felt like setbacks at the time but have actually helped define my path and influence my artistic decisions.

When I was in the bachelor program at Colburn Conservatory, I was falling in love with classical music while struggling to find energy to study and perfect my jazz playing. When I got into the rhythm of curriculum and performance requirements, I lost some sight of what inspired me to play music in the first place: jazz, improvisation, and original compositions.

Various pressures made me think I had to prioritize financial gain over musical passions. Auditioning for a high-salary symphony orchestra was that priority, even though it takes a lot of commitment and audition experience before winning a position. I admit that I spent a lot of hours working out my jazz compositions on the piano, which would have made valuable practice time for auditions. I’ve taken many fun auditions, and I had some successes I’m very proud of! But I also learned that you can’t stuff down personal expression. You have to make time for the things you love in order to maintain balance in life. Those passions also give you renewed energy for the deadlines that might feel like obligations at the time.

I was well aware that all of my jazz colleagues were studying jazz in colleges and conservatories. They were getting weekly tutelage from faculty and guest coachings I was missing as a devoted classical student. Many young jazz artists today get recommended for gigs, grants and festival exposure through college connections. As a result, there was a lurking insecurity that I had something to say with jazz that wasn’t always going to be heard because I just wasn’t in that scene. This of course isn’t always true, and I decided to counteract this insecurity by doing what it takes to get my music out there myself.

Excelling my solo career outside of big names and big gigs has been an uphill process. My last appearance with Off The Score was in 2017, and I struggled to feel accomplished by my own efforts, even with occasional plugs from noteworthy names. I was promoting my debut album Yours Truly without all the marketing tricks I learned later.

I’ve felt the need to stand out, just as much as I’ve felt the need to fit in with certain trends. This was certainly true when I moved to New York City. There were work experiences where I was told to play the bass and feel the music one way– or else I wasn’t being an authentic jazz bassist. I discovered that despite the evolution of jazz, there are many who obsess over one approach being the right way to carry forth this artform. There are even debates about the usage of the word ‘jazz,’ due to its negative historical and marketing implications, and how a black artist like myself is supposed to present this art. A lot of what I heard, and tried musically, is contrary to my artistic aspirations and the ways my mentors showed me! What gets me through are the historical records, the traditions, my mentors, and the intuition to connect all these elements.

Can you give our readers some background on your music?
My current project is the Marlonius Jazz Orchestra (MJO). We’re a new, 17-piece big band established in Los Angeles and we’ve stirred up some attention across SoCal. Marlonius Jazz Orchestra features some of the finest millennial artists, and the band is the current outlet for my compositions. We pair the masters of jazz with my original music on an equal plane. My compositional influences have been Billy Strayhorn, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones and Duke Ellington. The MJO also acts to raise awareness of the legacy of Billy Strayhorn by presenting and interpreting known and unknown Strayhorn gems. I get to wear multiple hats as music director, including contracting, conducting, and playing bass for the band.

I believe many things set us apart from other young bands. Marlonius Jazz Orchestra has the ability to present new music and the classics with an equal, raw energy that all our audiences appreciate. The heart of that energy is unfiltered spontaneity and trust, which is at the heart of jazz. I strive to compose music that echoes tradition but has scope and emotional depth. I want unexpected musical flavors while going after the groove or hook that gets all levels of listeners engaged in the evolution of a song. I present the bass in the foreground of the music, which is a bold move but in the lineage of the jazz bass-bandleaders. I alter that experience with bowed, classical bass explorations.

None of our shows would come to life without the stellar lineup of band members, who bring their enthusiasm and camaraderie. They are millennial jazz performers who are consummate professionals in multi-genre collaborations. They are essential to propelling today’s popular music, whether that be in festivals, TV and film productions. Members have collaborated with artists such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Stanley Clarke, Kanye West, Kamasi Washington, Danilo Perez, Arturo Sandoval, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Billy Childs, Christian Scott, Natalie Cole, John Beasley, Al Jarreau, The Eagles, Michael Buble, Ulysees Owens Jr., Lizzo, Jerry Bergonzi, Ariana Grande, Bill Holman Big Band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bernard Fowler, Kesha, Eric Reed, Barry Manilow, George Garzone, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Simon Phillips, John Patitucci, Seth MacFarlane, Usher, Seal, Diane Reeves, Terri Lyne Carrington, Bob Mintzer Big Band, Meghan Trainor, Jon Faddis, Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Postmodern Jukebox, Ebi, Verdine White, Pharrell, Casey Abrams, Joey Sellers, Mike Posner, Jacob Collier, Esperanza Spalding, and Glenn Miller Orchestra. The cool thing is all of them can teach too, and they hold private studios as well as faculty positions. ​

Big bands tend to appear to the general public as a museum piece, an academic study, or just large loud bands that meet for drinks and kicks in casual, underpaid settings. Others who appreciate big bands tend to follow the headlining singer, instrumentalist, or big names in the entertainment industry. But right from its maiden voyage in 2016, the Marlonius Jazz Orchestra has packed or sold out venues across Southern CA including Feinsteins at Vitello’s, Blue Whale, Ambassador Auditorium, and Laguna Beach Festival of Arts & Pageant of the Masters. The MJO has featured guest performers Mike Garson, Josie James, Bernard Fowler, Teryn Ré and Jake Chapman. The band is preparing for its debut recording in 2021, introducing new music and a millennial tribute to Billy Strayhorn, endorsed by the Billy Strayhorn Foundation.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I’m thankful for key figures who’ve helped me realize my path.

My wife Rachyl Martinez is a virtuoso violist and educator, also trained at the Colburn Conservatory, and Suzuki certified at the School For Strings in New York City. Rachyl has loved my growth and creations all the way since we met six years ago. We’ve been through a lot together and she’s always been there for me, bicoastally too. I will never forget when she flew out to Los Angeles overnight to surprise me the day the Marlonius Jazz Orchestra sold out for the first time. She’s encouraged me to express my feelings on life, spirituality and music with authenticity.

Like Stanley Clarke, Patrice Rushen and the late George Duke both encouraged me to embrace my classical training as a strength that accesses my abilities and knowledge about music. John Clayton later summed it up well to me: “the more you know, the more tools you have.” John’s experience and positive outlook has motivated both my bass playing and pursuits with big bands.

I’m also very grateful for Joey Sellers and his resources on scoring for big bands. He showed me traditional approaches and helped articulate the musical shapes I was trying to communicate by diving into my scores up close with his evening rehearsal band at Saddleback College. I learned so much from those sessions, and I admired his desire to reveal my musical personality, not someone else’s personality, through my work.

I’d like to thank Billy Strayhorn’s family heirs for welcoming my Strayhorn big band tribute ambitions with enthusiasm. Alyce Claerbaut, Strayhorn’s niece, is President of Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc. and Galen Demus, Strayhorn’s nephew, is on the Board of Directors for Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc. They have supported me all the way and Galen’s efforts to supply resources for me has given me total encouragement!

I’m very thankful for the band members in Off The Score and Quatuor Ebène for entrusting the bass position to me, even when I was still a student at Colburn. They’ve given me the chance of a lifetime to see beautiful places around the world, playing high-level music that not only is uncommon but has required my utmost precision and unfiltered creativity!

My teachers from Colburn Conservatory have spread the word about my journey within the school, which in turn has kept me involved with their community. Peter Lloyd has been so supportive of my cross collaborations. He let me program my jazz compositions into each graduation recital I gave at Colburn, and he introduced me to professional opportunities and great bassists on the scene. Paul Coletti always emphasized seeking out my path, regardless of how different it appears to everyone else, and the importance of maintaining balance in life.

My lessons with “Maestro” Ron Carter in New York City amplified my awareness of bass playing and professionalism. I always returned to Los Angeles reformed after playing for him. He taught me to supply the bandleader their needs without sacrificing my own needs. Being an influencer on the bass while making the band sound great is the goal. Another master in New York, Donald Vega, gave me lasting words of wisdom: “Keep your head straight, and keep your Faith.” My self-care and Catholic faith has preserved my determination to strive even when life gets challenging and when the hustle seems pointless.

My friend Brandon “Kou” Massey is a writer,  filmmaker, and is my main photographer and videographer. We met in high school but only began making music videos and promos over the past 5 years. I love that he captures the communal action onstage in my bands, as well as the physical work it takes to be a performer. His attention to detail, experimentation and enthusiasm for my individuality has been continual motivation for my art.

None of this would have happened without my parents, Nigel and Josie, who passed on the gift of music to me. They’ve invested in my art and education and it’s because of them I got to meet masters George Duke, Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder, Stanley Clarke, Patrice Rushen, Ndugu Chancler and others. We have a natural musical chemistry together and I look forward to sharing the stage with them after the pandemic is over!

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Image Credit:

Kou (Brandon) Massey, Toshi Sakurai, Jacob Ross, Steven Maddox, Martin Chalifour

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