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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo via Okay Player

In an article entitled “Five Drummers Whose Time Is Now,” Ben Ratliff of The New York Times describes the drummer Marcus Gilmore’s style with the following phrase: “it sounds natural and never looks easy.”

The winner in the “Rising Star Drummer” category of this year’s DownBeat Critics’ Poll, Marcus is one of the music’s most in-demand drummers. He has already toured the world as a regular member of some of today’s most important jazz groups, including Steve Coleman & Five Elements, the Vijay Iyer Trio, and the Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio, and has performed with countless other luminaries including Chick Corea, Ravi Coltrane, Nicholas Payton, and many others.

Marcus got his start on the drums as a child under the mentorship of his grandfather Roy Haynes, “jazz’s most important living drummer” (The New York Times). At fifteen, the drummer began to work with Steve Coleman, who he met through his uncle, the cornetist/trumpeter Graham Haynes. Before graduating from LaGuardia High School, Marcus had already internalized the saxophonist’s complex and highly personal language well enough to perform in Five Elements, and had also joined the quartet of the pianist-composer Vijay Iyer.

Marcus has a busy few months ahead. He’s heading out next week with Vijay Iyer, both in the usual trio setting as well as a special sextet performance featuring the saxophonists Steve Coleman and Mark Shim as well as Graham Haynes. After returning to the city, Marcus will be recording a duo album with the pianist David Virelles, and then turning his attention to a new group that Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke are putting together for a run at The Blue Note. Then there’s more traveling with Vijay and a live DVD shoot with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who apparently has “some things up his sleeve for this recording.”

All of that sounds sounds typical for the drummer, but come December, he has the makings of a new experience on his schedule: a two-week trip to Ghana:

[Going to Ghana] represents a lot to me. I’ve been to Africa three times, but I never got a chance to spend a significant amount of time there. I really wanted to just be there without having to do anything. I chose Ghana because there’s this connection between Ghana and a lot of African Americans in America. Also, I’ve heard that there’s a significant connection between Ghana and Barbados too, and I have a lot of family from Barbados. I’m also aware of some of the musical history there, which is pretty amazing, and Ghana is definitely one of the most politically and economically stable countries in Africa, so that’s a plus. I would love to go to a place like Congo, but I figure that, since it’s my first time going by myself, I should probably go to Ghana.

While in Ghana, Marcus plans to keep his options open and see where the experience takes him. He hopes to “do some research on the music, and check out what life is like there,” and also plans to visit the slave castles.

Marcus has performed at The Jazz Gallery innumerable times since he was a teenager, and we commissioned him as a part of our 2007 Composers’ Series (you can watch a video from the concert here). This Friday and Saturday, we are very excited to welcome Marcus back to our stage with Ether, a new group with a lineup that has yet to be set in stone.

Both nights will definitely feature the pianist David Bryant, who Marcus has been playing with since the drummer was in junior high, when they met in the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College program. Marcus explains, “I remember doing recordings with him when I was still in junior high school with him and [the bassist] David Wong for demos and stuff, because David Wong was still going to LaGuardia. So I’ve known David [Bryant] since ’99, or something like that. So I don’t have to tell him anything!”

Marcus’ engagement this weekend will also most likely include appearances from the bassist Stephen Bruner (also known as Thundercat). Once David was confirmed to play, Marcus shifted his attention to the bass:

I didn’t really want upright, and I didn’t want straight up electric either, I wanted something that would be kind of in between. Then the Brainfeeder [NYC takeover] was announced for next week, and it was the perfect opportunity to get Thundercat. I was thinking he might be here, because we talked about it the last time I saw him, so I was like, “Let me ask him if he’s gonna be around.” But he’s always so cryptic! [laughing] It’s funny – if we talk on a regular basis or I send him a text about some silly stupid thing it’s all good, but then once I start asking questions about gigs, things start getting real cryptic real fast. So, I think he’s doing it!”

These upcoming gigs have also given Marcus a chance to think about recording, another new endeavor he feels like he needs to tackle soon. What can we expect from a Marcus Gilmore album? Nothing is set in stone, but the drummer gave us some hints:

I know I want to get Miguel Atwood-Fergueson on some of it, but I guess everybody is doing that these days! But what I’m doing…you know, it’s a different thing [than what he usually does], and I’m definitely looking forward to having him be a part of that. Maybe for the recording I can get all of the people together [that I was thinking of reaching out to for these gigs] (the list includes Lionel Loueke, Thundercat or Tarus Mateen, David Virelles or David Bryant, Val Inc., Graham Haynes). But I think I’m going to start slowly. I might do it piece by piece; an EP or something really short, but substantial for now. I have no desire to put out a full length album or anything like that. I want to pay a lot of attention to the sonics – to the textures of it. There are so many things that you can do with recordings, but people usually just deal with playing.

On the subject of what we can expect to hear this Friday and Saturday, Marcus plans to keep things open ended:

I had been writing some music, and I wanted to do all of these things, but, typically, with people’s schedules and everything it ends up being a problem. I don’t want to write something and then not [have it turn out] the way I really want. So I think it’s going to end up being the same kind of thing as the Blue Note [Spontaneous Construction series], because I trust all of the musicians and they are some of my favorite musicians. I think it might just be best to just play, and see what happens.