GC: Would you say that playing with Cassandra is probably your most steady, high-profile gig?
MS: Yeah, and I got a lot of mileage out of that gig.
GC: This was over ten years, right?
MS: Yeah. I first did a gig with her in 1995. I subbed for Brandon Ross and then in 1996 I did my first tour with her. But prior to that I did a couple of record compilations with her. And then it just kind of went on, on and off, for the next 10-15 years. I learned a lot of stuff playing with her - I developed a lot of stuff. My slide playing, playing in alternate tunings with her, accompanying, more different styles of music from playing with her. Using different sounds, textures, and effects, because she was always open to experimenting and trying new things. One of the great things about her is that she was always open to that and, like Jack, didn’t want the same thing every night. She was looking for something different, and even off the tour I was always investigating new sounds. What new sounds are happening, what can I develop? So it was good. All of that stuff with the tunings, and the slide guitar - I had been working on, but Cassandra’s gig was the vehicle for me to develop it. I remember this saxophone player in Chicago met John Coltrane, and he asked Coltrane what he could do to improve his playing and Coltrane simply said “get a gig.” (laughs) Get you a gig!
GC: That is so true.
MS: I found no matter how much I practice, which is good, there’s still something about playing, when you interact with people and the tempo is swirling around, you get into real time instead of metronomic time. Things change, and you have to make the adjustment. It puts up your chops a little bit, if you’re open to listen.
GC: I think about it sometimes, I compare musical interaction to if you go to a party or something. Or you’re having dinner conversation. How can you practice going to a party?
GC: That’s really interesting. So to my knowledge, you have one record as a leader. Do you have aspirations to do more as a leader, so that we know more about you?
MS: Yeah I would like to, it’s just a matter of time and leader. One of the problems of being a journeyman is time. Your fellow colleagues are journeymen too, and you’re trying to get them together and in the studio. And writing takes up a lot of time, you have to kind of be in it. Sometimes I come up with ideas on the road, and I develop it, and other times tunes write themselves. So I plan on trying to put out a few more things. I have enough music to put out two or three more records. The tunes aren’t necessarily great, but I’m constantly writing and trying to work stuff out. I never even envisioned myself having a band until somebody asks me what my music sounds like. So I started writing, and Jerome Harris has been in my band since it started, and it’s a great ensemble. Joe Barbato, Rachelle Garniez, Satoshi Takeishi, and Jerome Harris. I love that group. And it’s an ensemble. I didn’t want to do the whole Concerto concept, it’s definitely a group with a particular sound. So yeah, hopefully something else can happen, we can go into the studio and record again. We haven’t explored all the possibilities. All the people in the band can do so many different things and it needs to be on wax or mp3, or whatever you call it.
GC: So your next project would be that band. Do you have any inclination to do something kind of orchestrated, more compositional - I had to say classical, but more composed?
MS: Maybe. I’ve always felt myself doing the more composed stuff, because I always wanted to do soundtrack stuff. Or if I was commissioned to write something like that. But yeah, maybe. The more music I learn, I begin to start hearing things, and if I want more specific parts, like a string quartet or string section then yeah, it’s possible. Sure.
GC: And you want to start playing more piano?
MS: Yeah, for a long time I’ve been using piano more as a device to steal ideas. To me I can just very well not play piano and just go to the store and get a record and check out what someone did, but it’s something different when you’re actually playing that music and you can manipulate it. What if I play this? What if I take the middle voicings, and make them louder than the high voices? And you start to hear new things, the little tricks the composers use. A friend of mine suggested that maybe I start doing some accompanying. Classical accompanying, but I want to get into the jazz playing, more jazz piano. I’ve been hanging out with Barry Harris every now and then, and checking out other people’s approaches, trying to get the whole background and history. I know chords and stuff, but I need to know not just these chords but the scales that go with these chords, how they move. The voice leading, not getting lost and finger-tied. I know what to play, I just need to learn how to play it.
GC: That’s interesting because the stuff you play classically is, to me, as much or more technique than you would need to play jazz. That’s about as much chops as I have, to play that Debussy.
MS: I don’t know about that! You know what it is? To me it’s kind of like - I keep making these analogies - it’s kind of like baseball. When a baseball player gets into a slump, people say “man somebody needs to say a particular thing to him to have him get a different appraoch when he steps up to the plate.” And sometimes that’s all it is, you have to change your way of looking at stuff. Maybe I need to do that with piano technique. Because now I work out fingerings and learn these etudes. I have the speed and the agility that I could do the jazz stuff, but there are other things. I just have to figure out, figure out a different way of looking at it. I watch Jack play piano and I think “oh, this is how he moves his hand over” and stuff. So I think I need to hang out with you, just watch piano players do their thing and then that would probably give me more of an idea on how to get around that.
GC: Probably what you should do is get a gig.
MS: Yeah exactly! There it is!
GC: That’s how I learned!
MS: Dig that. Can you recommend me?
GC: (laughs) I’ll see what I can do. It’s interesting because you talk about baseball. I haven’t followed baseball in many years but when I was a kid I was an Orioles fan, living near Baltimore. My father was one of those diehard Yankees fans. I used to go out in a little field on my street and pretend to play by myself. I was on the Little League team. That’s interesting that you said you were left-handed. What did you want to do, pitch?
MS: Well I wanted to be, like every other kid when I growing up, an outfielder. I liked playing shortstop but I’m left-handed. To me it was an exciting position. What ended my dreams of playing baseball was when I didn’t make the high school team. And guess what that coach said? “If Marvin had tried out as a pitcher, he would have been on my team.” That was the thing that I was good at, I was a good pitcher, but I hated it! And part of the problem is that no one was teaching me how to throw the ball. I was throwing the ball with my arm, my elbow was getting messed up. Nobody was telling me how to throw it. I remember the Chicago Cubs pitcher Ray Burris on one of those programs saying “if you’re a fifteen-year-old kid, you shouldn’t be throwing curveballs, you should be throwing fastballs and change-ups. He said “your arm isn’t developed enough to be throwing that stuff.” And one of the best pitches in baseball is the change-up. If you have a good change-up, that scares the hell out of the batter. If somebody has a good change-up, that’s scary. If somebody would have taught me the basics of pitching instead of just throwing a ball and using my body, maybe I would have been doing something else. Because I was good at it, but I hated pitching. I hated it!
GC: What a shame. I tried to be a pitcher, I think there was just one game where I hit a bunch of batters. I think I had pretty good speed, but I would just choke. I was a catcher for a while but it was hard to find a left-handed catcher’s mitt. So we’d have to drive to New York and look around for one. I sort of just got into different things. But yeah when I was kid I thought maybe I’d play baseball. That’s interesting.
MS: Yeah, the Orioles beat the Sox in ‘83. That was a good team.
GC: Well that was the last time - when was the last time the Orioles were good? The 80’s?
MS: Yeah in ‘83 they took everything I think...I can’t remember. I know they beat the White Sox 3-1.
GC: That was when Earl Weaver was manager, and you had Eddie Murray, Mark Belanger, Jim Palmer.
MS: Eddie Murray man...I would just cringe every time he came up to bat. I was like “aw, shit.”
GC: Since then I haven’t been to the new stadium...Camden Yards? But I used to go to Memorial Stadium a lot, see double headers, but then I just fell out of it, got into a different thing. Alright, I can’t think of any final questions, but this is plenty!