Freedom of Expression: Interviews With Women in Jazz is available to purchase online from the ubiquitous Amazon, CreateSpace and the Jung Center of Houston. In Houston, TX, you can also pick up a copy at Casa Ramirez FOLKART Gallery.
The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive. I appreciate everyone's support for this project, especially since there are very, very few books in-print that comprehensively examine the contributions of women to the art of jazz.
(Sherrie Maricle. Photo by Bill Westmoreland.)
Growing up in the 1970s in Endicott, New York, drummer Sherrie Maricle saw several big bands in concert, including those led by Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Stan Kenton, Mel Lewis, Woody Herman, and [drummer] Buddy Rich. Hearing Rich was her first encounter with jazz drumming.
“I really fell in love with the drums when a teacher took me to see Buddy Rich and his Killer Force Orchestra,” says Maricle. “When I saw that band, I got so excited . . . I ran home and told my mother I was going to play the drums— that I loved big band and I wanted to do that. And that’s all I ever wanted to do since I was 11 years old.”
Starting in the 1940s, Buddy Rich’s big band was managed by legendary conductor, drummer, and manager Stanley Kay. Kay served as the band’s relief drummer as well, a scary position to be in, considering Rich’s virtuosic ferocity on the drums and reputation for being a tough taskmaster.
In 1992, Kay contacted Maricle about forming an all-woman big band. She was intrigued, especially since he made it clear he had no interest in dressing the musicians “in leather skirts and fishnet stockings.” Before meeting Kay, Maricle had little interest in all-women musical projects, mainly because of the way they were traditionally marketed.
“You can see in the film The Girls in the Band,” says Maricle, “that even if women were playing great, their cleavage, lipstick, hair, dresses, makeup, and high heels were more important than the music.”
Together, Kay and Maricle founded the all-women big band The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, with Maricle as bandleader and drummer. Kay managed The DIVA Jazz Orchestra until his death in June 2010. In addition to The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, Maricle also leads the quintet FIVE PLAY and the DIVA Jazz Trio. The three all-women bands have released a total of 20 recordings, including The DIVA Jazz Orchestra’s A Swingin’ Life (2014), recorded live at Dizzy ’s Club Coca Cola in New York City, with guest vocalists Nancy Wilson and Marlena Shaw.
In the following interview, Maricle describes her musical journey, from listening to big bands in grade school, to becoming one of the most highly respected drummers, bandleaders, and educators in jazz. Her many awards include the 2009 Mary Lou Williams-Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Alliance Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Arts, a Doctoral Fellowship from New York University, the 2006 New York City Music Educator’s Award for Outstanding Contributions to Music Education, and New York University ’s “Music Teacher of the Year” in 1997 and 2000. Maricle completed a Master of Arts in Jazz Performance and Doctorate of Philosophy in Jazz Performance and Composition at New York University.
Stanley Kay famously said, “Music has no gender. If you can play, you can play.” All-women music projects like The DIVA Jazz Orchestra and recent documentaries like the aforementioned The Girls in the Band have affirmed Kay ’s statement, and Maricle’s work as a drummer, bandleader, and educator continues to help frame this music as something other than a masculine-oriented art form.
When did you first begin playing a musical instrument?
I was in fourth grade, and I wanted to play the trumpet, but I was told that girls didn’t play the trumpet, so the band teacher insisted that I play a metal clarinet, which I started playing, but I didn’t like at all. And I know I didn’t like the music teacher! I was attempting to quit and he called my house and begged me to stay in band. So I did, but I also started playing the cello, and I had a great teacher; his name was Ivan Briden. So I started those two instruments, clarinet and cello, at about the same time.
When I was in sixth grade, the band director needed an extra person to play the bass drum for a piece featuring a lot of percussion, so I volunteered, and that ignited my endless love for percussion.
Did percussion speak to you in a different way than the clarinet or the cello?
I always loved watching marching bands and drummers in a parade. But I really fell in love with the drums when a teacher took me to see [jazz drummer] Buddy Rich and his Killer Force Orchestra. When I saw that band, I got so excited. I’d never really heard any jazz before. I ran home and told my mother I was going to play the drums — that I loved big band and I wanted to do that. And that’s all I ever wanted to do since I was 11 years old.
That’s wonderful you got to see Buddy Rich at such a young age.
I was born in Buffalo, but the town I grew up in was Endicott, New York. It’s in the middle of New York State on the southern border of Pennsylvania. Every “road” band traveled through town. I got to see Count Basie a number of times. Frank Sinatra came to town, also Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Mel Lewis, and Woody Herman. Road bands were still going strong in the 70s, and I saw all of them many times. It was a really great place to grow up!
Were your parents fans of this music?
My mom loved and loves Irish music and country music, so I grew up every single morning listening to Johnny Cash or the Clancy Brothers. But my parents were definitely not jazz people. So I wasn’t really exposed to it until I was in school and had teachers and like-minded friends who were interested in jazz. That’s when I really started to investigate the music is a serious manner.
Was the next step to ask Mom and Dad to buy a drum kit for you?
I did. I started out with a practice pad and shortly thereafter pleaded and begged my mom for a snare drum. She ended up at a local music store but she didn’t really know what a snare drum was. Unfortunately the music store owner sold her a half-broken, 12-inch tom-tom instead of a snare drum. I was so grateful to her that I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was the wrong drum. So I kept it and practiced on that for a while. Eventually Mom got me my first drum set . . . gold sparkle . . . to which I added my “original” broken tom-tom.
I’m sure my mother thought, “Oh, my daughter’s crazy! What’s happening here? There are no girl drummers. Maybe she’ll grow out of this phase.” But I give her a lot of credit for allowing me to [play drums] and spending her money that she didn’t really have on a drum kit. My mother was and is so generous!