Drummer Sherrie Maricle On The 3D Jazz Trio And Developing DIVA
By Gary Fukushima I Jun. 24, 2020
Once upon a time, an 11-year old went to see Buddy Rich and his big band. All of a sudden, she realized what she wanted to do in life.
Sherrie Maricle eventually learned how to play drums in the manner of her hero, and she would also end up leading her own band into the limelight. The all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra, now in its 27th year, has made Maricle something of a cause célèbre, bringing to prominence future jazz stars, including multireedist Anat Cohen and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.
At the Cleveland Playhouse in May 2014, Maricle brought some of her DIVA troupe to perform with tap dancer Maurice Hines for his musical, Tappin’ Thru Life. The rhythm section included D.C.-area bassist Amy Shook, and for the piano chair they picked up Oberlin graduate and Cleveland resident Jackie Warren. The three performers realized they had a lot in common—notably their love for hard-swinging trio music.
The three became fast friends and instant trio-mates, forming another wing of the DIVA franchise (which includes the Jazz Orchestra and the Maricle-led quintet Five Play). I Love To See You Smile—a follow-up to the trio’s debut, 3Divas—is a collection of feel-good standards and jazz-inspired hits, including the title track, written by Randy Newman for the movie Parenthood.
DownBeat caught up with Maricle, speaking by phone from her home in the Philadelphia area, to talk about the trio and how DIVA developed.
How did you, Warren and Shook become a trio?
Amy and I met a number of years ago at a workshop called Maryland Summer Jazz. We played a couple of notes together—two quarter notes in, we were like, “Oh!” We’re very close friends now, and her playing is like—I have to say my best analogy is Ray Brown. That’s how Amy makes the beat.
We were going to Cleveland in 2014 [with Hines] and we needed a pianist. I called everybody I knew in Cleveland, and they kept saying, “You gotta get Jackie Warren.”
So, I keep calling Jackie, and she didn’t call me back, but she finally did—and arranged to do the gig. Then the three of us, we started playing together and we were all like, “God, this feels amazing!” In between shows, and even before the shows, we would stay and play together nonstop. We just loved it so much, and we just decided that we were going to keep playing together.
Your trio is in the mold of the Oscar Peterson/Ray Brown model. Do you or your bandmates ever feel the pressure of living up to the impossibly high standards from those legacy groups?
It took me a really long time—and I was definitely past 50 when I started to realize this—this pressure to be what I am supposed to be. Instead, I’m trying to really focus on what is the best thing that I have to offer. What do I do? I love to swing. I could play a backbeat shuffle for the rest of my life and be happy.
It’s not coming from my intellect, it’s coming from my heart and soul. When Ray Brown came to the Blue Note [venue in New York], and Oscar Peterson—as much as I could afford—I would be sitting there every night. I was always inspired by that group and the way they played together. There was something that really spoke to me.
How’d you meet and end up working with Stanley Kay, who originally founded The DIVA Jazz Orchestra?
It’s perfect timing to ask me that question actually, because May 12 [was] the 30-year anniversary of when I met Stanley Kay.
I had a fun job with a full symphony orchestra, and then in comes Stanley Kay with the great singer and dancer, Maurice Hines; Stanley was conducting for Maurice. I’m like, “Oh, my God, that’s Stanley Kay, the man that was with Buddy Rich all those years.” For two years, I did stay in touch with him. I invited him to my gigs, which he never came to. [laughs] But he did call me up in the spring of 1992, and he said, “You know, I think I want to get back into the band business. Do you know women who play like you?”
I took that as a big compliment.
At that time, how were things in general for women jazz musicians?
I don’t know what all women were going through at the time.
There were a number of all-women groups in New York that concentrated on everything but the music. It was more about, you have to look this way. To me, it was degrading in many ways. No single woman artist that I’ve ever known in my life would have [looks] as a priority above learning the music and being reverent about everything surrounding it.
How have you seen the #MeToo movement working within the larger jazz community?
Things were happening to me [as a young woman] that were insane, like my teachers hitting on me or being spoken to with outrageous nonsense.
I was fired off a gig with Rodney Dangerfield, the famous comedian, before I played a note, because I walked in for the gig and they were like, “Oh, you’re a woman. No.” More brutal than that were the constant come-ons. I don’t know a single woman jazz musician that hasn’t gone through that at some point, whether it be via a teacher or a colleague. But women in their 20s are saying things to me and experiencing things that happened to me when I was in my 20s. I’m like, “Still, really? I can’t believe it, why?”
There’s a lot of stories now where young women are feeling empowered to say, “You know, that’s just not right on any level,” whereas I and a lot of women [of my generation] would just brush it off and forge ahead. Now, [women have] the ability to look someone square in the face and say, “Stop it! If you wouldn’t do it to your male colleague, you will not do it to me.”
Can you reflect on how becoming an advocate for women in jazz has impacted your life and career?
I think I became an advocate by default. Now, I’m actually much more aware in that regard. I really like giving women artists an opportunity to perform. Any place we go, young women—and much older women—have been in tears, [saying] “We never thought that we would see women playing like this.”
In Atlanta, specifically, the head of the theater where we played said to me, “There’s no women that play like that; there’s no women that play jazz here.”
For some reason, at this point in time, which was 2014, that made me so angry. I felt my face—have you ever gotten so mad, you felt your cheeks flush? So, from that point, I was going to unearth every opportunity to help every woman who plays their ass off as much as I can for the remainder of my career. Because still today, in 2020, people still don’t think that women can play traditional jazz instruments. It’s crazy.
Do you ever wonder how your life would have been different if Kay hadn’t called you?
No one’s ever asked me that. Also, that night, besides meeting Kay and Maurice Hines, I met Skitch Henderson, who was the primary conductor [for that show]. He hired me to play the symphonic pops orchestra in New York; it has a regular season at Carnegie Hall. I’ve been in The New York Pops for 30 years. All that happened on May 12, 1990. I feel like that was my night, for some reason.
DIVA … literally, that band has been half of my life. Man, now you’re going to have me thinking about this for the rest of the day. DB