Mar­i­lyn mazur

Drum and per­cus­sion star on play­ing in the mo­ment

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - WORDS: DAVID WEST PHOTOS: JULIE TORRISSEN /NI­COLA FASANO / KURT RADE

When Rhythm catches up with Mar­i­lyn Mazur she’s in Copen­hagen and on the verge of vis­it­ing Lon­don with the Makiko Hirabayashi Trio as part of the Sounds Of Den­mark con­cert se­ries: “I’m up to so many dif­fer­ent things that I’m al­most dizzy!” she says.

Born in New York and liv­ing in Den­mark since she was six, Mazur leads mul­ti­ple bands of her own – in­clud­ing her 11-piece all-fe­male big band Sha­ma­nia who are play­ing at Lon­don Jazz Fes­ti­val – and has per­formed along­side jazz heavy­weights in­clud­ing Miles Davis, Jan Gar­barek and Wayne Shorter.

An in­tensely mu­si­cal player, whether on drums or per­cus­sion, Mazur was nei­ther a drum­mer nor a jazz mu­si­cian orig­i­nally. “When I grew up I was play­ing clas­si­cal pi­ano,” says Mazur, who stud­ied at the Royal Dan­ish Con­ser­va­tory. “At that time, I had been play­ing so much pi­ano, I was like, ‘I can’t be a clas­si­cal pi­anist so I have to think of some­thing else to play!’ And that’s ac­tu­ally when I started play­ing per­cus­sion and drums. I think a lot more as a pi­anist than as a drum­mer.It’s a big part of my ap­proach. I don’t lis­ten to mu­sic from a drum­mer’s ap­proach, more as a com­poser.”

When Mazur de­cided the pi­ano wasn’t go­ing to be her life’s calling, she was al­ready lis­ten­ing to jazz but that wasn’t the only fac­tor pulling her to­wards the drum­set. “I had been danc­ing a lot and I was think­ing, ‘The drum is a nice phys­i­cal in­stru­ment where you use the whole body,’” she says. “The first band I made, where I was play­ing pi­ano and com­pos­ing, I was look­ing around and no­ticed there were no fe­male drum­mers at that time in the early ’70s. I was think­ing maybe I should try that and see what comes out of it. At that time, you couldn’t even study jazz so the rea­son I was at a clas­si­cal con­ser­va­tory was be­cause that was the only op­tion. That was a rea­son to stop fo­cussing on the pi­ano. I didn’t know at the time that this would be what filled my life, but I just chose clas­si­cal per­cus­sion be­cause then I could do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

From the start of her ca­reer play­ing the marimba in the 1970s, Mazur has built up a daz­zling ar­ray of per­cus­sion that she de­ploys ac­cord­ing to the de­mands of the gig. And this all feeds into her com­po­si­tional, melodic ap­proach.

“Through my life, trav­el­ling around the world, I’ve con­tin­ued col­lect­ing,” she says of her arse­nal of in­stru­ments. “I’m a real big col­lec­tor, I’ve col­lected lots of bells and gongs and strange sounds. I can’t stay away from mak­ing per­cus­sion set-ups and hav­ing lots of sounds to play on. It’s just be­come a nat­u­ral part of my uni­verse. With the Makiko Hirabayashi Trio I nor­mally don’t have so much with me be­cause we travel a lot. We try to be a flex­i­ble group so that it’s not too much work to travel around with, so mostly I play on a nor­mal drum­set and only have some bells and a kal­imba with me, small stuff. But with my own groups, typ­i­cally I make these very big set-ups.”

THE AURA OF MILES

Mazur’s big in­ter­na­tional break­through came when she was in­vited to play with Miles Davis in 1985. That led to her play­ing with Gil Evans, then Wayne Shorter, be­fore she re­turned for a sec­ond stint with Davis in 1989. Mazur plays per­cus­sion on Davis’ 1989 re­lease Aura but from the dawn of the 90s she de­cided to fo­cus on her own writ­ing with her group Fu­ture Song. “With Wayne Shorter I was on tour with him for nine months in all and, well, of course we played some great con­certs here and there, but it was never re­ally a tight group, whereas with Miles it was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter,” she says about that time of her life. “I played in two dif­fer­ent groups with Miles Davis, about a year each. And, of course, he had se­lected who to put to­gether, which didn’t nec­es­sar­ily form a group that re­ally felt re­lated and loved each other. You see, with my groups I like to have the feel­ing that it’s a fam­ily and that we re­ally like each other and can com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cally al­most. I like that very much and that’s dif­fer­ent to when you have a very strong leader that puts the groups to­gether. But Miles was such

“I think a lot more as a pi­anist... I don’t lis­ten to mu­sic from a drum­mer’s ap­proach, more as a com­poser”

“I start with some kind of vi­bra­tion, a mood or feel­ing and try to cap­ture it in a melody or fig­ures of some kind”

a strong leader that he some­how could man­age to make it a strong group – al­though it was him mak­ing it strong more than the way we in­di­vid­u­ally fit­ted to­gether.”

In the 1980s Davis was hugely pop­u­lar, play­ing mas­sive sta­di­ums around the world and ex­per­i­ment­ing with tak­ing con­tem­po­rary pop songs and try­ing to turn them into jazz stan­dards. “We would play ‘Hu­man Na­ture’ and ‘Time Af­ter Time’,” says Mazur. “The Miles mu­sic that I’d been re­ally into was the mu­sic of 69,’ some of the ’70s with the more mys­te­ri­ous kind of vibe, that’s the mu­sic I grew up with and the mu­sic I re­ally love, so when I was in his band, it was much more pop and groove-based. It had moved on from the mu­sic I was ab­sorbed by. It took some work for me to get into it, but it was a great chal­lenge and I re­ally learned a lot from him.”

As for the con­trast be­tween play­ing in a sta­dium or an arena, ver­sus dark, smoky jazz clubs, Mazur says they both have their ap­peal. “I love play­ing in small in­ti­mate places but I also like play­ing for big au­di­ences be­cause you get all this en­ergy from peo­ple, which re­ally brings you to a full con­cen­tra­tion,” she says. “But on the other hand, it’s just dif­fer­ent. Play­ing in small clubs, you’re also re­ally con­cen­trat­ing be­cause you’re close to peo­ple so in that way you’re also re­act­ing more to the in­di­vid­ual peo­ple sit­ting close to you.”

GOOD VI­BRA­TIONS

Mazur re­leased her first al­bum as band­leader, Mar­i­lyn

Mazur’s Fu­ture Song, in 1992 and main­tains a pro­lific out­put to this day. She’s re­cently recorded Sha­ma­nia’s de­but al­bum in Nor­way, and there’s a new al­bum with the Makiko Hirabayashi Trio due in early 2018, to which Mazur con­trib­uted sev­eral songs. “Some­times, I start with a rhythm but mostly I would start with some kind of vi­bra­tion, a mood or feel­ing and try to cap­ture it in a melody or in fig­ures of some kind,” she says about her ap­proach to com­pos­ing. “I’m re­ally into fig­ures and as an old pi­ano player I of­ten work at the pi­ano.” But there’s a dif­fer­ence in writ­ing for or play­ing in a trio ver­sus a large group, like the eight-piece Fu­ture Song and the 11 mem­bers of Sha­ma­nia. “Of course, leav­ing room for the mu­si­cians is a big part of the way I work be­cause when I’m com­pos­ing I’m al­ways think­ing of who I’m writ­ing for and giv­ing them space and let­ting their in­di­vid­ual qual­i­ties come out in the mu­sic,” she says. “Nat­u­rally, big groups take a lot more work both in com­pos­ing for them and all the prac­ti­cal mat­ters to take care of. Com­pos­ing is some­thing that takes up a lot of my con­scious­ness. I re­ally am into writ­ing mu­sic. The trio is also very much in the fam­ily busi­ness, think­ing we’re all equal in a way and we al­ways re­act to each other and play to­gether. It’s not like a pi­ano trio where she is the soloist and me and Klavs [Hov­man, bass] are comp­ing in that sense. On the other hand, play­ing in a trio with an acous­tic pi­ano means that you have to hold back a litle, from my point of view, be­cause the drums can be re­ally loud so if I was just play­ing full power like I do in some groups, that would be too much. But then again, it’s a col­lec­tive group so we’re all play­ing to­gether not only in the mu­si­cal sense but also in the kids sense that we’re re­act­ing and fool­ing around a bit in-be­tween.”

Work­ing in Jan Gar­barek’s band, of which she was a mem­ber for 14 years, Mazur says she came to un­der­stand the con­cept of hav­ing a di­a­logue with your­self when tak­ing a solo or comp­ing the other mu­si­cians. “I guess that’s also a big part of the way I play, I’m a re­ally cu­ri­ous per­son so I’m al­ways re­act­ing to what I hear in the mu­sic spon­ta­neously and also re­act­ing to what I play my­self. That’s where the di­a­logue comes into it, so it’s a cu­ri­ous­ness and tak­ing chances is some­thing that I think is im­por­tant in mu­sic: that you dare dive into it and let go of all your prej­u­dice and the set parts of the mu­sic be­cause I think mu­sic has to be alive in the mo­ment and have the vi­bra­tions of the mo­ment as a part of it. So I think tak­ing chances and the will­ing­ness to be free and cu­ri­ous are re­ally im­por­tant for me and for the mu­si­cians I choose to play with in my groups.”

Mar­i­lyn: “I can’t stay away from mak­ing per­cus­sion set-ups and hav­ing lots of sounds to play on”

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