What do you do when Chick Corea asks you to memorize an entire concerto? If you are Marcus Gilmore, NY-based drummer extraordinaire, you roll with the punches, memorize the music and use the experience to evolve as a musician. GIlmore, who has played with everyone from Nicholas Payton to Wynton Marsalis, and quickly make a name for himself in the New York scene, gave us a few moments of his time to talk about having Roy Haynes as a grandfather, learning under Steve Coleman, and playing gigs in Brazil. We swear we aren’t jealous.
Where are you from and how did you get your start in music? Your upbringing has been lucky in that your grandfather Roy Haynes is a living jazz drumming legend. Can you speak on early memories of catching Roy playing at shows and how this has influenced you?
Yes, I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to come up in a musical family. My grandfather is probably my biggest inspiration these days. My earliest memory of watching him perform was at a jazzmobile concert at Grant’s Tomb in harlem. I particularly remember seeing the band and feeling of strong energy coming off the stage and going onto the stage from the crowd. This was essential for me because it was the first time that I realized the way music can strongly effect people in so many ways.
Can you talk about your relationship with Steve Coleman and what he has shared with you musically?
I met Steve when I was 15. I’ve been working with him on and off throughout the years and I can honestly say that he’s one of the most dedicated musicians I know. He’s always expanding. A lot of people see him as just a great musician. But I’ve always seen him as a great teacher in addition to being a great musician. He’s helped to teach me one of the most important things that a musician can learn which is how to learn in music.
What was it like to go to LaGuardia School of Music. What was the community of musicians like there?
Laguardia was a truly unique experience for me. The community of musicians was diverse. But perhaps the best thing about that school is that it’s not limited to musicians. Some people were art majors, dance majors or theater majors, and a good chunk of them were very serious about there craft which is always inspiring for everyone in that environment.
You have played with a ton of amazing musicians. Who are you currently playing with and who do you hope to play with in the future?
I’m currently working in a variety of projects. I’m currently working with Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s trio, Vijay Iyer’s trio, Chick Corea’s orchestral project, a duo with Lionel Loueke, Mark Turner’s group, various projects with Steve Coleman in addition to other artists. I would love to play with more musicians from other parts of the world, Brazil, Peru, North and Central Africa.
Why do you think you make music? What about the entire process draws you in?
I make music because it’s what I believe I was put on this earth to do. It’s the most personal outlet that I have. It’s the universal language, my passion and my craft. I think of it as a blessing.
If I had to recommend drummers for Revivalist readers to listen to I’d have to start with Brice Wassy! He’s an amazing drummer from Cameroon. Of course you have the american legends like Max Roach and Papa Jo Jones. I highly recommend checking out my grandfather Roy Haynes. He’s a living legend who seem’s to have been in his prime for the last 50 years. And he still creating on that level. You should also check out Billy Hart, Jack Dejohnette and South Indian carnatic musicians.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Any non-musical inspirations?
I draw my inspiration from everything.
Can you talk about one of your favorites recording experiences? What about it made it so memorable?
My favorite recording experiences are from when I went to Salvador, Bahia twice to record with Steve Coleman. It was great not only because it was in one of the most beautiful places in the world but because of the significance of Bahia. It’s one of the most concentrated regions with people of the African diaspora outside of Africa and they seem to preserve and cherish their Africanness in a way that is truly special. Another addition to this recording session was the fact that there were three brazilian percussionists that we got to record with. It was a priceless experience both times and I definitely cherish those moments.
There is no particular time that I come up with the majority of my creative ideas. I wish that there was.
What was a really tough moment for you as a musician? How did that help you evolve as a musician?
A tough moment for me as a musician was when Chick asked me to memorize the whole piano concerto that he wrote. I believe I was the only musician that he asked because he didn’t want to have the drummer worrying about reading music when the drummer ought to be holding everything together. Generally the role of the drummer only gets more important every time you add another musician to an ensemble. In this particular situation we were dealing with a quartet and chamber orchestra. It took a few days but I realized that it was possible with repetition and patience. It only made me stronger as a musician.
What is practicing like for you? Do you have a set routine?
I don’t have a set practice routine. It varies, but I generally like focusing on touch and independence.
What advice would you give other musicians who are trying to evolve as musicians and also make it within the jazz world
My advice is to study the history of the music. Also, spend time developing your own sound.
Interview by Nora Ritchie
Check out more on Marcus Gilmore here.