In the Groove
Drummer Sherrie Maricle does it all
Volume 118, No. 3March, 2018
Sherrie Maricle, a member of Local 802 since 1988, is a top bandleader, music director, composer, arranger and percussionist. From the drum set, Maricle leads three incarnations of her DIVA groups: the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, the DIVA Jazz Trio, and the 3DIVAS (which she co-leads). She also leads her quintet Five Play, performs with the New York Pops, and serves as the music director and drummer for Broadway star Maurice Hines.
With her bands, Maricle has performed at many of the world’s most acclaimed music venues and festivals, from Lincoln Center to the Kennedy Center and the Hollywood Bowl, to jazz festivals around the world. Diva was featured at the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters awards ceremony and on the soundtrack for the NBC-Macy’s Fireworks Spectacular. The band has also appeared on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, on TCM’s televised broadcast of the 25th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center and NHK Japan’s “New York Jazz.” Diva co-starred in the award-winning documentary film “The Girls in the Band.”
After receiving her B.A. degree from Binghamton University, Maricle moved to New York City and attended NYU, where she earned a Ph.D. in jazz performance and composition. Maricle has won several major awards in her career: an Ovation award for best music direction in “Tappin Through Life,” the Mary Lou Williams-Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, a State Department grant for her band Five Play to tour Vietnam, the Kennedy Center Alliance Award for outstanding achievements in the arts, a grant from Meet the Composer, a doctoral fellowship from New York University, and the New York City Music Educator’s award for outstanding contributions to education. Maricle was also twice named New York University Music Department’s music teacher of the year.
As an educator, Maricle runs a private drum set and percussion studio. She is also a clinician for Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Aquarian drum heads and Vic Firth drum sticks. On a national level, she has served as guest conductor, soloist and adjudicator for collegiate and high school jazz and all-state festivals. Maricle also created and directs Musical Magic, a hospital outreach program for the Ronald McDonald House (New York).
Local 802’s Bob Pawlo recently sat down with Sherrie Maricle to learn about her life in music.
Bob Pawlo: I would love to start with my usual question because it usually brings out a lot of great stories. How and when did your remarkable journey in music begin?
Sherrie Maricle: I grew up in a non-musical household as far as players go, but I did wake up every morning of my childhood listening to either country music or Irish folk music, because those were my mother’s favorites. I also remember my father taking me to the various parades in town, and I became fascinated with marching bands. There was something about the power, excitement and energy of the drumline and brass that I was really attracted to. So, when I was in fourth grade, I was allowed to join my school band or orchestra. My first choice was trumpet. However the fourth grade band teacher said, “Girls can’t play the trumpet.” He insisted that I play the metal clarinet. So I went home with it…crying! I disliked it so much that after a week, I quit. Surprisingly the teacher called my mother and asked her to convince me to stay. So I went back to the band and squawked away on the metal clarinet for a couple of years. What saved me during my very early musical endeavors was playing cello. In fourth grade we were allowed to be in both band and orchestra, so I chose cello. I love that instrument, and I loved my cello teacher Ivan Bryden. So fast forward a couple of years to sixth grade. The band played a percussion feature and the teacher asked if anybody wanted to volunteer to play percussion. I instantly raised my hand, “Yes, yes. I’ll do it!” It was a bass drum part. Once I went back in the percussion section I basically insisted that I never leave, and thankfully I left the metal clarinet behind. The biggest musical moment that informed, and helped form the roots and foundation for my career came in 1975 when my seventh grade teacher took me to see Buddy Rich and his Killer Force Orchestra at the Forum in Binghamton, New York.
Bob Pawlo: What was that like?
Sherrie Maricle: I sat in the last row of the balcony and watched Buddy’s band come out. They were all in tuxedos. Then Buddy came out in a black T-shirt. When the band started I got head-to-toe adrenaline-surging goosebumps. I had no idea what I was hearing. I didn’t know what jazz was, certainly not big band. My entire head and heart opened up; fireworks, sunshine and joy were pouring in and out of my soul at the same time. It was so amazing. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday but it was over 40 years ago. When I got home, I screamed, “Mom, I heard this amazing music! It’s jazz, and there’s this amazing drummer named Buddy Rich! I have to play jazz and drums. You gotta get me a drum set; I have to play this kind of music.” And from that moment on, that’s all I ever wanted to do.
Bob Pawlo: What were your first experiences playing the actual drum set?
Sherrie Maricle: Besides practicing and playing on my own, my first drum set experience was in high school. I planned to audition for the high school band, but because I had never seen another girl in the band, I was very nervous and intimidated and decided not to. Thankfully my teacher strongly encouraged me, saying something like, “Don’t be ridiculous! Come on, let’s give it a try.” And I did, and I was accepted right away. So ninth grade was when I started playing the drum set all the time and focusing on it as the center of my universe.
Bob Pawlo: Great start. All because of Buddy, huh?
Sherrie Maricle: Yes, and gratefully my passion led me to my first paid performance. I was a senior in high school and the gig was with a band called Bob Grover and the Tune Twisters. I’m not sure how I got this gig, but I think one of the other musicians knew my mother. Anyway, it was at the Eagle’s Club, about six blocks from where we lived. The band was a country band, and luckily I knew that repertoire because of Mom’s listening habits. I didn’t have a car so I rode my bicycle with my drums on my shoulders and I pulled my hardware in a wagon behind. At the time I was working in a supermarket as a cashier, and minimum wage was $2.50 an hour. So I worked 20 hours and got a paycheck for $50. But then I played this four-hour gig, and got paid $100!
Bob Pawlo: That was big money back then.
Sherrie Maricle: Yes, especially in the late 70’s! I was so excited and distracted that I ran out of the club without my money. I couldn’t believe I could get paid for doing something I loved so much. I didn’t even think or care about the money. I do remember comparing it to my supermarket salary and wondering; “How does this make sense?” I work so hard in the supermarket, I can’t stand the job and get paid very little. I play the drums, I love it and get paid a lot. It was a revelation! (By the way, eventually the band leader tracked me down and paid me!)
Bob Pawlo: How was your experience at Binghamton?
Sherrie Maricle: Amazing! I was very fortunate that the head of the jazz program and the chairman of the music department, Al Hamme, liked the way I played and offered me countless work opportunities. Throughout my entire four years of college from 1981 to 1985, the amount of professional work I did via Broadway road shows, Barnum & Bailey, Ice Capades and a wide variety of other performing groups was incredible. I got so much experience. Al also had a big band called Music Unlimited. We played all the classic concert jazz repertoire as well as the classic dance rep. I think we had forty MPTF gigs one summer. One day, we had three park gigs in a row. I was working all the time. I was also in a wedding band and sometimes we played three or four gigs a weekend, and those paid $200 or $300, which were big bucks in the 80s.
Bob Pawlo: How were you received as the female drummer?
Sherrie Maricle: I never thought of myself as a female drummer. I just thought of myself as a drummer, which is how all women in the field think. I would be surprised if any women identified her gender before her instrument. But because of my gender, I have definitely experienced an unfortunate amount of harassment and discrimination in ways both big and small. Most of the experiences just made me roll my eyes because they were so pointless and absurd. Others have been much more harmful. In my early career I primarily focused on the music I wanted to play and ignored the comments and situations that weren’t helpful. A majority of the time I chose to pay attention to those colleagues who were encouraging and supportive. I just wanted to fit in and be recognized and respected for my playing.
Bob Pawlo: What were the musical skills that you learned early on that have served well you over the years?
Sherrie Maricle: That’s a great question. As I mentioned previously, because of the many opportunities offered to me by my college teacher/contractor to perform in a wide variety of shows, I learned to be a very good reader. I can’t think of a better way to learn that skill. When you’re in school ensembles, you’re not really reading, you’re always rehearsing and preparing for performances. But when you’re going from show to show every month (or every week), getting the show book, having one or two rehearsals, then hitting the stage, it’s incredible training. If it was complicated, if something kicked my butt, I would stay up all night to figure it out and come back the next day and nail it. Needless to say I was also exposed to a tremendous variety of musical genres, styles and grooves. I feel so fortunate, to have had those early experiences.
Bob Pawlo: How did you eventually get out of Binghamton?
Sherrie Maricle: In Binghamton, I got to play a lot with jazz icon and bassist Slam Stewart. But my dream was to move to New York City to play jazz. I told my parents; “I have to go to New York. I’m taking out a loan and moving there.” That made them crazy with worry. Fortunately there was a group called the Harper Jazz Project at Binghamton University – they used to bring in headline groups. In one of those visiting groups was the great bassist Michael Moore. I asked him for NYC advice. He said, “I teach at NYU, why don’t you audition?” I said; “What’s NYU?” Really! I never thought about going to grad school, but to make a long story short; I auditioned at NYU, got in, won a scholarship and earned my Master’s degree. After that, NYU offered me a doctoral fellowship. A Ph.D. was never in my plans or wildest dreams, but I accepted because it included a teaching stipend and that helped me pay my rent. Needless to say the position provided me countless, positive performing, teaching and learning experiences.
Bob Pawlo: Fantastic. When did you eventually begin to found your groups?
Sherrie Maricle: I love telling this story. It’s a two-part saga of the night that changed my life: May 12, 1990. I was in a pickup orchestra playing drum set for the 75th anniversary of the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Conn. Skitch Henderson was the conductor. One of the guest stars was Maurice Hines; he brought his musical director Stanley Kay. Stanley was a great drummer and for years managed the Buddy Rich band. I certainly knew Stanley and Skitch by reputation. There was a reception after the performance and I made it a point to talk to Stanley Kay. He and I exchanged information. Meanwhile I noticed Skitch Henderson walking out the door. I was nervous but I forced myself to walk over, and I’m not kidding, I literally pulled the belt of his trench coat, and said, “Mr. Henderson, it was an honor to perform for you. Thank you!” He turned around sharply, and looked at me and said, “You!” I thought, oh no, he’s going to tell me I was terrible, but instead, he said, “I want you to come play with the New York Pops!”
Bob Pawlo: Whoa! And you weren’t going to talk to him.
Sherrie Maricle: Thankfully I convinced myself to connect. So in August 1990, I got the call from the New York Pops. My first gig with the orchestra was at the Columbus Avenue Street Fair with no rehearsal. I knew one person in the orchestra – trombonist Mark Paterson. There were pencil marks all over every piece of music and I remember talking to Mark throughout the performance, “Mark, help me! Is this repeated? Is this cut? Where’s the D.S.? Etc.” Fortunately I did OK.
Bob Pawlo: Through all your experience in Binghamton, your formative years, you were ready!
Sherrie Maricle: Fortunately all went well and Skitch offered me the following Pops’ season. He said, “This season will be your audition but you can’t miss any performances.” I had a lot of other commitments on the books and I had to turn down some lucrative gigs, but 28 years later I’m still a member of the orchestra. What if I hadn’t made myself say hello to Skitch? You never know how many opportunities we might miss if we don’t take a moment to express a genuine feeling of gratitude or appreciation, or simply take a moment to connect with those we have the privilege to make music with.
Bob Pawlo: It opens a door.
Sherrie Maricle: Now back to my bands and Stanley Kay. We stayed in touch and two years after we met he called and said, “I want to form a new big band and I want it to be all-women. What do you think?” I said, “I’d love to be involved.” I also thought to myself, Buddy Rich’s manager thinks I’m a good drummer. WOW! Truthfully, prior to that phone call, I always shied away from all-women projects, especially when I noticed that most of the all-women groups that were working seemed to be more focused on wardrobe, makeup and appearance versus creating great music. So that, of course, bothered me, because as I told you before, I was just wanted to fit in and play genderless great music. However, when Stanley called with his concept, I thought, this is Buddy Rich’s manager. This guy is serious and all about the music. And then he said, “I don’t care if you weigh 300 pounds. I don’t care how you look. If you can play, you can play. End of story.” We put the word out through NYU and other professional and educational organizations and contacts. In June 1992 we had an audition in NYC and forty women came. With the help of John LaBarbera (Stanley’s associate from the Buddy Rich Band and great composer/arranger), we picked the original 15 members and formed The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, originally named “DIVA, No Man’s Band.” In addition to John LaBarbera, Stanley pulled in his buddies Michael Abene and Tommy Newsom, who composed and arranged the first several pieces of music for our library. From day one, commissioning all original compositions and arrangements for the band’s library was a priority. DIVA’s first performance was March 30, 1993, at New York University in the Loeb Student Center.
Bob Pawlo: And the rest is history. So, you’re coming up on 25 years.
Sherrie Maricle: I know, it’s amazing to realize that half of my life has been dedicated to the band. I look back on our history with total awe and gratitude.
Bob Pawlo: Can you tell our readers about your experience working with Maurice Hines?
Sherrie Maricle: Thank you for asking that. I mentioned previously that I met him at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, along with Stanley Kay and Skitch Henderson. So essentially, with Stanley as his manager, I’ve been working with Maurice since 1990. About five or six years ago, he wanted to create his own show. It’s called “Tappin’ Through Life,” and it follows the life story of Maurice, his brother Gregory Hines and their family’s experience in show business from approximately 1948 through today. It’s a song and dance musical with deep roots in jazz, tap, Broadway, film, Vegas and the heyday of show business, driven by genuine human talent without smoke, mirrors or rampant technology. By the way, I want to thank 802 for helping me navigate the regional theatre world in my role as music director and contractor. I couldn’t have done it so successfully without the union’s guidance and advice!
Bob Pawlo: In your opinion, how has the business changed? How has music changed, and how has it remained the same?
Sherrie Maricle: That’s an excellent question too. Salaries or pay scales for jazz performance haven’t really increased parallel to the cost of living. Back in the 80s I happily played jazz for the door. Playing for $50 or $100 and similar offers are still presented as the norm today. I’m not talking about headlining a festival or club. I’m referring to the general gigs that happen all over NYC, every night. There also seems to be a lot less work in terms of club dates, lounges, restaurants, bars, brunch gigs and parties. I think many have felt that void with the rise of the DJ and various other technologies. I used to play these types of gigs all the time. There was always an opportunity to play and get paid. There would never be a December or other holiday time when I wouldn’t have a trio or other group in a restaurant or club. Although my performance aspirations are different now, I’ve definitely noticed a decline in these experience-building performance opportunities. While my Broadway experiences have been few, I’m happy to know that that bastion of musical excellence has kept up with the times in terms of pay, technology and integrity.
Bob Pawlo: What would be your advice to a young musician, especially a young woman musician, coming to New York and starting out their careers now?
Sherrie Maricle: To young women and men: You have to LOVE music…not like, LOVE. It has to be one of your greatest passions, one you can’t live without. You must be willing to work very, very hard to develop the skills you need to get you the jobs you want. Most of your work, especially in your early career, will occur in solitary confinement, in the practice room. That has to be OK with you. Your experience and musical depth comes from listening and playing with others. Do that as much as possible and remember you can’t rush or cram experience. You have to live it. Try to learn from your critics and don’t let negative experiences derail your aspirations. Prepare yourself for your dream gig and learn everything else in between; it can only make you a better player and more prepared to be a working musician. For a number of years I taught at NYU. I directed two percussion ensembles, taught private lessons and a variety of other classes. One of the mantras I continuously gave my students was, “Think of your dream job. Do you want to play with Chick Corea or New York Philharmonic? Do you want to play on Broadway or tour with Tina Turner? Do you want to teach at a college or privately? Do you want to compose a film score or arrange music for marching band? Whatever it is…remember that energy flows where attention goes. In other words, think about what you want most; focus on your passion and make yourself the best person for that job.” This advice has no ending point. As my career evolves, I aspire to practice these ideals daily. I’m not always successful, but I realize that as a musician my work will be ever-changing and so will I. It’s one of the most exciting and sometimes challenging parts of being a musician. Especially a freelance musician. As my mentor Stanley Kay used to say, “No matter how many professional struggles you may experience, we have one of the few jobs in the world where one phone call can change your life.” That’s true! Hopefully you’ll get a call to play your dream gig and hundreds of others. You will experience highlight moments that will transform your musical being and your place in the world of music. Always remember those moments, no matter how many peaks or valleys you travel through – and every time you get to play music for a living, be grateful.
Bob Pawlo: Great advice! In closing, what would you like to say to your brother and sister Local 802 members and to musicians and union members who will be reading this around the world?
Sherrie Maricle: I’m very honored to be featured in Allegro. Knowing that friends and colleagues in New York City and around the world may be reading this leaves me extremely humbled. I am awestruck by incredible musicians in the world, in my field and in my life. I will continue to do my very best to contribute to the “music” in the best ways I know how. I believe there’s not a single person reading this article who went into music for the money. We’re in it because we LOVE it. Collectively we’re a unified field of creativity, talent, technique, passion, uniqueness and joy. May we all continue to embrace, enhance, harness and share the power and magic of music.
Visit Sherrie Maricle and get all of her social media links and contact info at www.divajazz.com.