John Marshall: Jazz Isn't Background Music

When did you become passionate about jazz?

My father was a music teacher who taught small children in public schools. When I was a child, there were always instruments so I could try playing them all like the clarinet or trumpet. I liked the trumpet the most. I liked the sound of it. As time went on, I started to study it privately with a very good teacher. My school had a music program so I was very lucky because there was a really good music program at school and a private teacher that my parents paid for.

My father had records. He had some swing records because he was into swing music. I didn't really understand jazz but when I was about 15 years old, we had a new music director for the school band. His name was Clem DeRosa. He had been successful in other schools, playing big band music. He brought some good experience to the school. So, when I was 15, I began to have the opportunity to play some of the music that Count Daisy was famous for. It took me years to understand how a jazz player constructs his solo but I had become fond of jazz music and continued to listen to it. A few years after I moved to New York, when I was 19, I really tried to figure that out and try to understand what all of the jazz players were doing.

Of course, it's a big tradition. All the great jazz players, when they were young, were copying somebody who was also copying someone else when they were younger. It's a lot of copying and imitation and you need to try to understand the logic of it. My biggest hero Dizzy Gillespie, for example, when he was young, all the trumpet players were trying to play like Roy Eldridge. In the 1970s, he was the most exciting trumpet player. Dizzy and many other trumpeters were trying to copy his style of playing. Afterward, they added more things to the style and developed their own great styles. That's just one example. There's a lot of imitation.

Does that mean you have to imitate others to develop your own style of playing?

Yes, definitely. I think that if you don't do that, it means you're not that serious about becoming a jazz musician.

Since when have you been actively traveling and playing the trumpet?

Since I was 18 or 19. I've been to many countries. When I was really trying to pursue a career in jazz, I was in my 20s - it was the 1970s. We still had many big bands and great jazz players but in 10 years, most of them were dead. This was the last 10 years, they all were active, you could join and perform with them, and go...

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