JazzMonthly.com Feature Interview
Jazz Monthly: Well, it is our extreme delight to welcome to Jazz Monthly.com a multi faceted artist. You know they throw that word around loosely “Multi-Faceted” but it really rings true in this case. He wears many hats… as they say. He is listed in “Who’s Who in America” and also the International who’s who in music, and calling Mat Marucci just a drummer is like calling the Empire State Building just a skyscraper. Mr. Marucci is a drummer, a percussionist, an author, an educator, and a clinician. Welcome to JazzMonthly.com Mat.
MM: Hey thanks. And thanks for having me.
Jazz Monthly: Well I know that you’re actually based out of California, and have been for some time. But, actually you’re originally an Eastern kid. You’re an Easterner.
MM: Yeah, I’m an Easterner. I was raised in Upstate New York. Some of the best musicians come out of the Upstate New York area. I left there when I came out to California. I’ve been out here except for a year in Manhattan, I’ve been out here pretty much ever since.
Jazz Monthly: Was it Rome?
MM: Rome, New York. But I worked all through Upstate New York. I worked in Rochester and lived in Rochester, and I worked in Schenectady and the Albany area, Utica… I did a lot of work in Utica.
Jazz Monthly: Now Mat, how did your drumming journey begin. Did it start on the East Coast?
MM: You know that’s a good question. (Laughs) That’s a real good question because I didn’t start out as a drummer. I started out as a piano player when I was about four years old. My father told me that when he was teaching me to read music I could recognize the notes when I was three so when I started playing piano I was about four. I come from a family of musicians, both professional and amateur. I played classical piano right into high school and kind of lost interest because I wanted to go in another direction. But when I got into college, I was always fascinated with the drums.
I was hanging out with a guy, and his father was a professional drummer up in Auburn New York and I kept asking him questions about this and about that. I went out and brought a pair of sticks. I was just fascinated. I never thought that I could do it. I used to see that stuff, people talking about it on the game shows… celebrities trying to play the drums, and I just said “I could never do that.” But I just got a pair of sticks and I started buggin’ him every time he came over to my apartment. Finally he said, “Hey man you know there’s a guy right across the street who gives drum lessons, why don’t you go over there and take a couple of lessons and leave me alone. (Both Laugh) So I went over and the guys name is Dick Howard and a very respected teacher and player in Upstate New York, and I took some lessons from him and from that point on… I became a drummer! That was about when I was 19 years old.
Jazz Monthly: OK.
MM: But the piano gave me a lot of harmonic and melodic background you know.
Jazz Monthly: Well you could tell, Mat, because in my introduction I mentioned somewhat kiddingly, but there was a lot of truth in it when I said that “This man is multi faceted and hence being a composer also! I don’t even know if I mentioned composer. Did I mention composer in the intro, DID I SAY ENOUGH FOR YOU MAT???!!
MM: (Mat Laughing real hard) Joe, I don’t think you mentioned composer, but you did now, so it’s OK.
Jazz Monthly: OK (Both laughing)
MM: I write the majority of the original music that we do for the CD’s. In fact the CIMP CD’s we did, we did a double session for him and we ended up with two CD’s in one day. We did seventeen tracks I think, and out of the seventeen, fourteen or fifteen of them were my original tunes.
Jazz Monthly: Yes… absolutely. I know that you’re listed here in Jazz Monthly.com as a Jazz Teacher based out of California. And you know Mat, it’s so hard to say, “how do you teach Jazz,” I mean is it a matter of you teaching your students to be ready, technically to play Jazz or to kind of… open up their ears or to give them some kind of building blocks. You know, you can’t really teach Jazz… can you?
MM: Yeah, you know everything you just said, you try to open up their ears. A lot of times, students will come to me and they just want a specific thing. They just want to learn finger techniques, or they want to develop their stick control more. So in those cases, we kind of focus on what they came to me for. But if somebody comes to me and says that he just wants to really learn it, he wants to learn it from scratch. From there I take him through the whole routine: We start with developing the hands properly, the correct grips and fulcrums and the circular ride on the cymbal, and how to use the hi hat properly with the bouncing heel technique. I also go through Chapin’s book with them…
Jazz Monthly: What’s that, the Jazz Independence variations?
MM: Yeah, it’s coordinated independence. It’s Jim Chapin’s "Advanced Techniques For The Modern Drummer."
Jazz Monthly: He wrote that back in the 1940’s didn’t he?
MM: Yeah he did. And the one thing I really like about that book is... I really don’t like the term “independence” because I think that’s what screwed up a lot of people. I was even taught that way in some respects. They get this idea of independence that they have to get one thing going in one hand and another thing going with another hand, and they have to get this separate third thing going with one foot. I like what Dahlgren and Fine did with “Four-Way Coordination,” and the way Chapin sets it up in his book because he calls it “Coordinated Independence” where you can see the parts of the instrument… and I do teach the drums as one instrument and not as separate instruments… he (Chapin) sets it up so that you can see the different parts of the instrument and you can see where they fall together, where they complement each other, and fall opposite each other, so that you have a unit. You know what I mean?
Jazz Monthly: Yes.
MM: Well I’m sure you know what I mean because you’re a drummer. (both laugh)
It’s kinda like when you’re learning a Samba. You don’t learn to do the right hand part, and you don’t learn to do the left hand part. You put it all together. You see where everything falls together and where things don’t fall together… and then you have a complete pattern. Well it’s the same thing with jazz.
I teach them with the Chapin books and with my books and I teach the circular motion on the ride cymbal, not that its carved in granite you know, once you get it you can change it around. So if their right hand is moving on the ride cymbal, the same motion every time, and the stick is moving in the same direction, every time they play on “2” or on the “and of 3” or anytime they play on the “e of 4” the right with the left hand, the right is always going to be in that same position and they are going to develop a coordination. So if they are reading a chart and all of a sudden a note comes up on the “a” of “3,” it’s gonna just drop in naturally.
Jazz Monthly: Good Point.
MM: You’re not going to scuffle to get it in there because their left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and vise versa. So I teach that method to start them out.
You know what I believe, Joe, is that if you learn the foundation and you learn the traditional way of doing everything, and the traditional way of playing THE REPERTOIRE, then anything else that you do is valid. Because once you can do it the way it suppose to be done, the way it has been done and you want to vary from that and take liberties with it, it doesn’t matter if you stand on your head!
Jazz Monthly: (Laughs) Great point! By the way, I think Duke Ellingtononce said that it’s OK to break the rules but first you have to learn the rules, first, in order to be able to break them. Right?
MM: Exactly. It’s like free music. When some guys start, they don’t even have a tone center to start with. Well, what do you have to be free from? You’ve got to start with something in order to be free from it.
Jazz Monthly: And that’s true, Mat, really in almost… not to digress too much but in almost all of the Arts, in painting the best artists Picasso and Dali and so forth. First they learn to be able to paint and draw realistically before they took it to the next level. Right?
Jazz Monthly: Speaking of which, this is a perfect lead in for a great quote Mr. Mat Marucci about you. It was said by none other than the distinguished Jazz Critic, Leonard Feather. Everyone knows him from Downbeat Magazine for many years and the LA Times. And he said that “Mat Marucci is an unpretentiously efficient drummer.” That’s high praise coming from Leonard Feather, Mat.
MM: It was high praise. On the gig where that quote came from, I was working with Tommy Tedesco you know the great late guitar player.
Jazz Monthly: Absolutely.
MM: When that came out in the Times, my phone rang, and I picked up the phone and it was a horn player that I worked with a lot, and the only thing that I heard on the phone was “Efficient maybe, but unpretentious!” (Both Laugh). I took some ribbing from that too.
Jazz Monthly: I love it! By the way, another great quote here we can mention is by the late Jimmy Smith, “Mat is playing his you know what off.” And that’s great! What was it like playing with Jimmy Smith Mat?
MM: You know Joe, I did a gig one time with Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell as a trio and I was probably, I think I was probably subbing for Grady Tate. I don’t know for sure. But I did that gig, and when that gig was over I felt like “ You know, if I don’t ever play another note… I’ve accomplished something.”
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, you could lie down and die right then, right?
MM: Yeah, because I used to practice to Jimmy Smith’s albums when I was just learning drums.
Jazz Monthly: The Organ Grinder Swing. And all those jazz trio’s with Kenny…
MM: Yeah all those. In fact, now that you mentioned Organ Grinder Swing, when I did the gig with him (Jimmy Smith) and Kenny, that’s what we did. We did the Organ Grinder Swing. I was with Jimmy off and on for ten years. It was a tough gig because you had to play… Jimmy’s way. You know, He was the star, he was the artist… and I respected that. I deferred to him all one hundred percent because it was his gig and he paid you good, you know.
Jazz Monthly: Absolutely.
MM: So when someone’s got his reputation and he pays you good he deserves all the deference you can give him. It was a tough gig because sometimes it would matter on what kind of mood he’s in. You know on whether he wanted you to keep the time and keep him from movin, or if he wanted you to go with him. You had to be on your toes. If you were on the set with him for an hour, it was an hour of work brother. It was an hour on your toes.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah well he swung. He was one of the real originals on that Hammond B3. By the way, I think you played on one of his last CD’s I think Daybreak?
MM: Yeah I did, I’m on part of it. We did that in a small studio. The producer was in Florida…
Jazz Monthly: That was in 2005, right Mat?
MM: Well I think it was released in 2005, but maybe 2003. It kind of ambiguous because somehow a German company got a hold of the tape and the guy who was the producer died and it was sent to the German company without any eq’ing done or any mixing or anything at all. It was just the raw multi-track. And I just wasn’t happy with the sound, but the good thing is that I could say that I recorded with Jimmy.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, and you played on one of his last gigs, right?
MM: Yeah, it was up in Portland. It wasn’t one of his absolute last, but it was in that year I think. Yeah it was up in Portland and at that point he was using an electric bass player. He was using a cat from Indianapolis. This guy was playing seven string electric bass because his knees… he was seventy-one years old at the time..
Jazz Monthly: He wasn’t able to use the foot pedals anymore.
MM: Yeah right, his knee was killing him. He’d been telling me for a couple of years how his knee was really bothering him. To give his knee a rest, he hired this cat, and this guy did a great job man. I wish I could remember his name off the top of my head right now, but he did a great job because the way we were set up, the bass was kind of behind me and I was next to Jimmy. And sometimes, when I would turn to the right and catch the bass player out of the corner of my eye it would remind me that there was a bass player there because his bass lines sounded so much like Jimmy’s when he kicked the pedals, I would forget that we had a bass player on the gig.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, and I’m sure that’s why Jimmy Smith hired him too because he played so much like him.
MM: Oh yeah, yeah.
Jazz Monthly: Tell us some of the other people with whom you performed. You mentioned Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Smith.
MM: Eddie Harris and Les McCann. In fact I did the gig with them at yoshis in Oakland when they celebrated “Swiss Movement” when they did that in Switzerland at the Montreux Jazz Festival, they did a celebration of the release of “Swiss Movement” Album from I think the sixties. I think it was 25 years or 30 years or something like that. Anyway I did that gig with them. I’ve got kind of a funny story with that one.
I’m sitting here and the phone rings and I pick it up and said “hello” and he said “ is this Mat Marucci” and I said “yeah” and he said “you play drums?” and I say “yeah,” he say “ you worked with Eddie Harris?” And I said “Yeah,” and he says “Well listen. Eddie and Wes and Les McCann are gonna be at Yoshis in Oakland for a week and they’d like you to do the gig with them.” And I said, “Who is this man?” (Both Laugh) And he says “This is Fred I’m Les McCann’s manager and we got this gig.” I said “ Wait, how’d you get my number and he said “ I got it from Eddie Harris!” (Both Laugh) I thought it was somebody pulling my leg.
Jazz Monthly: It might have been your friend, that same cat that said “about efficient but maybe not unpretentious” (Mat Laughs)
MM: So I made this guy send me a fax (Laughing) But anyway that was nice gig too to work with Eddie and Les McCann. I’ve worked with Eddie a few times.
Jazz Monthly: Yes. Yes. You know, Mat I’ve had the great pleasure, and I don’t use that word loosely either, of listening to one of your CD’s “No Lesser Evil,” I know that’s not your latest CD, and we’ll talk about your latest in a minute. But, what a great CD! The thing that I was immediately struck by was that there was no pianist or guitarist on it. It was simply: You on drums, Doug Webb on tenor and soprano sax, and Kerry Kashiwagi on bass. And you know what, you really didn’t miss the piano or the guitar there because, the way you and Kerry on bass really locked in and were like an anchor to it all.
MM: You know we’re actually doing our fifth Trio Album like that next month. We’re doing a live date here in Sacramento. And we have a different bass player, and out of the five recordings we have used four different bass players and it kind of gives us a little bit of variety to what we do because every bass player approaches it a little differently. It gives us a little bit of an edge, and it takes away the monotony. Not that it would be monotonous with any of these guys if there played over and over, but, it just gives us a little bit of a different approach to the music depending on who the bass player is.
Jazz Monthly: Yes.
MM: One of the reasons we did that was… we were working as a quartet in LA and the guy Donald Vega moved to New York and Doug and I really liked his playing. After he moved we were using different piano players, it just didn’t have the same fire we were looking for. And whenever the piano player lays out we go in a different direction you see and I’m not locked in by the harmonies that he’s playing and this and that. And he (Doug) said maybe we should do a recording like that. Doug and I also worked a duo at festivals in Santa Monica.
Jazz Monthly: Tell us a little about Doug Webb. How did you meet up with him?
MM: Well I was working with a pianist in Southern California and he (Doug) knew the pianist and I think he had just graduated from Berklee. This was like in the early eighties. Like eight-one or eighty-two. I might not be totally accurate on this but I’m pretty sure he had just graduated from Berkeley. So, he came in and sat in. That was the first time that we had met. He was a friend of another pianist who I was working with up in North Hollywood, and he brought Doug over to my house one time and we started playing… we just had a good time playing!
Jazz Monthly: There was an instant simpatico right?
MM: Yeah. Right from the start we hit it off. So from that point on from the mid eighties we just started playing together. I would work with him, he would work with me, we would work as sideman with somebody else, and it was like that.
Jazz Monthly: Mm-hmm. We can’t talk about every cut on the CD, but I really urge everyone who visits Jazz Monthly.com to check out “No Lesser Evil” because I just had so much fun listening to this. And the thing, Mat, is we always try and put labels on things, you know, even myself. Would I call this Hard Bop, would I call it Progressive, would I call it Post Bop. And you know… I guess you can call it… all of it! I mean there’s something there for everyone. It’s like a… Jazz Buffet!
MM: Yeah it’s Post Bop and it’s Progressive and there is a taste of the Avant-garde on a couple of tracks, and there’s a taste of Standards on a couple of tracks, and Straight Ahead. It is kind of hard to categorize, but I would categorize it as Post Bop Progressive.
Jazz Monthly: Yes. And one thing I loved about your playing on here is that it shows just how dimensional you are as a percussionist. You have a light touch when needed… like if you listen to “Emily” where you start with the brushes before you open it up. You almost sound like an ice skater. Beautiful brushes. And it’s kind of like an implied Waltz. It’s not a “set in stone’ Jazz Waltz, you worked around the contours of a Jazz Waltz just beautifully. And then you opened it up.
But also on other tunes here, Mat, you can be as strong as a bull when you need to be, you know?
MM: Well, you know man, I appreciate that. That was recorded live and everything on there is just one take.
Jazz Monthly: Wow!
MM: And that’s generally the way we do it. Like I said, we went to CIMP and we recorded seventeen tracks, and when we got there to record we said “we have to leave tomorrow” because we had to catch our flights and get back to LA to do our Gigs. And the producer Bob Rusch was worried that we weren’t gonna get a whole CD because usually the guys go there and they take two days to come out with the CD. Well, we did seventeen tracks in about eight hours of recording and we got two CD’s from it!
Rusch records with one big stereo mic. The thing is like the size of… a gallon of milk you know… maybe a little bit bigger! And it’s a real, obviously quality stereo mic, And the engineer, Marc Rusch, gets the balance and you get your sound and everything. There’s no monitors, there’s no headphones, there’s no amplification except a little bit for the acoustic bass, and that’s it! And then you have to play and all the dynamics are you. And as you know, that’s very demanding!
Jazz Monthly: Talk about playing organically, right Mat?
MM: Yeah, you have to play dynamically. The secret is: if you can hear everybody, then you’re not too loud. You know if you can’t hear everybody, (both laugh) then you’re too loud.
I did a lot of albums before this, where they were my albums, but I had to take kind of a back seat in the role because the composition of the other players were important to it, so I had to play for the music. But with this trio format, it gives me an opportunity to do a lot of stuff that I couldn’t do. I’m not locked in by how the piano player or the guitar player’s comping. I’m doing the comping. You’re not locked in by their ideas because all the ideas… are ours. It’s just a trio. And because of these trio albums, Joe, it’s given people who have known of me for a long time, its given them a different perspective. Because I did take a role of almost like being a sideman in the previous CD’s, and they didn’t know what I could do with the drums… as far as being more out front with them.
Jazz Monthly: Yes, But yet I can also say, Mat, a great compliment I can give to you as a fellow drummer is, you know I remember as a kid, and I’m sure you do too. We’re probably contemporaries right…
MM: I was a kid so long ago I couldn’t remember anything. (Both Laugh)
Jazz Monthly: Back in the sixties I remember buying a new album, a lot of those Impulse Albums the ones that look like wallets… they open up.
MM: Oh sure.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah they were the first of their kind. And I remember buying an album for the drummer, whether it was Roy Haynes or Philly Joe, you know I loved it. But the problem is, as of late a lot of drummers have a tendency that it’s all drums. And here I am, a drummer, and yet it’s too much drums for me. It’s kind of like eating ten éclairs. You know what I mean?
MM: I understand what you mean exactly. I was in a drum shop yesterday and the guys were telling me about this young guy who’s on you tube and they said “he’s all over the place it’s ridiculous. He’s got so much chops, so much this and that… he’s burnin’… he’s like the number one guy on you tube.” But what I want to know is can he play a tune?
Jazz Monthly: There it is.
MM: Can he play music? Sure, a lot of guys can play the drums. That’s a physical thing. Can you play music? That’s what I want to know.
Jazz Monthly: That’s right.
MM: When I started listening to Jazz, as a drummer I wasn’t listening or buying it for the drummers. I got to know all these drummers like: Tony Williams, and Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes and Donald Bailey and Grady Tate, because I was buying Coltrane’s albums, and Miles’s albums, Jimmy Smith’s albums you know. I got to know Joe Morello because…
Jazz Monthly: Brubeck
MM: Yes, Brubeck albums. There were a couple of guys like Buddy Rich that you would buy because of Buddy Rich.
Jazz Monthly: Of course. There’s only one Buddy.
MM: Like, I went to the Drums from the music. Whereas today, a lot of guys who want to learn how to play jazz, went to the music from the drums. My first interest was the music and the melodic and harmonic parts of the music. Their first interest as kids was a drum set, and they want to learn and play the drum set. Play fast. Then later on as they got older and they start playing these gigs and they say, “Hey there’s got to be something more,” They hit a brick wall technically. And they realize they didn’t get the right training because they were too busy trying to just play the drums. They go to the music from the drums.
Jazz Monthly: That’s a great point Mat. You're right. So many drummers, I guess, have the tendency to put too much “Gravy” so to speak. Too much gravy on the tune when you don’t need all of those garnishes and they're going a hundred miles an hour in “park” so to speak. But the compliment I’m giving you, in listening to this CD “No Lesser Evil” is that NO, you’re making music, and there are times you laid back especially on tunes like: “I Can’t Get Started” or “You’ve Changed.” Where Mat Marucci is just grooving. Man he’s just locking in he’s letting the sax player, Doug Webb, blow over it.
MM: Gotta play for the music man. That’s all there is. You gotta play for the music.
Jazz Monthly: I know Mat that you're too modest to say it but for many years you’ve been a "first call" drummer in the Sacramento area and even out of LA. People would say “If you want to make the band better, if you want it to swing, if you want it to be musical, put Mat Marucci on the gig."
MM: Well Joe I try to do my best for the music, but at the same time my personality’s in there to. I can only play what I can play. You know the story of Jeff Porcaro one time when he was in the studio and he was trying to do something and someone said “Can you do the thing like Vinnie?’ And without any malice and very honestly and sincerely he said, “Why don’t you get Vinnie to do this track?”
So if you try to play like someone else, your not gonna be able to do it number 1, because you don’t have their head and secondly, you lose your own identity. So I try to play for the music, but I have to do it the way I hear it and feel it myself.
Jazz Monthly: Excellent point Mat. Now you have a new release coming out soon?
MM: Yes, It’s called “Partners In Crime” and it’s being release next week.
Jazz Monthly: Is that a Cadence release?
MM: Yes, Cadence Jazz Records.
Jazz Monthly: That’s great Mat, in closing, what’s on the horizon along with your CD. Are you teaching?
MM: Well I’ve been traveling and playing a lot, but when I’m home, yes, I’m busy teaching and I’m always willing to set up clinics. I have a new snare drum method that’s coming out with Mel Bay that I expect to be out this year. I also have a new Jazz Manuscript called “Jazz Drumming Essentials” and three articles with “Modern Drummer.”
Jazz Monthly: Outside of that you’re not doing anything, right?
MM: (Both Laugh) Outside of that I don’t have anything else to do, although I just wrote three new tunes last week.
Jazz Monthly: And that’s what really sets you apart, being a composer as well as a drummer. You know I say jokingly you’re a drummer, an author, a percussionist, an educator, and a clinician, the only thing you don’t do is catering and you probably could do that too, right Mat?
MM: Listen, I’ve got two kids in college, if you pay me enough… (Joe Caroselli and Mat Laughing)
Jazz Monthly: Listen, before we go, you were talking about the Mel Bay Books, that’s great, very prestigious. Mel Bay music publication has been around a long time. One of the books that jumped out at me, as a drummer, is it’s titled: “Fifteen Minute Warm Ups” for the drums. Now that’s great. That’s something that’s so needed to get you ready right?
MM: You know that was the original. The original was “Fifteen Minute Warm-Ups For Drums” and it was fifteen exercises that I put together as kind of like a Masterclass and it came with a CD of me demonstrating the warm-up exercises. It was developed, Joe, because it was the actual warm-ups that I do before a gig. But they expanded the book and now there’s another one called, “Drumming Facts, Tips and Warm-ups.” It includes that section with the CD, but it also has a lot of information on sticks and cymbals and drumheads… how to pick them out, what the difference is between them. How to smooth out the long roll and get that secondary accent. Playing over the bar lines and things like that. There’s a lot of information and the book is only I think, $7.95. And it comes with a CD. It’s such a great book. And it’s in their “Quick Guide” series.
And I also have that “Finger Techniques” book. Because I dug Joe Morello so much, I was always fascinated by the finger technique that he had, and so I just always searched out different finger techniques and tried to find as much information as I could on him and one day I put it al together in a book. So there are a couple of pretty good things on there that I’m proud of.
Jazz Monthly: Wow! You should be proud of everything and again, we talk about multi-faceted and … you sure are. So check out Mat Marucci’s latest CD coming out right now, “Partners In Crime.” Mat Marucci, thank you so much for being with us and being part of JazzMonthly.com
MM: You’re welcome. And thank you for asking me to do this interview. It’s a real honor to be asked!