March 2008

Marchel Ivery (9.13.38 – 10.30.07)

Marchel Ivery, born in Ennis, Texas, was beyond the category of local legend. He was a human being first and foremost, a jazz musician second and mentor to every serious jazz musician who came out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. What can one say about a man who made sure that his bandstand was open to all comers, especially eager young cats like me who would come down from college (or from off a road band) to test their skills in the underground jazz scene in Dallas? He never criticized openly. He always called the right tunes. He sounded to me like a mix of Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley with that right amount of laidback Texas tenor texture and rhythm that defined the region, that defined the soul of the man. Marchel also represented in his feelings about music what we as students imagined the sound of New York City was like, and he and his quartet became the bellwether for aspiring non-fusion jazz musicians living in the DFW area. Once I began shedding my big-band ideas in favor of the East Coast small-group sound of Art Blakey, Trane, Sonny, Miles, Bird and Diz, I discovered who was in and who was out and you wanted to gravitate to people who shared these ideas about what jazz should sound like. Marchel was in.

In the 1970s, Red Garland, the famous jazz pianist and a resident of Fort Worth at the time, had an ongoing gig with Marchel at the Arandas Club, located at Oakland & Hatcher, which is still open, though no longer as a jazz club. The scene eventually shifted to the Recovery Room in Dallas. Marchel was bandleader for the house quartet at the club, a small, “intimate” and somewhat seedy joint (since it was located right next to a strip club), and you could catch him on the weekends, usually with his band of Thomas Reese or Claude Johnson (piano), Walter Scott (bass) and Walter Winn or W.A. Richardson (drums) and the ubiquitous Chuck Willis (trumpet). I would hop in my friend Peter Brown’s Corvette and we would make the 40-mile journey (in 30 minutes going 90 mph) from Denton to Dallas to make the scene at the room. On more than one occasion, Red would be the pianist. Recently, someone sent me a CD-R of myself, at age 20, with Red, Marchel, James Clay and Chuck Willis playing “Misty” at the Recovery Room for 30 minutes. Sometimes it was Marchel, the vocalist Cynthia Scott, Clay, David Newman and Red with me sitting in. Tenor summit!

The list of musicians that Marchel took under his wing would fill up this entire page. His influence on those musicians who work in the DFW area spans from the late ’60s to the present day. After the Recovery Room closed, every cat worth his weight would somehow find the spot where Marchel was playing and make the scene, fumble through the “other” changes that Marchel would find for the song you thought you knew so well, and eventually develop a lasting friendship or re-acquaint yourself. He thought about what he played. He made every note fit into a melodic phrase, trying with all his might to play the perfect solo—what we all struggle for but never achieve. He was funny. And to me he represented the best in a musician, a man and a human being.

He did three fine albums under his own name for the now-defunct Leaning House label, appeared as sideman on several others for that same label, and is a co-leader on at least one Timeless date with Rein DeGraff’s trio. At one time he left Dallas to play with Art Blakey but found life on the road not as comfortable as the life he lived in Dallas. [Jim Sangrey assisted with this story.]

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