Thomas Marriott is a busy musician. But he wants to be busier. He’s a jazz trumpeter with two kids and a mortgage to cover. He pays bills by gigging locally and on the road, composing, recording, and producing shows that bring artists from other places. After attending Garfield, he boomeranged from the University of Washington Jazz Studies program, to touring with Maynard Ferguson, to working in New York, to a Seattle homecoming. He has 9 records under his belt as a leader and appears on more than 100 as a sideman.
In April, I spotted a social media post that he was leading a quartet in Seattle at the Owl and Thistle. The gig wasn’t listed on his website, but I knew his strong following would draw a crowd. I headed down to the club to take a listen and be on the scene.
I wasn’t alone. Not by a long shot. There were only a few open seats when I arrived. I recognized many musicians in the audience. Some had come for the jam session that would commence after Marriott’s first set, and some were just out to hear good music and stay connected to each other.
I found Marriott near the bar, his tinted glasses, bald scalp, and black shirt masking emotion. But his body movements gave off the focus and intensity of an FBI Special Weapons and Tactics agent preparing for assault – earnest, efficient, effortless.
Touring musicians performing in Seattle have dropped by this long standing Tuesday night live jazz venue in the past – trumpeters like Roy Hargrove and Wynton Marsalis. “I hope Eddie Henderson comes down,” Marriott told me. Marriott had checked out Henderson years ago in New York, and he was appearing at nearby Jazz Alley in Seattle that night.
Bassist Geoff Harper, in a red hoodie, casually towered over an empty cocktail in the corner. Pianist Dawn Clement paced between the stage and bar in a dress of black and white triangles. She hadn’t yet kicked off her shoes to perform.
It was ten o’clock sharp and the trio was waiting for drummer Jose Martinez. Eventually, I saw someone in a dark Kangol hat coming down the hall with a cymbal bag slung over his shoulder – Jose. The music was about to begin.
Dawn, Jose, and Geoff took up their positions on the low stage as quiet strains of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” wafted from the background sound system. Marriott stepped up to the microphone stand in front of the stage, raised his muted trumpet, and the band blended seamlessly with the recording. Marriott’s three right fingers curled over the pistons while his pinky and thumb rested out-stretched on the tubing – his hand appearing to make the Hawaiian “hang loose” gesture.
More people drifted into the room, finding the few places left to stand and sit. Everyone applauded after Marriott’s opening musical statement, recognizing the sensitivity of his phrasing and warmth of his tone. For the rest of the set, Marriott deftly crafted phrase after phrase of cleanly articulated notes. Every pitch, high or low, resonated in a full tone. Every phrase led to the next. Every idea bounced playfully between the musicians. Flow and finesse became one.
A few days later, Marriott and I conversed over caffeine at Café Solstice. It had been years since he first sat in with me at a jam session. But his show at the Owl and Thistle demonstrated that his main motivators – passion for performance and raising the bar on the local musical scene – have remained constant over time. When I commented on his consistent technical prowess, he recounted a time when he couldn’t play more than 20 minutes at a stretch. He sought help from a trumpet coach, Greg Lyons, to improve his stamina through improving the critical placement of mouthpiece and embouchure. Ever since, his trumpet playing looks deceptively easy but consistently sounds solid.
Marriott’s current physical challenge involves his eyesight. Glaucoma and an inflammation of his irises have led him to practice memorizing the material he will perform so that he need not rely on reading music on the bandstand. The silver lining of this obstacle is that he internalizes and embodies the music more which deepens his interpretation and improvisation.
This month’s schedule gives Marriott plenty to practice. He starts May on the East Coast with Anton Schwartz and ends in Seattle with his tribute to Miles Davis featuring organ trio McTuff and saxophonist Skerik. In between he will perform at the Ballard Jazz Festival, premiere a concerto by Samantha Boshnack, be featured soloist with the Bellevue College Big Band, and perform live on KPLU. Thomas Marriott is a busy musician.
Some of Marriott’s Favorite Recordings
Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions (2015) – Steve Wilson
“This hits on all cylinders – above the shoulders and below the waist.” It also features pianist Orrin Evans who often collaborates with Marriott.
Jawbreakers (1965) – Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Harry “Sweets” Edison
“This great personal style is not played anymore.”
Here Comes the Whistle Man – Rahsaan Roland Kirk
“This live recording includes some storytelling. I’m incorporating stories in my Urban Folklore project.”
Changes One and Two – Charles Mingus
“I’m trying to bring Jack Walrath out to perform in Seattle.”
Marriott in May
May 5th – Blues Alley, Washington D.C. w/ Anton Schwartz
May 6th – Chris’ Jazz Club, Philadelphia, PA w/ Anton Schwartz
May 9th – Ballard Jazz Festival Swedish Pancake Breakfast
May 9th – Langston Hughes Arts Center w/ Samantha Boshnak and B’shnorkestra.
May 16th – Ellensburg, WA – Guest artist w/Bellevue College Big Band
May 17th – Hood River, OR – Guest artist w/Bellevue College Big Band
May 18th – Portland, OR -Guest artist w/Bellevue College Big Band
May 27th – KPLU 88.5 FM “Studio Session” live in studio
May 30th – 3rd Annual Miles Davis Night, Tula’s Jazz Club