Marion has just released his newest CD, and 3rd project for Heads Up, "In Deep." Along with a sensual mix of retro-soul and contemporary hip-hop flavor, Marion throws in a few twists such as his alto and tenor sax playing. As always though, he blends in stellar guests such as Will Downing, Bob Baldwin, Roy Hargrove, Ray Obiedo, and Julio Fernandez of Spyro Gyra. Articulate and knowledgeable about his craft, Marion was eager to share his views on his music, his peers, and the state of Contemporary Jazz in general.
Marion spoke with JazzReview from his home in Phoenix.
JazzReview: First off, congratulations on a great CD! What are you trying to say with this new project? It’s a little different than the last couple of CDs you’ve put out.
Marion Meadows: Thank you. I wanted to go back and get some of my other horns out of the closet, my tenor in particular as well as my alto. I have always been one to try new things and keep the music fresh. Contemporary Jazz can be so much more than they tend to want to make it. I hate seeing it turn into elevator music.
JazzReview: I didn’t realize you played tenor. You’re very good at it.
Marion Meadows: I actually started out on tenor, though clarinet was my first instrument. It kind of lent itself to me becoming an exclusive soprano sax player. But tenor was my first sax and I felt that it was calling me; that tenor sound.
JazzReview: Your playing has always remained distinctive. Who has influenced your sound?
Marion Meadows: I did have a lot of influences. And then at some point in my college days, I decided that I was going to stop doing what other typical college musicians tend to do; they tend to listen so intently to their favorite artist or artists that they start to copy their sound. I was very much into Grover [Washington, Jr.]. Being a tenor player, I was into John Coltrane, so there was a period where I was into the avant-garde side of things. Of course being of my generation, I listened to Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and Earth Wind & Fire. They are people who are basically jazz artists [in their approach] when you think about it. So you see these fusions & styles coming together and I decided to concentrate more on an overall genre that was contemporary. That was going to be my sound, so I stopped listening, that is, stopped sitting down trying to learn note-for-note, my favorite players.
JazzReview: Who’s in your CD player right now?
Marion Meadows: Lately I have been listening to a lot of Brazilian artist Toninho Horta. I actually know him; he was an influence on Pat Metheny. I also listen to my colleagues in the business: Najee, Gerald Albright, Boney (James), and those guys. They all put out great records. Kirk Whalum always puts out a great recording. I’m also very eclectic. There’s a classical composer by the name of Michael Torke who I listen to as well.
JazzReview: I have always considered you as underrated player. People can always talk about the newer guys, the Dave Koz’s, the Boney James, but you’re one of those artists that people always seem to recognize your sound and your music, but they just don’t know your name. Why do you think that is?
Marion Meadows: I can only say that I haven’t had as many "hits" at radio, per se, although I have always had records at radio, it’s just one of those things were you sometimes slip through the cracks in one respect. But, I have always been part of the scene with other sax players that keep going around the circuit from Kim Waters to Paul Taylor to Kirk Whalum.
JazzReview: Let’s talk about the guest artists you play with. You have always worked with big name jazz artists like Bob Baldwin, Michael Bearden, Will Downing, and eclectic names such as (keyboardist) Yutaka Yokokura. On the new CD you got Ray Obiedo, Roy Hargrove, which was a big surprise, & Julio Fernandez. Tell us about the collaborative process.
Marion Meadows: You know, I’ll have someone in mind, and then I’ll get on the phone and beg them [laughter]! Actually it’s great to have friends in the business who do say yes. That’s what it’s all about. We are all in this together and we should share in musical moments together that become part of history. To have Roy Hargrove who’s well known for being a traditional straight-ahead trumpet player, but it’s no secret that he loves funk music and contemporary approaches. He’s even doing a record of his own that’s all contemporary funk stuff.
JazzReview: Do you get frustrated when you hear critics say you’re not staying true to the jazz tradition? Is it frustrating when you encounter artists who try to keep the music in the past and don’t allow it to come forward?
Marion Meadows: It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. I think even now those guys can see the hypocrisy of what they’re trying to say. They’re trying to say music was never ever supposed to evolve. I do agree when they say that some of the [contemporary] music becomes repetitive and mundane sounding and we’re losing an edge at being creative and being composers. A lot of these musicians who are the contemporary icons of today could get a little more adventurous with their composing. They’re pretty much catering to "smooth" jazz. I understand. It’s their living and their bread and butter and they’re doing quite well for themselves. All of these musicians out here know Kenny G can blow. I don’t know why he just doesn’t put out an album of some serious blowing like he did back in the Jeff Lorber [Group] days. It would not have hurt him. Things like that I think are just a little cowardly of musicians when they cower down to being so set in a formula. This is true of American music today. Unfortunately, American music has decided that it should be formula-based including Rock and Pop and now, contemporary jazz. The only people who are staying true to being creative are the Straight-Ahead jazz players who do have a home and fan base in other countries. They don’t particularly embrace contemporary jazz because they feel as though it’s not taking itself seriously enough, and I agree with that.
JazzReview: This is why you’re not more widely known. You’re a radical and they have got to keep you quiet!
Marion Meadows: [Laughter] No doubt!
JazzReview: What’s next for you? Will you be touring in support of the CD?
Marion Meadows: We are touring very heavily. The record is doing very well. I have some shows coming up with Joe McBride, Pieces of a Dream, Alexander Zonjic, and Angie Bofill. I also go on tour with [R & B group] Levert for a few days coming up as well.
JazzReview: That’s going to open you up to some new audiences. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either. I think R & B artists should share the stage with contemporary jazz artists. I think it’s basically the same audience at times.
Marion Meadows: I did a show in New Orleans right before last year’s Super Bowl where jazz artists shared the stage with Rap and R & B artists, and you know what? Nobody was offended by any of the other styles of music. It was all good artists. It’s all music, all good music. You can be eclectic even at live shows.
JazzReview: I think jazz fans are a little more sophisticated than what label executives and radio programmers give them credit for.
Marion Meadows: I agree.
JazzReview: Well, I won’t take up any more of your time. I really appreciate you taking your time to speak your mind on these subjects.
Marion Meadows: Great!