I caught up with drummer Sherrie Maricle, director of the Diva Jazz Orchestra, by phone as she lunched with Philly trombonist Robin Eubanks at the St. Louis Jazz Festival on Friday. Knowing her background championing women in jazz over the years (a very tough gig in a male-dominated genre), I was intrigued to hear why she had moved from the Big Apple to Philly. Usually it’s the other way around.
I first met Sherrie last year, when she offered her beautiful new venue, Drummers, to Jazz Bridge, a charity aiding Philly jazz and blues musicians in crisis (founded by yours truly), for an appreciation party for a measly $100. That vein of goodwill is part of what brought her to our town.
The city of drummerly love
"I moved to Philly for love. I had been in New York City a long time,” she says, and then she hit the road with Maurice Hines, serving as his music director and drummer, “and I realized things were a bit different than when I moved to the city at age 21. Plus, I loved Philly.”
One of the DIVA Jazz Orchestra’s founding partners already lived in Philly, so Maricle was often in town, and “Susan, the person I love, lived in Philly. So, I thought, it’s a no-brainer. I’m moving to Philadelphia! I love it.”
Maricle and her partner traipsed around town, looking at about 30 places in Philly to settle down, and finally decided on an old stationery factory in Kensington at 2152 E. Norris Street. In fact, the place had been the first address the realtor led them to. But Maricle wanted to make sure no one was going to complain about bands practicing in the neighborhood (drumroll, please) and the deal was sealed (cymbal crash).
Not about the business
“It was so unique. When we first bought it, the first floor was totally in the raw. I started having this funny fantasy, like, what if it was like a cool club? I started to investigate the house-concert things around the country, and I figured, let me give this a try.”
Bookings in the room started in earnest this past January, with jam sessions on the first Monday of the month, but Maricle wants future shows to be a creative mix and include “a little bit of performance and a little bit of education.” So on May 7, she’ll have drummer Jeff Hamilton and his trio (featuring organ virtuoso Akiko Tsuruga) for a concert and workshop from 3 to 4:30 pm.
Maricle is excited: “My goal is to present something amazing once a month, and Jeff is one of the world’s most renowned swinging jazz drummers.”
And this new Philly gal says it ain’t about the money if you want to rent her space. She’s willing to give back to her new community of musicians as long as she can keep the lights on. "The space isn't about business. If I can get the piano tuned and keep enough toilet paper on hand, I'm good.”
Her generous spirit and her killer bio also help when getting major talent into this fresh Philly venue. Maricle is a familiar presence at revered music spots from the Lincoln Center to the Kennedy Center to the Hollywood Bowl to jazz festivals all over the globe. Maricle’s orchestra was featured at the 2017 NEA Jazz Master’s Awards Ceremony, plus a slew of national TV credits, and the entire band co-stars in the award-winning documentary film The Girls in the Band.
Maricle has received the 2009 Mary Lou Williams-Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, a 2013 State Department grant to tour Vietnam with her small group, and the Kennedy Center Alliance Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Arts.
She’s got an important Kimmel Center gig coming up on April 27 with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, and is very excited to be performing there.
“Obviously, it's one of the greatest concert halls in the country. When the DIVA Jazz Orchestra turned 25 last year, we did a huge project celebrating our quarter-century swinging around the world,” she says. This show in her new hometown will showcase the band’s history, including original material and special arrangements of standards: “I'm going to play some of my favorite tunes from the different eras of the group.”
‘DIVA and the Boys’
Another new project coming out this June is a new CD, DIVA and the Boys, on Pittsburgh’s MCG Jazz Label. The “Boys” are monsters. Five male soloists recorded with the all-women orchestra—clarinetist Ken Peplowski, Maurice Hines, Brazilian trumpeter Claudio Roditi, guitarist Marty Ashby, and trombonist/arranger Jay Ashby. I’m thinking Sherrie Maricle and her band had no problem keeping the men in line and in time. Can’t wait to hear it.
Check out Drummers on Facebook and like the page—you’ll get all the events coming up. Hip space, good music, great hang. And Maricle even has a popcorn machine.
What, When, Where
Hear Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra at the Kimmel Center on Saturday, April 27, at 8pm. Tickets are available online.
The Kimmel Center is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Upholstered, loose chairs are available for purchase online, by calling Patron Services at (215) 893-1999/(215) 893-1999 TTY, or emailing [email protected]