Dallas is lucky to have the Recovery Room (4036 Cedar Springs). There’s good jazz to be heard there almost every night of the week.
Marchel Ivery, the Recovery Room’s resident tenor saxophonist, plays each week from Thursday to Saturday. His is the traditional bop style associated with the great Charlie “Bird” Parker.
Marchel, who was born in Ennis, Texas in 1938, was a junior in high school when he first turned on to Bird’s records. He switched from trumpet to alto sax (Bird was an altoist), but “there weren’t many gigs for alto players in those days,” so he moved on to tenor sax. Conflicts with a music instructor made him want to leave town, and he joined the army. This move turned out to be a good one, as he began playing for shows in the Special Services band (quite different, Marchel is quick to point out, from Army marching bands), and he was shipped to Paris during the years when many of this country’s finest jazz players were living or working there. Being in the band gave him more latitude than most servicemen had, and he had time to become acquainted with some very well-known musicians.
It was then that his talents really began to develop. In those days jam sessions were competitive and “head-cutting” was the name of the game. Sonny Stitt – with whom Marchel would work both overseas and in this country – was a notorious head-cutter and anyone playing with him had to be at his best. Stan Getz, in and out of Paris in those days, was the same way. These were the formative years of the contemporary jazz idiom.
“Paris was great then,” recalls Marchel. “The audiences were more receptive there to jazz. The scene was kind of New Yorkish in that the Left Bank was kind of like the Greenwich Village of Paris, where all the artistic-minded people hung out. I got to meet some heavyweights there. I met Miles [Davis], and John Col-trane, and eventually Philly Joe [Jones] came over. I worked with Clark Terry for about three weeks at a place called the Blue Note Club – I played with Kenny Clarke and Oscar Pettiford, and jammed with Wayne Shorter. I backed Sonny Stitt probably more than anybody else, not only in Paris but in Washington, and Boston. He doesn’t carry a band with him, he just picks up rhythm sections wherever he goes. And I worked with Bud Powell. God. he was a genius! He was kind of uncomfortable to work with at first because he’d hardly ever say anything. He was like a mummy in some ways – very hard to communicate with verbally. When you were on the bandstand with him he wouldn’t even call the names of the tunes, he’d just play an in-tro. He assumed if you were on the bandstand with him. you knew what you were doing. He was mentally ill but god. he was a giant.”
To call Bud Powell an important pianist would be a serious understatement. He was one of the most brilliant lights in the modern jazz movement of the 1940’s, influencing many pianists, including Wynton Kelly, Hampton Hawes, and Dallas’ Red Garland. Like Bird, with whom he was often associated, his life seems like the classic jazz tragedy. An alcoholic and a frequent mental patient, he could be alternately gracious and garrulous, but often entered trance-like states from which he simply could not be summoned. He died in 1966.
Discharged from the Army in 1961, Marchel went to New York and played briefly at the Village Vanguard. He preferred Paris and went back, but finally returned to Texas to settle in Dallas. It was then that the importance of his experiences in Paris dawned on him, and he decided to become a full-time musician. He began playing in various Dallas night spots, and eventually went out on the road with a blues band, which led to some work with the band of blues singer Bobby Bland. Though he worked with some swing-style bluesmen like Lowell Fulson, blues was restricting to the jazz-oriented Marchel. He played some jobs with Houston’s Lightnin’ Hopkins, whose erratic sense of timing is legendary among musicians, and with Jimmy Reed, whose simple 12-bar blues compositions were classics but lacked the intricacy needed to stimulate Marchel.
Later, he played in big bands organized by Onzie Matthews at Soul City in Fort Worth, backing acts like Sam & Dave, Johnny Taylor, and the late Freddie King.
In the late Sixties, Marchel became involved with the jazz sessions that used to take place on Sunday afternoons at the Woodmen Hall in South Dallas. Some good jams happened there, and musicians like David “Fathead” Newman, James Clay, Claude Johnson and guitarist Byron Atkins were in frequent attendance. Marchel was playing at the Woodmen on the dav he met Red Garland.
Garland, a Dallasite. had been pianist for Miles Davis in the years more than a few jazz critics believe to be the trumpeter’s most innovative. Excellent in Bud Powell’s “block chord” style. Garland has always been somewhat reclusive. After his long stint with Miles, he returned to Dallas and eventually began attending the Woodmen Hall sessions. Red was then playing in a trio at the Aran-dus Club on Oakland, and Marchel would frequently show up to jam. Marchel eventually joined Red’s group, and played with him at the Arandus, some clubs that no longer exist, and a Richard Pryor show at the Cotton Bowl. He was with Red for five years, a bit over three of which were spent at the Recovery Room. Several months ago, Red decided to re-submerge, and Marchel took over the solo spot.
“Red hasn’t the desire to go and push for work,” said Marchel. “But as far as playing with him goes – he’s a school. There’s so much that I’ve learned from Red – he always has the time to teach you something if you’re willing to take time and learn. I’ve found that with all his knowledge and experience, he’s a very humble man. He takes charge in a band, of course, and lets you know that he’s the vital force on the bandstand, but he’s very comfortable to work with. And like most creative musicians, he’s very honest. If you don’t blow right, he’ll say, ’Hey, man, you don’t sound so good tonight.’ And I like that honesty.”
Red still makes an occasional unscheduled appearance at the Recovery Room, but Marchel is an excellent musician in his own right. He plays with what’s been termed the “Texas tenor sound,” meaning the big, gutty sound favored by Texas players like Fathead Newman, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, James Clay, and others – a sound that contrasts satisfy-ingly with the lighter, less muscular sound of, say, Stan Getz. His fundamental stylistic influences are Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins.
Several sidemen of varying ability have been backing Marchel, but his regular band consists of Walter Winn (drums), Charles Scott (bass), and Thomas Reese (piano). Scott, an extremely talented musician, is a music instructor at a Fort Worth high school. His acoustic bass fits more within the context of Marchel’s music than does the work of any of the electric bassists who occasionally sit in. Pianist Reese is also competent, but hampered by the shoddy Recovery Room piano.
Walter Winn is a fine drummer, though he gets a little heavy-handed at times, and he’s somewhat of a story himself. He’s a good painter, and his oil portraits of Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and others do a lot to enhance the atmosphere of the club. Here, amid portraits of the legends, one may immerse oneself in jazz – jazz without synthesizers, cheap and harsh-sounding keyboards, and disco-funkiness.
Marchel is uncomfortable with “fusion jazz.”
“I try and stay away from that.” he states. “I like the natural sound, the beauty of a musical instrument played without going through a lot of electronics. I kind of hate to say anything about this because there are a lot of musicians I like who’re into that. I don’t mind a guitar player who can go with the electronics, because it just seems natural for a guitar to be amplified. But as far as synthesizers and electric pianos go. I can play with them but 1 prefer not to. You seem to lose something with all the excessive volume and the electronics. I much prefer acoustic bass and acoustic piano. You get an instrument that does everything for you. you lose some of the artistry.”
Artistry is important to Marchel. The repertoire of his band is largely made up of jazz standards, but few of his sets are mundane because of his exceptional improvising ability. Arrangements of weathered numbers like “Nica’s Dream.” “Autumn Leaves.” and (always a high point of the night) “On Green Dolphin Street” emerge with satisfying energy when handled by Marchel. because of the intensity and character of his lengthy improvised solos.
“Nobody can teach you to improvise.” says Marchel. “That’s where the art and the personal expression come in. You have to have a good knowledge of chords, of course . . . but take Bird, who had no formal training. He never wrote anything down, but he did things out of the rules of art. so to speak, and he did things no one had ever done before. The first time Cole-man Hawkins ever saw Bird, he told him. ’You’re not supposed to play saxophone like that! You’re not supposed to be able to play a saxophone like that!’ ’Cause it all boils down to feelin’. It depends on other things, too. you have to be sensitive to what the rhythm section is doin’ . . . some musicians can take off and not be hip to what the rhythm section is doin’ and that’s when you hear some boring stuff. You have to be able to hear with feelin’ as well as play with feelin’ . . . and that’s where your natural ability comes in. No one can teach you that.”
Word is getting out that the Recovery Room is regarded as quite a place by big-time jazz musicians like Buddy Rich, who dropped in some weeks ago and jammed with Marchel’s group. Woody Herman has stopped by since then, with several young band members who sat in on some tunes.
There are ragged edges to Marchel’s music, and neither the piano nor the sound system in the Recovery Room is a prize-winner. But Marchel and his band play some of the hippest jazz in town, durable and untouched by trendiness.