Jazz with a bow

Kye Marshall gives cello new musical role

An article by Geoff Chapman

Cello is not the first instrument you think of when talking jazz.

But Kye Marshall is aiming to give it a significant role. How well she's succeeding can be tested Monday at the release concert for her fascinating new CD, Say When, featuring her jazz team pianist Don Thompson, bass Jim Vivian and guitarist Kevin Barrett. Its nine originals are meant to underscore her concerns about damage to the planet by such nasties as global warming and the humankind that's caused it, for example.

Classically educated at U of T, and a student of composition with Gordon Delamont, Marshall held senior posts with the National Ballet Orchestra, the O'Keefe Centre Orchestra and the New Chamber Orchestra but she decided that was not enough.

"I got tired of playing in an orchestra. It was like being in a museum, you did what you were told and it was not much fun," she said in an interview.

"Improvisation on the other hand is fun and I took it seriously. I worked at it with pianist Tom Baker (a collaboration that resulted in two CDs of instantaneous composition, In The Moment and Carpe Diem). From free improvisation I went into jazz, though that process took a long time. I'm writing my own material, but I do play standards that lend thermselves to cello, such as `You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To.'

"The range of the cello's sound is so beautiful. It's a very lyrical instrument that is especially effective on ballads, though it is so quiet that it's hard to project the sound. Cello and guitar works if the sound system is good and you need a very sensitive drummer, such as Terry Clarke and Anthony Michelli."

Marshall found she needed to study sax guru Charlie Parker in order to get into jazz effectively "it was hard to find a jazz role model and it's hard to bow jazz. (Bass) Oscar Pettiford did well with cello pizzicato but (bass) Ron Carter sounded really bad on my instrument."

She says hers is chamber music, noting that a cello can't play bebop, because it's not a driving, penetrating instrument, and there's always a danger harmonic richness will be lost.

It would be hard to name any Canadian jazz cellist there's Hamilton-born, New York-based Rufus Cappadocia and in Vancouver, Peggy Lee is a prominent figure in avant-garde and new-music circles.

"I feel the cello is beginning to be recognized I play it solo, using over-dubbing and sometimes playing it as a drum. Now it's even fun to play the classics, which I do in my Epic Quartet."

Marshall may be in a crowd of one and in another field, she may be Canada's only practising music psychotherapist (not to be confused with music therapists, who deal with specific ailments).

"I've always been interested in music as healing, and I began the psychotherapeutic work after studying with (British writer) J.B. Priestley's daughter Mary. I have 100 instruments in my home that are used with improvisation in ways that help people deal with their experiences in a non-verbal way."