Marcos Varela – What’s on your Playlist?

September 6, 2016

Marcos_Varela_photo_by_Rahul-Bhardwaj_image3Bassist Marcos Varela is one of the young bright lights on the NYC jazz scene. A native of Houston, he attended that city’s renowned High School for the Performing & Visual Arts, where his fellow alumni include Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Eric Harland, Chris Dave, and Beyoncé. 

Varela arrived in NYC to continue his studies at the New School, leading to performance opportunities with a wide range of artists including George Cables, Billy Hart, Clifton Anderson, Jason Moran, Geri Allen, The Last Poets, the Mingus Big Band, Kendrick Scott, Billy Harper, and Tyshawn Sorey, among countless others. He has also composed music for several film and TV projects, including director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese’s film, Roots in Water. Varela has performed at major jazz festivals in Monterey, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, Slovenia, and New York City, as well as at jazz clubs like Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the Jazz Standard, Birdland, The Blue Note, and many more. 

Marcos Varela’s striking debut recording, San Ygnacio (Origin Records), traces his roots back to the historic Texas town where his family has lived and worked on the same ranch since the 18th century. The powerfully compelling recording features Varela with veterans George Cables, Billy Hart, and Clifton Anderson alongside a crew of exceptional younger players. 

Marcos Varela’s debut album, San Ygnacio (Origin Records), was released on March 18, 2016. www.marcosvarelamusic.com

1. Kenny BarronBook of Intuition 

I love this record and I love this trio, having had the pleasure of seeing them many times live both as a trio and with Dayna Stephens, (who appears on my album San Ygnacio). They are so tight and Kenny has been one of my favorite pianists since I was a young musician and I listened thoroughly to his work with Stan Getz, his Live at Bradley’s record, and the Night and the City duo record with Charlie Haden.

2. Tony WilliamsBelieve It 

I had listened deeply to Tony Williams’ work with Miles Davis, and his band in the ‘80s with Bill Pierce, Wallace Roney, Mulgrew Miller, Bob Hurst, and Ira Coleman, but I hadn’t gone deeply into his ‘70s music and the lifetime band. Recently I played on a gig with the great Antoine Roney’s band and, to and from the gig, Antoine showed me this music and I was in awe. I loved Tony’s writing, concept, playing, and how he put a band together. A deep study in a master of modern music.

3. Joni MitchellMingus

Upon a recent viewing of the new film, Jaco (thanks to my friend and fellow bassist, Felix Pastorius), I was (re)introduced to the period in which Jaco worked a lot with Joni Mitchell; I had been aware of it, but hadn’t checked out the music much. Jaco’s playing on “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” really hit me on this record, as well as the version of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”

4. Don EllisHow Time Passes 

Ron Carter has been a mentor of mine for some time and recently I was going back through some of his earlier work and I stumbled across this record. It caught my attention as it had Charli Persip on it, as well. Charli was actually the person who introduced me to Mr. Carter after I had been working in Charli’s trio and big band. The pianist on the record, Jaki Byard, had passed by the time I got to NYC, but I had known of Byard’s music and playing for some time after being introduced to his music during a clinic in my high school days by fellow Houstonian Jason Moran. He was one of Jason’s early teachers in NYC. I have since become a huge fan of his work – especially his record Here’s Jaki (with Ron Carter as well). I had mostly known Don for being an avant-garde musician and film composer, most notably on the famous movie, The French Connection; I’m a big fan of great films and scores, and have composed for film myself, (Director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese’s Roots in Water, John Carlino’s Greenwich and 11th). I thought it would be an intriguing

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, and it most certainly is. Compositionally it’s very interesting harmonically and metrically, at a time when I feel that wasn’t a common experimentation in jazz. Everyone shines and Jaki Byard’s solo on “A Simplex One” is simply amazing. 

5. David BowieBlack Star 

Being a fan of Bowie since childhood it was a no-brainer for me to get this the day it came out. Sadly, Bowie died shortly after its release – I was actually listening to this record when I heard the news. Such an influential human and musician, and this record doesn’t skip a beat. Every song is a gem, and it’s a classic record already. Also the choice of musicians is top-notch. Bowie always picked some of the best musicians on the scene to play on his records.

6. Don SebeskyGiant Box 

Super interesting date with an all-star cast of musicians with amazing, beautiful arrangements that don’t let down. Freddie Hubbard is in top form on “Free as a Bird,” and Paul Desmond’s beautiful sound on “Sound to a Seagull” is haunting and gorgeous. I love the recorded sound Creed Taylor gets of Ron Carter’s bass, and the playing and arrangements are just top-notch.

7. Emily KingThe Switch 

I’ve been fan of Emily – and her family – for some time. She comes from a family of super-talented musicians and artists. This record, produced by Jeremy Most, is some of the most beautiful music that is being made today, in my opinion. Beautiful songs, lyrics, arrangements – high artistry is at work here. Don’t miss out on this one!

8. Hamilton Soundtrack 

Leslie Odom, Jr. (who plays Aaron Burr in the Broadway production, and is included on this original cast recording) hired me to play with his band prior to the opening of Hamilton on Broadway, so I’ve been aware of the buzz around this musical for a while. I’ve now seen the show a couple of times, and I was blown away by the performances and the songwriting, and by Leslie’s performance in particular. It’s by far one of the most inspiring musical theater performances I’ve ever seen – but it even goes beyond that genre. It’s just an inspiring musical performance. If you’re in the NYC area don’t miss out on your chance to see it with (most of) the original cast.

9. Sam CookeTribute to the Lady 

My dad was always a huge fan of Sam Cooke, so I have very fond memories of hearing his music growing up. If you’re a fan of his, this tribute album to Billie Holiday is one to pick up. His phrasing, voice, and feel are just amazing, as always. I wish there were more recordings of him singing the American songbook like this.

10. Logan RichardsonShift 

This Blue Note debut of Logan’s is some of my favorite music being made today. To me, Logan’s playing and writing is so forward thinking and fresh, yet retains all the soul and history of where the art form (jazz) comes from – a reason I had to include him on my record date. The all-star cast on his record includes Jason Moran, Pat Metheny, Nasheet Waits, and Harish Raghavan and they do great justice to Logan’s music, and this record will be a classic for years to come.

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