Buddy Rich used to bill himself as the World’s Greatest Drummer. Sherrie Maricle would not disagree. Chatting in a Carnegie Hall anteroom before an April performance with the New York Pops, the drummer recalled seeing Rich for the first time in 1974 at the Forum in Binghamton, New York. She was 11.
“I remember my jaw dropping,” she said. “I was awestruck.”
That experience served as motivation in her percussion studies, from her undergraduate career at SUNY Binghamton through her days as a doctoral student at New York University. And its effects are evident today in every swinging stroke of her drum stick as she propels the DIVA Jazz Orchestra into its second quarter-century.
The orchestra was the brainchild of Rich’s longtime manager, the late Stanley Kay, who, aware of Maricle’s ability to channel Rich’s sensibility—and eager to help rectify the lack of opportunities for women in jazz—suggested to her that they form an all-female big band.
Under her musical direction, the band has over the years cooked up a muscular mix of swagger, soul and intense lyricism. The orchestra’s impressive longevity can be attributed partially to the aesthetic clarity with which she guides the band.
“I like tunes with melodies,” Maricle said. “For lack of a better term, ‘straightahead’ and swinging all the way.”
Those were the guidelines Maricle gave the band members when they wrote material for the DIVA Jazz Orchestra’s 25th Anniversary Project (ArtistShare). Unlike the band’s nine previous albums—which featured compositions and arrangements by genre stalwarts—the new album consists solely of tunes by the band’s members.
“This recording represents the next chapter of DIVA,” said trumpeter and band manager Jami Dauber, who joined in 1995.
Within Maricle’s parameters, the tunes are a varied lot. They range from unadorned swingers, like baritone saxophonist/bass clarinetist Leigh Pilzer’s opener, “East Coast Andy,” to Maricle’s closer, “The Rhythm Changes.”
In between, the tunes invoke the sounds of Latin America and the Middle East. And they explore personal themes, as on Maricle’s exquisite ballad “Forever In My Heart,” a piece about love and loss, whose major minor seventh chords, she said, “embody the message of the song.”
While the band rarely has departed from its prime directive to swing, it has experimented harmonically—combining with the New York Pops for Rolf Liebermann’s 12-tone “Concerto For Jazz Band And Symphony Orchestra.” The piece brought 95 musicians to the Carnegie Hall stage.
“It was an amazing experience,” Dauber said. “I’d love to do it again.”
The combined forces have tackled other extended works, among them Tommy Newsom’s arrangement of “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead.” But DIVA’s 400 big band charts remain its bread-and-butter. At the band’s annual March gig at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York, the group emphasized those charts, highlighted by the material on the new album. The engagement featured guest appearances by two former DIVA members: clarinetist Anat Cohen and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.
The band continues to schedule concerts at top venues. Last year, it played the Hollywood Bowl for the third time. In August, DIVA will make its debut at the Newport Jazz Festival. But other spots remain unconquered, prime among them the London landmark Ronnie Scott’s. As the site of one of Maricle’s favorite albums, 1980’s Buddy Rich Live At Ronnie Scott’s, the Soho club holds a special place among her aspirations.
“It’s on my bucket list,” she said. DB