Shannon Barnett speaks with the virtuosic Marshall Gilkes, a Downbeat Criticʼs Poll ʻRising Starʼ for the past four years, who recently moved back to New York City after several years performing with the renowned WDR Big Band in Germany. Marshall is a member of the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the Edmar Castañeda Trio and has also produced three acclaimed records as a leader.
Check out Marshall’s farewell concert with the WDR Big Band, also featuring Shannon.
Marshall: My Dad had his old trombone in the closet and when I was about five or six he let me play a couple of notes on it. He studied trombone at Eastman School of Music and then played euphonium in the Air Force band in Washington…they were encouraging, but they never pushed anything on me.
Later on, in fifth grade, they were trying to see which instrument fit whatever person and I could already blow a few notes on trombone, so thatʼs how I ended up starting on it.
Shannon: What or who encouraged you to move to New York? What was the process?
Marshall: Well, I first came out to go to school at William Paterson (University in New Jersey) but it wasnʼt the best fit for me at the time, so I quit after a year and moved into the city. Conrad Herwig told me “Man, if you move into the city you can start doing some salsa gigs and making some money”, and so after about a year I was doing tons of that stuff. It was totally foreign to me at the time, but I got really into it and tried to study the rhythms; but also thereʼs that mentality where if you missed a note, guys were gonna look at you and maybe scream or something. That was an incredible education. Also as a brass player, having to play like that every night and learn how to control it.
Shannon: The history of that style of trombone playing is often so brassy and loud, which are not things I associate with your playing, especially with the Edmar Castañeda trio, but you still borrow from the tradition in a lot of ways…
Marshall: Years ago I played in a band led by the singer Luis Blasini called ʻIrokoʼ. We played transcriptions of La Perfecta and Eddie Palmieri. The original players from those recordings were José Rodriguez and Barry Rogers. The way I played over that is very different from the way I play Edmarʼs music… I probably played a lot more brassy. I remember really going for it on some of those gigs and the next morning waking up and feeling like someone had punched me in the face.
Shannon: And then later you ended up studying at Juilliard?
Marshall: I was living in the city for a while, and actually my girlfriend at the time suggested that I might want to teach when I got older, so I went back and finished my degree at Juilliard and did the Artist Diploma program. I studied a lot with Joe Alessi and worked on tons of excerpts. I think it makes me a stronger player; working on that stuff. Before moving to New York I actually studied with Buddy Baker at the University of Northern Colorado for a year. He really drilled the fundamentals into his students. The year I spent with him really set me on a strong track in terms of developing as a trombone player. I think the most valuable thing that I did and still do was work hard on classical stuff. Really learning the horn made it much easier for me to be versatile….(for example) being able to walk in and play a brass quintet and then the next day go play a Latin gig.