Last night, local sax great Shelley Carrol was told he would need to fill in tonight for Marchel Ivery, who was scheduled to play Terilli's on Greenville Avenue for the second time this month. Carrol was told only that Ivery was ill: He'd been checked into Presbyterian Hospital for pneumonia, a rather sudden development. Carrol thought nothing of it: He and Ivery often swapped gigs, almost as often as they performed with each other. Indeed, Carrol and Ivery just finished recording an album together, an homage to the great Texas tenors -- that fat, wide-open sound pioneered by the likes of Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, James Clay and David "Fathead" Newman. Carrol and Ivery were old pals, introduced years ago by pianist Roger Boykin at the Green Parrot, where Ivery was playing with Clay. They were also labelmates on Mark Elliott's late, lamented Leaning House.
Then, early this afternoon, Carrol -- like every other jazz musician around town -- got the phone call: Marchel Ivery, at age 69, died around 5:30 this morning. And just like that, one of Dallas' most beloved and influential musicians -- not to mention one of its most famous, if only outside the city limits -- was gone. "And, man, he was a really great guy -- he was inspiring," Carroll tells Unfair Park today. "He never said a negative word. He'd go around the way to teach you rather than scold you. I loved him. He was a sweetheart. He's gonna be missed. It's a sad day in Dallas."
The earliest recordings of Ivery were recently released: from the South Dallas Pop Festival in 1970. He did not record under his own name until 1994, when he released Marchel's Mode on Leaning House; also on the album was Dallas-born piano great Cedar Walton, who had performed on John Coltrane's original recordings for Giant Steps, among the most influential albums ever made. Walton and Ivery met in Dallas in 1966, at the Arandas Club, a legendary haunt. Years later, Walton would tell Marchel's Mode liner-note writer Doug Ramsey, "Marchel is a great exponent of the tenor sound that includes Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, and he is a delight to play with. He's at a state where he deserves to be heard nationally and internationally."
Ivery was born in Ennis on September 13, 1938, and though he'd gain international renown as a sax player, he originally played trumpet -- when he was all of 12. As Ramsey noted, Ivery switched to sax after hearing Charlie Parker on the radio.
After graduating George Washington Carver High School, he went into the Army, and as Dave Oliphant notes in his invaluable 1996 book Texas Jazz, Ivery was stationed in Europe in the late 1950s -- and it was there he began performing with no less a legend than Bud Powell at Cheque Peche. By the mid-1960s, he was playing with another Dallas-born great: pianist Red Garland -- "whom he joined in June of 1983 in New York for Red's last job," Oliphant wrote.
Eight years ago, I spoke with Ivery about his friendship with Garland -- and the role he played in shaping Ivery's career. This is what he said, in part:
"I was always in awe of him," Ivery says. "Whenever we were on the bandstand, it was an experience I can't explain. It's something I will cherish forever. I wish he was here today. I talked to Red every day. He would call me, and we would talk an hour, two hours. Then, when we'd get off the phone, he'd say, 'You coming over?' I'd sit over there till one in the morning, and we'd talk, talk, talk. I wish I had a tape recorder. We talked about Dizzy, Max, Charlie Parker. He said that when he played with Charlie, he didn't want to solo after him, he was so good. I asked him if he recorded with Parker, and he said yeah, but he didn't know what happened to the recording. The record they did together, Live at Storyville, came out a year after Red passed. He passed without even knowing about it."
Ivery released two more albums on Leaning House: Marchel Ivery Meets Joey DeFrancesco in 1997 and, two years later, 3. He also recorded with David Newman in 1990. All are essential recordings. As Elliott notes in the liner notes for Marchel's Mode, "It is rare for a recording with musicians of this quality to take place outside of New York or Los Angeles, and rare for players outside those circles to get recognition commensurate with their talents. I hope this effort will bend those conventions." Ten years ago, Texas Monthly's John Morthland wrote: "It's not so much that 57-year-old Ivery has slipped through the cracks as that he has conducted his entire career between them."
Elliott has graciously allowed us to include a track from that album below: a stunning rendition of the Cole Porter standard, "Every Time We Say Goodbye."
Shelley Carrol has spent the better part of the afternoon phoning jazzers with whom Ivery played -- among them, Wynton Marsalis, who would jam with Ivery at Sandaga Market on Levee Street whenever he came to town. They were there last December and only last month. And in January they performed together at a tribute to Texas tenors at the Trinity Jazz Festival -- some extraordinary photos are available here from the event. But tonight, Carrol says, he will play "what Marchel would have played" when he takes the stage at Terilli's. No doubt there will be memorial concerts to come; his will be a loss deeply felt, by the players who admired him and the fans who adored him.
"He plays here almost every week," says Terillli's manager, Joey Terilli. "Has since I was 24, and I'm 38. I always call him 'Marchel My Bell,' and I can't do it no more. It's a crushing thing to me and to the music industry. I don't ever cry, but this, it brought a tear to my eye." --Robert Wilonsky
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Marchel Ivery with Cedar Walton, Lyles West and Ed Soph,
(from the 1994 album Marchel's Mode)