At home on tenor saxophone while blowing through jazz standards, or creating genre-bending works with the Bay Area’s leading DJs and producers, Marcus Stephens defies genre or category. Equipped with a full sound, fluid lines, and a stompbox of pedals that would make even Nels Cline blush, Stephens returns to SF Offside for the first installment in our Spark Series.
Last time we met this versatile player, it was with Secret Sidewalk, an electro-acoustic quintet that mixes sampling and synths with drums and saxophone. This time round, we’re presenting Stephens as a bandleader in a group with a very different sound. Loosely based on the classic organ trios of the 50s and 60s, the Markstep Trio, featuring Eric Garland on drums and Colin Hogan on keyboards, is not your typical jazz trio, traversing multiple musical landscapes, including jazz, rock, soul, funk, and hip hop. These three seasoned collaborators bring a certain versatility and vibrancy to their playing together that is sure to delight.
We caught up with Marcus to ask him a few questions about his music and his upcoming Spark Series show at the Red Poppy.
Describe your music in ten words or less.
My music won’t change the world, but it may change…
What inspires you as a composer?
Over ten years ago, I watched a documentary that featured Duke Ellington. He said something that really stuck with me. I don’t remember the exact quote, but he mentioned something about there being only two types of music—good and bad. Good music inspires me, no matter the genre or where it comes from. Aside from people, places, and things, I’m inspired by music that makes me ask, “Hey what’s that!?” When I listen to music, I want to be surprised, but not overwhelmed. I want to hear something different, but it still has to be relevant, tangible, and overall honest. As a composer, I want to recreate that feeling, all while telling a story with Steinbeck-like romanticism and David Chappelle-like satire. I’m rarely successful, but I enjoy the challenge.
Tell us about the musicians in your group. Feel free to mention secret talents, annoying habits, or endearing idiosyncrasies.
I am extremely fortunate to have Eric Garland and Colin Hogan in my group. Aside from being highly skilled technicians on their instruments, they have incredible amounts of depth in terms of musical intuition. I’ve known both of these guys for almost 15 years! It feels good to say that. Colin is one of the most talented humans I’ve ever known. I’m pretty sure that he was a circus performer or a gypsy in another life. Eric has a weakness for sugary treats, and is a master of singing Lionel Richie ballads.
What is this track we’re about to hear?
This is Secret Sidewalk’s set from the SF Offside Festival last year, recorded by the infamous Bay Taper at Viracocha. We had the pleasure of playing the closing night of the festival and were amongst many amazing musicians and bands, which inspired us to bring our best. It was a great change of pace from our usual live shows, and the vibe of the venue and people in attendance was perfect. It is safe to say that this was one of our best and most enjoyable shows ever.
Why should people come out to your SF Offside Spark Series show?
I don’t perform as a bandleader too often. This is a great opportunity to come hear me perform with two of my favorite musicians and people. There is something to be said for a group that has chemistry and camaraderie. I am extremely grateful that Laura and Alex have made me a part of this series.
Tell us something cool we don’t already know.
Some people may not know, but I am a really good roller skater—quads and inline. I worked at a roller rink for three years when I was a teen.
Marcus Stephens’ Markstep Trio opens the first concert of The Spark Series, at the Red Poppy Art House, Thursday March 7 @ 8pm (doors at 7:30pm).