Updated: May 11
Marilyn Scott has experience singing both jazz and pop. She met Emilio Castillo, a member of Tower of Power, during her college years in San Francisco, and he hired her to do backing vocals for the group. As a result of that experience, other doors opened, such as doing session work in Los Angeles. Hiroshima, Etta James, Spyro Gyra, The Yellowjackets, and Bobby Womack are among the artists she has worked with.In addition, she appeared in a production of Selma,about Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy. During our conversation, I learned a lot about the career of this incredible woman. The following is what she told me.
Hi, Marilyn. Good morning, Gina.
How are you doing today? I am doing wonderful. Thank you so much.
Where are you calling from? I'm calling from Manhattan Beach.
Awesome! How's the beach? It's foggy today. It's been like that every day. I may burn off later today, but sometimes it doesn't, so it's a drag.
Fog is my least favorite thing. Commuting in dense fog is scary. I know it's hot where you live.
Yes, Palm Springs is a hot place to live in the summer. Yes
It was about 120 degrees last week. I was so glad I could escape the hot weather when I flew to Memphis, TN. It was hot and humid out there, but nothing like Palm Springs. We have monsoonal season out here. Yeah, I know a little bit about that because we have a house out there. We rent part-time in the North End Palm Springs. Yeah, where I live, we get lots of wildlife. When I come home, I watch for mountain lions and coyotes. (laughs) Yes, I'm very sensitive to all that.
Yes. So, it is an honor to speak with you today. Thank you for your time. And I thank you for yours and your interest.
It is my pleasure. It's time for a little girl chat. Is that alright with you? Yes, I love it.
All right. It's good to interview a woman. For some strange reason, most of my interviews have been with men. Our men are essential, but we also need our women. So, I think God dropped you in my lap, so this is a blessing. Right.
OK, so tell me, initially, where are you from? Yeah, I'm from California. I was raised in Arcadia, close to the San Gabriel mountains. When I graduated high school, I moved to the Bay Area and started working, attending college, and playing in bands.
OK, what college did you attend? Foothill College.
That's awesome. What attracted you to Foothill College? Was it the music program? No, I went as an art major.
Oh, wow! So, you draw too? I tried everything: building, painting, and watercolors, at that time. They teach you everything when you're in school, which is a great thing.
Yes, absolutely. Can you recall when you first became interested in jazz music? When it comes to jazz music, I think, in a standard way, because my mother was a big Nat King Cole fan. When I was in the 7th grade, my girlfriend's father was a big jazz fan and said, "if you're going to be singing in bands, you need to know some of the best singers." So, he played me, Ella Fitzgerald.
That was incredible! Then, I saw Big Mama Thornton in my sophomore year and went to the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. As a result of all those amazing experiences, I have become who I am today.
Now, when I moved up North, the local radio in the Bay Area played everything from Herbie Hancock to The Spinners. They mixed it up so that you got an education about how everything fits together. Blues, R&B, Jazz and fusion. So, I got into fusion and jazz music.
On my first album, we did a few Doug Carne tunes. Doug Carene was married to Jean Carne, a famous jazz singer. The label we were on was called "Black Jazz Label."
So, I picked up many of those records and got excellent education from them. And I was also exposed to jazz through radio. Sirius is great, but I miss the old programming.
This is something I can relate to. When I was growing up, music styles were so diverse. Today, radio stations are more compartmentalized, meaning people can listen to the music they want. In contrast, our radio stations were eclectic, which exposed you to many different genres. Unfortunately, this new platform does not expose them to various world music styles. Yeah, it's true. Also, we had liner notes on the Album so that you would know who the musicians were that played on a particular project. While reading them, you would say, "hey, look, this guitar player is on Aretha Franklin's stuff. "So, you put the dots together and you learned about other musicians.
Which aspect of jazz appealed most to you? My best guess is that it has something to do with the music's complexity and the sharing of a piece. You hear where the base is playing and the solos of the drummer. I was also influenced by jazz singers my age, like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Betty Carter, and people like that. Jazz music tells a story.
Once you've breathed in this feeling these artists have created, it becomes part of you. How you express yourself is how much you put yourself into it. You don't copy it, but now, it's about freeing yourself of everything else and being in the moment with music.
Do you have a song that moves you to tears when you sing it live? It's usually a song about a struggle we're all having in life. I did a song called "The Wilderness" about children and adults trapped in a city lifestyle and never getting a chance to get out and see a National Park or run a trail. Another touching song I wrote is "I Wouldn't Change It" on the "Standard Blue Record." That song always gets me because it's about my life and the fact that I wouldn't change it. My journey has been challenging and rewarding, so I am grateful for what I've accomplished. I hold life so dear.
So yes, music can break you up a little bit, which is a good thing. To me, it means that you're in touch with the message you're trying to say.
When you write something and go back to it later, you can't believe you wrote it. Music is the only thing that connects the dots for us all, and I appreciate that.
In your opinion, what makes jazz music popular with mature listeners rather than younger ones? I really don't know.
That's the question. (laughs) Yes, It's a mathematical question. It probably depends on how much exposure to jazz you get from the people who raise you. If you're not exposed to jazz music early on, I don’t think you will be too much of a fan of it in your 30s because you won't take the time to settle down and listen.
Are mature jazz enthusiasts who have been known to purchase CDs in the past changing and following the young people who download their music online? In other words, are jazz artists experiencing the same problems they're having in the pop industry with music sales? No doubt. We're having some problems, but one of the problems contributing to that is that hardly anybody has a CD player in their car these days. Some people even put it on a thumb drive and listen to their music that way.
Nowadays, there are different ways of enjoying music, and if you're raised today with just digital, that will be your thing. But we're still there for those left behind and still listening to CDs and albums. Some still have a turntable and want to put that needle on the record, and that's OK. I like it. This could be a fun party with everybody getting involved. As for streaming and downloads, I have more success with those. But I see many people still buying physical CDs from me, so I guess I'm in the middle. And as you said, many of those sales come from an older audience.
Now one thing I will say is that the definition of jazz has changed over the years. Jazz is now becoming a lot of stuff like Neo-Soul. The arc is becoming more expansive, bringing in people who listen to R&B, rap, or country music, so that's good. I welcome everybody.
Because of that, it's bringing in a younger crowd. Yeah, it only makes it better.
In your opinion, what's the solution to stopping illegal downloading? I had a problem with SoundCloud, and my label, Blue Canoe put it up and when I tried to put it under my own name, right away, they stopped me because they considered it to be copyright infringement. They didn't know that I was the artist, but they stopped me. So, that's a big thing. And now, all the platforms have something in place to stop people from illegally downloading our music. So, we don’t see illegal downloading as much anymore.
Yeah, absolutely. So, tell me, who are some of the band members that you currently play with, and do they play exclusively for you, or do they play with other artists as well? I've been blessed to grow up in Los Angeles, where great players exist. New York and Chicago also have incredible players. So, I'm around these guys a lot. We've all grown up together. Whenever there's a project, everyone gets back on board again. My long-term collaborators, Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip from the Yellowjackets, have been close friends since the '80s.
Jimmy left the band a few years back, and today he's a great jazz producer producing many artists. He also plays live on a lot of people's music. He's become an incredible producer; he even produced my project and played on it.
Another one is Scott Kinsey. He's an incredible keyboardist who wrote a few things on my project, which is a new relationship for me. Michael Landau, he's a fantastic guitar player who played on a lot of stuff for other people as well. So, I have an array of unbelievable musicians who can make the kind of music that I make and enhance it. The best part about it is that we also have great friendships.
You just did a music video. Tell me about that. I make music videos using tunes I've recorded. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of that. 'Irreplaceable' was a tune we did for "The Landscape," and it turned out well.
It's homemade, but that's the look these days. I think since COVID, everybody sorts into tik T.O.K. Everybody is just doing them and not worried about being so precise or perfect. Everybody's just being free.
Absolutely. In your opinion, what is and isn't success? The moment you share an idea with people and watch it grow into something that moves others, that is when you are satisfied. To be involved as an artist, I need to make that my top priority. My goal is to be able to say something that other people need to hear. It is not always clear what that will be, but that's the beauty of it.
Creating material that reflects your own life and those around you is what you do. Whenever I write lyrics and music, I want people to say, "That's about me. I am getting something from this song, which brings me healing." I didn't quite see it that way before.
Marilyn, what is the desire of your heart? Is that we could take care of each other better. As a people, if we could do that, we could take care of the world and our environment. To me, that's the most important thing. That's my dream.
I love it. Can you tell me about your current projects and what you're working on for 2023? At this time, I'm just doing interviews with people like yourself, and some TV and Radio interviews.
There are no performances scheduled right now, but I did a music video for “Irreplaceable,” and we're going to do another one for “Thrown Out into Space, Butterfly.” I’m looking forward to working on it as well.
Awesome! And I'm sure it will be amazing! What would you like to say to encourage up-and-coming independent jazz artists? I've always been an independent artist, and there are a lot of struggles that go with that. I've never had massive success compared to well-known artists, but I will say, keep pushing your music out there and never talk yourself out of it. Believe in what you're doing and persevere. You must believe in that which comes from your heart. Remember that the life of an artist's major success is short, whether you're a dancer, painter, or songwriter.
The artist's life can be solo and lonely, so don't doubt what you're doing, and don't let your head talk you out of it, be confident. Know that if you've come this far, you've got a message to bring.
Also, I want to encourage everyone with an independent heart to stay with it because the rewards are more significant than any so-called success with a big dollar sign. Those kinds of things mean nothing. Being independent in an artistic way has a reward that will fulfill you and your life. So be happy in the purpose that your life was set for.
Beautiful. I want to thank you very much for this interview, and my prayer is that God will continue to bless you, that He will open doors for you, and that the works of your hands be done according to His will for your life. I pray that God will keep you and your family safe and protected this time.
It's an honor and privilege to talk with such a talented and amazing woman with a beautiful heart, such as yourself. Gina, this is such a nice thing to say, and I hope what you're doing is blessed and that your family is safe. Thank you again for including me in your writing.
It's my pleasure. It's an honor. Thank you so much.
All Marilyn Scotts photos are courtesy of Marilyn Scott
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