Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

July/August 2009: Jimmy Greene

Marcus Printup: Dr. Feel Good

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Marcus Printup is one of the most accomplished trumpet players on the scene right now—he’s Wynton Marsalis’ right-hand man, and an in-demand player in his own right. He’s also a fantastic educator who truly cares for the students he teaches, which will make him a great addition to the guest faculty at this summer’s U of M Jazz Camp. On top of all that, he’s one of the warmest and most sincere individuals I have ever talked with. I’ve met him on a couple of occasions now when he’s performed in Winnipeg, and recently tracked him down by phone at his home just outside New York City.

Marcus grew up in Georgia where he regularly attended the Peek Chapel Baptist Church. This is where he developed his deep passion for gospel music. Even though Marcus made all-state on trumpet during his high school years, his first true love was football. A defining moment during university changed his path, and surprisingly, it happened while working at the Holiday Inn. “Every time someone had a birthday, all the wait staff would sing Happy Birthday. One particular day, I had my flugelhorn with me, and I broke it out and I played it. And just playing Happy Birthday at that restaurant, on that day, made me feel so special. I was 19 or 20 years old, and I just really knew from that point that I wanted to perform for people—I wanted to do something to make people feel good.”

During his third year at Georgia State studying classical trumpet, he had another life-changing experience. A group from the University of North Florida, which had recently started a jazz program led by Rich Matteson, came to do a concert. “I remember going to that concert and seeing what was happening on the stage. All these kids were really into learning more about the music and everyone on the stage had aspirations to becoming great jazz musicians. And that’s when I knew I had to go.”

So in the fall of 1988 Marcus enrolled in the University of North Florida. It was in this thriving environment that everything started to come together. “They had such a great jazz series and everyone was practicing and everyone was like-minded; we all wanted to be great jazz musicians.”

In January of 1991, the great pianist Marcus Roberts came as an artist-in-residence. Roberts heard Marcus playing in a small group and asked to speak with him. “Marcus basically told me something that no one else ever had told me about my music. He said, ‘Hey man, I heard you playing the other day and you know you sound okay.’ I was shocked because I was used to people saying I sounded great. But Marcus said, ‘You sound okay but I can tell that you don’t practice.’ So he was the one that really shaped me and taught me how to have a strong work ethic. He challenged me to not be just a great college player but to take in the history of the music’s trumpet players, and learn how to become the best that you can be.”

Marcus met Wynton Marsalis that same weekend at a gig in south Florida. He sat backstage for the whole concert and at the end he was given the opportunity to sit in with the band. A year and a half later he was asked to join the acclaimed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and has been there ever since. It’s a great fit, and has allowed him to develop as both a player and a teacher.

I asked Marcus what he enjoys most about being a musician. He said “It’s just getting a chance to play for people. It’s the same reason I got into it at from that moment at the Holiday Inn—just playing and making people feel good. I haven’t done my job if I go to a concert and just play and don’t touch anybody.”

I also asked him what his advice to young musicians is. “Here’s some advice I got from the great Bucky Green at North Florida. He said, ‘Marcus, you have got to look outside of where you are. You have to look at all the other people who are doing what you want to do and aim your focus on trying to get to that level.’ Also be patient and learn everything about your horn. Then learn how to make your horn a part of you—turn the inanimate object into a part of your soul. Be diligent and practice every day. It is important to take it very seriously if this is what you want to do. It takes going beyond that level where most people stop if you really want to be great.”

Simon Christie is studying jazz trumpet at the U of M. He’ll be soaking up Printup’s instruction at the U of M Summer Jazz Camp.

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