MARCHEL IVERY: 1938-2007
12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, October 31, 2007
By MATT WEITZ / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Another member of a great regional jazz dynasty has left the world too soon. Dallasite Marchel Ivery was a staunch proponent of what has become known as the "Texas tenor" saxophone sound – a ribald, full-throated approach that married roadhouse ebullience to technical chops.
Mr. Ivery died Tuesday at age 69 at Presbyterian Hospital after a brief and unexpected illness.
Other Texas tenors included giants like Arnett Cobb, David "Fathead" Newman and Illinois Jacquet, and Mr. Ivery was certainly of their ilk. Art Blakey, with whom he served in the '80s, called him "fire personified." Even though he made a decision to stay in Dallas for family reasons, he still cut a wide swath in the jazz world.
"As a bandleader, he was so great – he let you make your own mistakes and he corrected you by his own example, not directly," recalls local drummer Andrew Griffith, who played with Mr. Ivery since the early '90s. "Every night he played something that you hadn't heard before, but there was still a sense that he was holding something back. The guy could play 10 choruses, and there'd still be that sense of more to come.
"He was a wonderful musician and person. He came up playing that Texas tenors stuff, and he definitely had that down-home blues approach – after all, he'd played with Lightning Hopkins, and playing that stuff sticks with you."
"For me, coming up to Dallas in 1985 from Houston, he was a guy we all looked up to," says Shelley Carrol, another great and underappreciated local sax man. "He never had a mean word to say. He might be tough, but he always put it with an encouraging word. We played together two Mondays ago, and we just played and laughed.
"We were playing a Thelonious Monk song, and we were messin' it up, and he just looked at us like he was looking over his glasses, and he said, 'I need for you to go to the source' – to go to Monk's world to learn this. I feel so lucky to have known him."
In addition to forming the backbone of now-defunct local jazz label Leaning House, Mr. Ivery was a mainstay of the Sammons Jazz program, which took a refurbished waterworks pump house and turned it into a musical nexus.
"He was a big part of Sammons since the beginning, in 1989," says executive director Joanna St. Angelo. "And he's been with us ever since. His joy in playing was matched only in the joy he inspired in the audience."
Matt Weitz is a Dallas freelance writer.