Thomas Marriott is crafting a career as a nationally known trumpeter from his home base in Seattle.
Here, in a narrow passage between a decorated brick wall and the stage at the New Orleans restaurant in Pioneer Square, is where the early education of trumpeter Thomas Marriott took place 20 years ago.
Barely a teenager, he showed up every week, often with his brother David (an accomplished trombonist), planting himself for hours, listening to the house band led by the late Floyd Standifer. Starting the first Friday in March, Marriott will perform weekly at the New Orleans, playing with, among others, Standifer’s bass player Phil Sparks.
At a time when jazz audiences are shrinking and jazz clubs are pressed to stay in business, regular gigs are hard to come by and to sustain, so Marriott is restrained in his hopes for the new weekly venture.
But his return to the New Orleans can be read poetically, as a musician’s return to his roots, as the former pupil picking up where the old master left off, or as Marriott’s career coming full circle.
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None is untrue, but they do not speak to the larger successes the 34-year-old trumpeter has had since he decided in 2004 to leave New York and move back home, despite the danger that he might “mold in obscurity.”
“I had kind of reached a plateau in terms of the calls I was getting,” he said, “and I didn’t think it was going to drastically change anytime soon.”
More than five years later, Marriott earns a living doing nothing but playing the trumpet, something he could not claim when he was in New York, despite having regular places to play and getting called to back up such big-name musicians as Maynard Ferguson, Eric Reed and the late Tito Puente and Rosemary Clooney. He still had to supplement his income working for a small investigations agency.
“Your commitment is always tested,” said Marriott, who is now married with two children. “You could be standing there, playing some wedding, feeling grouchy, thinking you could work in an office, earning three times what you’re making … But I’ve played some major jazz festivals, I’ve toured, sold some CDs. I hope I have the respect of my community; I have a busy schedule.”
If Marriott seems younger than he should be, it is because he has been working so long, playing for audiences in Seattle since he was old enough to drive.
Trumpet players tend to get attention playing high and fast, which Marriott can do. He plays with a full, fluid sound, and an element of surprise. His curiosity is equal to his chops.
But it is his drive and productivity that have set himself apart from the crowd, traits that were tested when he left New York and the comfort of knowing he would always get calls to play.
“He’s had a tremendous work ethic as long as I’ve known him,” said John Gilbreath, executive director of Earshot Jazz, which has bestowed him six Golden Ear awards. “Even in high school, he was very serious, very engaged in his music. He was always on a trajectory.”
Sunday night he plays with the avant-garde big band, the Washington Composer’s Orchestra at Tost.
He performs with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra the first weekend in March.
On March 11, he will appear at the National Trumpet Competition in Arlington, Va., as a featured artist.
And then he’ll move on to the New Zealand International Jazz & Blues Festival in April.
His latest album, “Flexicon,” released last year, was one of Origin Records’ best-performing CDs of 2009.
It received consistent national airplay, and “put him over the edge in terms of the national scene,” said drummer Matt Jorgensen, who played on the album and also runs the record label.
“It’s the album that got him a lot of attention as an established, national trumpet figure instead of an emerging artist.”
The album included a few standards, a few originals, and some unconventional song choices like “You Only Live Twice,” the theme from the James Bond movie of the same name.
The most remarkable cut was the first song, “Take it to the Ozone,” a mercurial number by Freddie Hubbard that displayed the depth and proficiency of Marriott’s playing.
He had a considerable head start. Marriott’s paternal grandmother was a formally trained, classical pianist; his grandfather, a bandleader who played just about every type of instrument.
Marriott grew up in a house filled with his grandfather’s instruments, and was encouraged (but not pushed) by his father, David Marriott, and uncle, who played the trumpet and trombone respectively.
Marriott’s father, now a partner in the Seattle public-relations firm Gogerty Marriott, recalls, “I remember my older brother and I saying that if [Thomas and David] worked hard enough, they’d be as good as we were … I think they passed us when they were in junior high.”
Marriott attended Garfield High School and played in the jazz band before the days of the Ellington competition.
He studied music at the University of Washington, playing regularly at the Speakeasy, which has since burned down.
When he returned to Seattle, he told himself he would endeavor to play out of town about one weekend per month, a promise he has been largely able to keep.
He does not always get to play exactly what he wants. He once played a lavish kid’s birthday party at the Museum of Flight, where the help was hired to dress as Star Wars characters.
“I’ve done it all. I’ve played weddings and dances. I’ve played on Muzak records. I’m definitely a prostitute. Thankfully, I’m just not a cheap one.”