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Featured Musician - February 2008

Name : Mary-Sue Tobin

Mary-Sue Tobin

Instrument: alto saxophone.

Early Years/Education: My Dad loved all kinds of music and was instrumental in opening up my ears as a kid.  He took me to an Art Blakey concert at the WOW (Woodsmen of the World)  hall in Eugene when I was eleven or twelve and it blew my mind, that was my first experience with live jazz.  After that I'd bug him to take me to concerts of any jazz player who'd come to town.  I saw  Richie Cole; then a series of more “avant” concerts at galleries in Eugene.  There was Vinny Golia and  Rich Halley (Lizard Brothers with Gary Harris), etc.  I thought this is the kind of music I want to play, even though I was fourteen.  Educationally, I started on piano at age five and played oboe in the youth symphony in junior high. When I got to high school I tried to play jazz piano while keeping up with the oboe.  The new band director, Greg Hall, who had just come out of North Texas State suggested I try the alto saxophone and it just clicked.  My private teacher, Carl Woideck, also encouraged me to make the switch.  Those two were really inspirational.  I studied jazz at the University of Oregon and  got hired right out of school to tour with a World beat pop group. After that group broke up I moved to Portland and started studying with Rob Scheps.  I wanted to complete my jazz studies and he encourage me to go to PSU.  There I met Charlie Grey, Darrell Grant, Glen Moore and Alan Jones and most of the players I play with now.  Being in that environment changed my life.  I ended up getting a Masters in Music in Saxophone Performance and a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies.  After graduation I auditioned for the Oregon Symphony and am currently on their list, so I do play for the Pops concerts.

Teaching: I have a full studio of students.  I teach at Beacock's Music in Vancouver as well as privately.  I'll take beginners to advanced. I'm a huge proponent of making sure they have a good foundation in the fundamentals. All the basics... tone, technique, repertoire, ear training, reading. This doesn't mean we can't have fun but I want to create strong players with great ears, a great sound, great technique and good reading skills.

Musical Influences: Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, Wayne Shorter, Dewey Redman, Macio Parker, Chet Baker, Eric Dolphy, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, Charles Mingus, Steve Reich, John Zorn, Marvin Gaye, Claude Delange, Carla Bley, Alban Berg, Mahalia Jackson and world music of all kinds.  Also, Michael Brecker, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, Jobim, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Steely Dan, Frank Sinatra, P Funk, Prince, Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Coltrane, Phil Woods, Sophia Guibadailina, David Byrne, Stevie Wonder, Steve Grossman, Steve Coleman, Bernard Herman, Cole Porter, Rob Davis. Scott Hall, and Warren Rand.

Most Satisfying Experience: I'm actually rarely satisfied, I always feel I could do better.   But, one of the bands I was in opened for Herbie Hancock and that was exhilarating!  Musically ... I'd have to say getting picked to participate in the 2004 International Banff Jazz Festival in Canada.  They audition musicians from all over the world and pick fifty.  Once your in you get coached by the director, Dave Douglas as well as a staff of great musicians including cutting-edge players from New York like Jason Moran and Mark Turner.  The whole experience is really intense.  At one point I was in an ensemble doing a Kenny Wheeler tribute.  I was the only alto player and his music is more introspective.  In the midst of all this I had a chance to stop and look around at all of these great players from all over the world.  I actually got a little teary thinking about how lucky I was to be given the opportunity to play this beautiful and difficult music in this setting where you have to be at the top of your game.

Bands: I'm in quite a few ensembles but my main groups include the Andrew Oliver Sextet as well as Andrew's Portland Composer's Orchestra; then there's my two quartets, one called Paxselin and the other the all-female Quadraphonnes saxophone group; then there's the Portland Jazz Orchestra based out of PSU, and the Oregon Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Devin Phillips; I'm in the Lily Wilde Orchestra and also am part of the Diatic Collective formed from the label's artists like Dusty York, Farnell Newton, Drew Shoals, Justin Durrie, Willie Matheis, Chris Mosley, etc.  

Favorite Recordings: “Know What I Mean, Cannonball Adderley Quintet In Chicago,” Cannonball Adderly; “Evidence,” Steve Lacy; “Mysteries,” Keith Jarrett; “Sonny Side Up, East Broadway Rundown,” Sonny Rollins; “Shape Of Jazz To Come, New York Is Now,” Ornette Coleman; “Heaven,” Phil Woods; “We Want Miles,” Miles Davis; “Michael Brecker,” Michael Brecker; “Dexter Calling,” Dexter Gordon; “I Hate To Sing,” Carla Bley; “Rhythm People,” Steve Coleman; “Time To Smile,” Steve Grossman; “Black Market,” Weather Report; “Coltrane Jazz, Afro Blue Impressions,” John Coltrane; “Bucket 'O Grease,” Les Mc Cann; “Tijuana Moods, Mingus Ah Um, Oh Yeah,” Charles Mingus; “Swing Easy,” Frank Sinatra; “Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins,” Duke Ellington; “The Man Who Cried Fire,” Rahsaan Roland Kirk; “Parker With Strings,” Charlie Parker; “Buhaina's Delight,” Art Blakey; “Quarteto Movo,” Hermeto Pascual; “Overtime,” Dave Holland Big Band; “2000 Thesaurus,” Clare Fisher Big Band; “Jazz Stories,” Lynn Darroch; “Tales Of The Forgotten Melodies,” Wax Tailor; “You're Getting Better,” Ken Nordine; “Dance Of The Love Ghosts,” John Carter; “Konitz Meets Mulligan,” Lee Konitz and the Mulligan Quartet; “Triology,” Kenny Garrett; and the Diatic Records catalog.

Discography:  To be released in the Spring, OTIS STOMP with the Andrew Oliver Sextet 2008 Diatic Records; to be release in the Spring, an untitled recording with the group Sound for the Organization of Society, 2008 Independent; HOLLOW EARTH from the Paxselin Quartet, 2007 Diatic Records;  BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY, Swamp Cactus, 2006, Sad Hyena Records; FOUR DECADES, Swamp Cactus, 2005, Sad Hyena Records; STANDING STILL MOUNTAIN, w/Andrew Oliver, 2005 self-produced;  A GUIDE TO DESOLATION WILDERNESS, Paxselin Quartet 2004 SH Records; TO B, Flatland, 2002, Clandestine Records; STICK IT IN YOUR EAR, Mary Sue Tobin and the A-List, 1998, SH Records; AMERICAN DREAMS, Loud Sistah, 1996, self-produced; and TONIC OF THE PEOPLE, Dub Squad, 1990, Tonic Media.

Where Playing Currently: w/Quadraphonnes at Mississippi Pizza, Monday, February 4, 8pm; w/Lily Wilde Orchestra at Duff's Garage, Saturday, February 9, 9:30pm ; w/Portland Sax Quartet at Kaul Auditorium for the New Century Sax Quartet Workshop, Sunday, February 17 4pm; Portland Jazz Festival: Diatic Records Showcase/Andrew Oliver Sextet at the Someday Lounge, Sunday February 17 8pm; Portland Jazz Festival: Portland Jazz Orchestra at the Crystal Ballroom, Friday February 22 8pm; Portland Jazz Festival Diatic Records Presents the Paxselin Quartet at the Design Counsel Group,  Saturday, February 23 8pm; Portland Jazz Festival: Quadraphonnes at the West Cafe, Sunday, February 24, 4pm.

Gigs Coming Up:  In March on Monday the 3rd at the Someday Lounge w/Diatic Record Collective at 8pm; on Tuesday the 4th with the Lily Wilde Orchestra at  Duff's Garage 9:30pm; on Saturday the 8th at KMHD (89.1)at 2pm on Homegrown Live w/the Andrew Oliver Sextet; on Tuesday the 11th w/Andrew Oliver CD release party at Jimmy Mak's and on the 31st w/the Quadraphonnes and the Portland Sax Quartet at Beacock's Music in Vancouver at 8pm.

Future Plans:  Looking forward to future projects with the Diatic Collective.  The label owner, Dusty York, has all kinds of players on board and we have plans for creating new venues for playing in and around Portland.  For example, the Someday Lounge on NW 5th has given Diatic Records Sunday nights to showcase it's players.  Other things include a future chamber jazz series featuring both my sax quartets and of course, writing more.

Other:  I think you can both play and enjoy all styles of jazz, the whole time-line.  Classical  players are required to know all styles and I think the same should be true for jazz players.

Those female instrumentalists who are getting ahead right now are getting there because they can play, not for any other reason.

-- by Rita Rega


Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon