January 30, 2004
The New York Times
SHERRIE L. MARICLE was in the fourth grade living with her divorced mother and two younger sisters when she decided, like many girls her age, to play an instrument. She told the school music teacher she would like a trumpet.
"He told me girls don't play trumpets and gave me a metal clarinet," she said.
She swiftly ditched the clarinet, tried the cello and then when the school band couldn't find anyone to play the bass drum, volunteered. She was searching for her sound, her musical self-expression. It arrived at age 11, when she went to hear Buddy Rich and his Killer Force Orchestra in concert in Binghamton, N.Y.
"My eyes were saucers," she said. "I had no idea someone could play the drums with such intensity and power. The passion I felt cannot be manufactured. It can only be unleashed. Buddy Rich triggered something that was there, deep inside of me. I knew immediately I would be a jazz drummer."
But if girls did not play trumpets, they certainly did not play drums. The drive to become a drummer went underground, literally, to her basement.
"I set my drums up in the basement and learned to play by listening to Buddy Rich," she said. "But I did not play the drums in public for a few more years. Girls were not supposed to play the drums. I was not ready. I was scared."
Dr. Maricle, 40, will be very public tonight when she and the Diva Jazz Orchestra, which she leads, play Carnegie Hall. The 15-member group, which plays big band music, is composed entirely of women, although as their manager, Stanley Kay, says, "turn around and tell me if women or men are playing."
It was Mr. Kay, 79, a former drummer who managed Buddy Rich and Gregory and Maurice Hines, who in 1990 suggested to Dr. Maricle that she form a female jazz band. Mr. Kay sat next to her, clutching an aluminum cane, in a cramped office in Carnegie Hall.
"She is an amazing drummer," he said. "Women musicians such as Sherrie have never been appreciated in jazz they way they should be. They are often seen as a kind of gimmick. They are not given the appropriate respect."
Dr. Maricle was wary of his idea. She detested the pressure on female musicians to doll themselves up in strapless gowns and gobs of lipstick as if to apologize for their talent. She did not want the band to become a kind of curiosity, a sideshow in the jazz world.
"I was not going to form a band where we all wore miniskirts and showed our cleavage," she said, "especially since mine is not impressive to begin with. The few women swing bands in the past had to do this, performing in long strapless evening gowns. I knew a lot of serious women jazz musicians who wanted a chance to play. This was the only thing that interested me."
The road to Carnegie Hall was a long one. Dr. Maricle, carting 30 pounds of equipment around, learned to play nearly every type of music to survive as a drummer. She also plays with the New York Pops and teaches at New York University.
"I worked my way through college playing the drums," she said. "I was in every musical group from the chorus, to musical theater, to jazz bands and ensembles. I played for the Ice Capades and Ringling Brothers circus when they came to Binghamton. I had a wedding band, and in summers I played in parks in upstate New York . It turned me into a well-rounded musician and a great sight reader."
When she finished school at Binghamton she packed up her drums and moved to New York. She filled in for drummers on Broadway musicals, drifted from band to band, finished her doctorate in music from New York University and formed another wedding band with her boyfriend to survive.
The weddings finally got to her. She grew tired of "playing the beats I played in my basement in seventh grade."
But it was the song "The Bride Cuts the Cake," played to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell," that broke her. At one wedding she had to pound it out for 15 minutes until she threw her sticks down in disgust and walked to the bar.
"I thought, Why am I doing this?" she said. "I told my boyfriend I could not play music like this anymore."
Her band travels throughout the United States and Europe with their manager. The schedule, at times, can be relentless, meaning hours in a bus driving from town to town, setting up, playing, breaking down, getting a bad night's sleep and doing it again.
"Buddy Rich's band were priests and rabbis compared to this group," Mr. Kay volunteered.
Dr. Maricle, who is a composer-arranger for many of the numbers, has the well-toned arms of a woman who plays the drums a lot. She also runs and cycles. But her passion is fixed. The apartment where she stays in New York and the house she has in Pennsylvania are filled with drum sets, lots of them.
She only once got up the courage to storm Buddy Rich's bus and ask for an autograph. She was a young girl who saw more in Mr. Rich than perhaps he understood.
"He was in his bathrobe," she said. " 'Yeah, what do you want?' he asked me. I told him I wanted his autograph. He signed a napkin. I still have it. I saw him many, many times after that in concert, but did not dare speak to him."