Roger Marks • Marks & Sparks

Roger Marks • Marks & Sparks Whoever composed the title to this CD was having a bit of fun. First is the playfulness of the rhyming “Marks/Sparks.” There may also be some punning in the title: “Sparks” could allude to what one finds in the tracks on this CD, supplied by Marks and his cohorts, and possibly to the other musicians themselves (“young lads”) with him; but in the UK the pairing “Marks and Sparks” will also bring to mind a second association—to the store chain named Marks and Spencer, fondly called “Marks & Sparks” in the UK. This chain of stores stocks an assortment of items—clothing, home furnishings, beauty products, food, wine, flowers, and gifts—something like Target, Walmart, etc. in the US. M & S was founded in the UK, but now has outlets all over the world. In the US, however, like Amazon it is only available on-line; so chances are that allusion will escape many Americans.

Like the variety of products to be found in the M & S stores, the miscellany of tracks compiled on this CD were recorded at different times and in different places over some 28 years. As a glance at the tune list on this CD will reveal, several are usually found in the playlists of bands categorized as “mainstream,” tunes such as “Crazy Rhythm,” “Oh! Lady be Good,” “Caravan,” to name a few. Others titles are of more recent vintage, such as Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” with its Caribbean rhythm and Johnny Griffin’s “The Jamfs [sic*] Are Coming.” So there is considerable variety to be found in the musical content.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Diversity also is to be found in the personnel. Each track features Roger Marks on trombone, accompanied by a reed player—several of whom double on sax (tenor and/or alto), and clarinet—and a rhythm section, some with, others without, piano or keyboard. These vary from track to track, and all are listed in the CD booklet. The names given these groupings to be found on this CD are Roger Marks’ Quartet, Roger Marks’ Quintet, Roger Marks’ Hot Five, and Roger Marks and His Mainstreamers.

The last is an aptly descriptive name often used for his group as for Marks the mainstream style of traditional jazz is most congenial. He is very comfortable with the interplay that the two front line permits, as we can hear in some of the memorable instances in almost every track. On many occasions we find the trombone playing lead to the other horn’s counterpoint, and then on the next go around they switch positions, one such instance being in “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me,” another in “Games People Play,” and again in “Kiss to Build a Dream On” where Marks joins Ken Rennison after the latter’s solo. Rennison then switches to playing counterpoint to Marks, the duet leading ultimately into the ritard ending.

Other textures also serve to engage the listener. One of these is the effect of the two horns playing in unison for a chorus or two, such as in “The Jamfs [sic*] Are Coming” which opens with several unison choruses, or “Undecided” which opens with unison and then ends with a unison chorus by the ensemble leading into the coda. Another texture, somewhat akin to “call and response,” is achieved when the two horns trade fours, as they do on “Crazy Rhythm” and “Oh! Lady Be Good.”


While the personnel in each group is varied, a superb blending is achieved, the musicians being at the top of their game. The result is performances that are devoid of flubs: no ritards that are just covers for an impending train wreck, no fade outs that obviate problematic endings. Marks is a skilled general who plans the “arrangements” meticulously. Speaking of which the arrangements of the ballads “Kiss to Build a Dream On,” “Am I Blue,” and “’Til There Was You” are very fine, unveiling their emotions without being maudlin.

In a previous review I commented on Marks’ fine trombone technique, and it is apparent here, too. He is never tentative, but lands squarely on a note, be it during fast or slow tempos. The cadenza he plays at the close “Am I Blue” is flawless. In addition to all that, he has a nice sense of humor, too, as we hear in “Whispering” where he slyly plays the several staccato notes from the “Wood Woodpecker” cartoon song in his solo and comes back to the phrase again one more time! In total this is another “trombone master class” demonstration.

While this recording might not result in a five-alarm fire alert, it certainly contains many “sparks” from the various musicians and their groupings, and it certainly results, after the final track concludes, in a pleasant afterglow. Devotees of mainstream traditional jazz will want to have it, and those who just love good jazz should want it as well. Along with other Upbeat CDs, this one can be had from the Upbeat Recordings’ web site and from other web sites such as Amazon.

* “Jamf” is a rather obscene acronym. Its definition may be found on-line in the Urban Dictionary.

Marks & Sparks
Roger Marks
Upbeat URCD278


All tracks recorded between May 22, 1989, and July 13, 2017—details given in disc insert. Details of different locations given there also.

Personnel: Roger Marks, trombone on all tracks. Names of the others on the different tracks also given in insert.

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Born in Dundee, Scotland, Bert Thompson came to the U.S. in 1956. After a two-year stint playing drums with the 101 st Airborne Division Band and making a number of parachute drops, he returned to civilian life in San Francisco, matriculating at San Francisco State University where he earned a B.A. and an M.A. He went on to matriculate at University of Oregon, where he earned a D.A. and a Ph.D., all of his degrees in English. Now retired, he is a professor emeritus of English at City College of San Francisco. He is also a retired traditional jazz drummer, having played with a number of San Francisco Bay Area bands, including And That’s Jazz, Professor Plum’s Jazz, the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, Mission Gold Jazz Band, and the Zenith New Orleans Parade band; he also played with some further afield, including Gremoli (Long Beach, CA) and the Phoenix Jazzers (Vancouver, B.C.) Today he reviews traditional jazz CDs and writes occasional articles for several publications.

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