Composer, leader and sideman, bassist Marcus McLaurine has become one of the most sought-after artists in jazz, sharing bandstands with Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Burrell, James Moody, Lou Donaldson, Dame Cleo Laine, Joe Williams, Jon Hendricks, Abbey Lincoln, and the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Thad Jones.
For thirty years, Marcus has toured with the legendary trumpeter Clark Terry. Marcus began traveling the world as a child and never stopped. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, to a military family, his youth saw him in Germany, California, Texas, New Mexico and Utah. After music studies at the University of Nebraska, twenty-two year old Marcus moved to Los Angeles and began playing electric bass in a band with guitar legend Billy Rogers, also an Omaha native. Billy convinced Marcus to hear Gene Harris and The Three Sounds play at The Tiki Lounge. Roland Haynes was playing upright bass, and Marcus was completely blown away by his use of arco. The next couple of weeks found Marcus looking for a bass. He finally bought a $150 Kay Bass in a pawn shop, and began immersing himself in Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley. Over the next few years in Los Angeles, he honed his skills and landed his first upright bass gig with the Horace Tabscott Pan African People’s Orchestra.
In 1976 Marcus entered the Air Force, became an Airman and was shipped to New Jersey. He joined the 590th Air Force Band, stationed out of McGuire A.F.B., and once again traveled the world, from the eastern seaboard to Portugal. His stint in the band even saw Marcus behind the bass drum, marching down 5th Avenue for the Veteran’s Day Parade. By the time he left the Air Force, he had earned the rank of Sergeant. Once again, a good friend helped fate along. His friendship with Clifford Adams, a world- renowned trombonist and member of Kool and The Gang for over twenty years, lead to Marcus’ first job in New York City. Adams told him, “New York needs bass players,” and Marcus has been there ever since. Then, while playing Carnegie Hall and various music festivals for trombonist Melba Liston, an opportunity came Marcus’ way that would change his life.
In 1981 Clark Terry called Melba looking for a bass player. Melba’s band was free, and she suggested Marcus. One evening at home, the phone rang. Marcus picked it up and the voice on the other end said, “This is Clark Terry.” Marcus immediately thought someone was playing a joke on him. Terry said he needed Marcus to play two gigs – a week at the Blue Note and a week in Canada. Still thinking it was some kind of hoax, Marcus agreed to meet at the Blue Note, and sure enough, it was indeed Clark Terry. With no rehearsal, Marcus played his first set with Terry. He was nervous, regarding Terry as an icon. From that day, Terry has been a musical father to Marcus. He’s been with the band ever since. Among the highlights of Marcus’ quarter-century with Terry: meeting Nelson Mandela while performing for the 50th African National Congress in South Africa, and the night Oscar Peterson sat in with the quintet at The Village Vanguard. Marcus has been influenced by the great players and has found his own sound. “You can’t ever really sound like anybody, even when you’re trying to emulate idols.” says Marcus. “For years I tried to sound like Ron Carter, but at some point you have to let that go and let your own thing develop.” Marcus plays what he feels – he listens to the story and the emotion of the song and finds the phrasing. “I stay open and let the sound pass through.” says Marcus. “I let the song tell me what to play.” Now, in addition to his work as a leader and first-call sideman, Marcus is focusing on his burgeoning career as a composer, writing both jazz and contemporary pieces.