Beth Marlis is a highly accomplished guitarist, Executive Director of The Musicians Foundation, and Vice President at Musicians Institute, among several other inspiring and impressive credentials! Seeing both work in the musical education field and playing music as just different phrasing of the same set of 2-5-1 changes, Beth has found that simply saying “yes” can take a person a long way.
1. What do you feel are the greatest challenges in a career that combines your own pursuits and interests as a musician with the business of music education?
Actually, those are not oppositional. For me, being a professional musician and being a music educator are equally creative acts that are inseparable and inform each other; it’s all one big jazz tune to me! They both require preparation, improvisation, communication, focus and hopefully making the world a better place. This is true for all of the other types of work that I do in the non-profit and civic engagement spheres as well.
2. What single personal trait do you feel has been the most beneficial to you in either arena?
Just never giving up and “saying yes” are really beneficial life skills; being willing to challenge yourself and welcome opportunity. Playing in all kinds of different scenarios has taken me from teaching guitar at (what was then) G.I.T., becoming the Department Chair to being the Chairman of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and working with so many different kinds of people in my role at Musicians Institute and beyond. You just never know where the instrument is going to take you.
3. What Henriksen Amp(s) do you prefer and what settings do you use?
For years, I used a JazzAmp Convertible, which was a head and 10” speaker cabinet. It had such great tone, versatility, tons of power, and the uber-portability was fantastic. I recently sold that amp to one of my students and am now using a Henriksen Blu amp. I really dig it; I can’t believe how good and warm it sounds! Perfect match for my Benedetto Bambino. I generally keep settings pretty flat, and make subtle adjustments as needed. I’m also thinking about getting a JazzAmp Ten soon!
4. How would you categorize the music you like to play?
Straight ahead jazz, Brazilian, groove-oriented stuff like funk and R&B are definitely among my favorites.
5. What’s the most interesting (good or bad) gig you’ve ever played? Give us the details!
The most interesting (i.e.-crazy) gig for me was at the Vancouver Folk Festival in the 1980s. There were maybe 10,000 or 20,000 people in the audience. The air was electric! I was playing a Martin D-18 and the band was sounding really great, playing “New Acoustic Music” – sort of like a David Grisman-y, jazz and bluegrass mash-up. In the middle of a tune, my B-string breaks… and I realized I didn’t have a spare set of strings. Desperately, I run backstage asking to borrow a string or an acoustic guitar from ANYBODY! I get handed a guitar, run back on stage, hurriedly start playing and realize it’s a non-adjustable strap, and strap-locked in—all set for somebody about 6’, 2”. I made it through the set, with the guitar hanging way below my waist. Super awkward!! Amazingly, we got a standing ovation and did an encore. Whew! Lesson learned…never let ‘em see you sweat and always bring extras of everything!
6. What does 2019 hold in store for you, the Musicians Institute, and your playing career?
After (-REDACTED!-) years, I’ve really deepened my understanding of music, the guitar, and listening more fully lately – and I’m excited to continue exploring next year. Most likely a few good gigs will happen along the way. I’ll also be producing a big fundraiser for the music scholarship foundation that I run featuring Stanley Clarke at MI in February of 2019. I’ll continue to serve on several boards of directors and definitely enjoy my 32nd year of teaching guitar and being a Vice President at MI.
7. If you could step into the shoes of any musician for a day, living or not, who would it be?
Hmmm, for one day?…It would be Herbie Hancock. Not only does he have impeccable jazz credentials, he’s been an incredible innovator and collaborator over the years and has continually been able to reinvent himself and his music in ways that feel genuine, yet have broad appeal. He hasn’t been stuck in a box, but instead is painterly in the way he’s using so many different elements in his work. That said though, this was a tough question! I have a lot of musical heroes and inspirations. In terms of my own instrument, my favorite guitar player is Larry Koonse.