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Marcus Elliot celebrates Ypsilanti's Black history with a musical and visual spectacle at the Freighthouse

"Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present, and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, MI"
University Musical Society
"Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present, and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, MI"


Marcus Elliot is a saxophonist, composer, improviser, and educator based in Detroit, Michigan. Marcus is a 2020 Kresge Artist Fellow, awarded by Kresge Arts in Detroit. He is the current director of the University of Michigan’s Creative Arts Orchestra and Instructor of Jazz Saxophone at Wayne State University.

His compositions and improvisations have been described by the New York Times as “convincing and confident, evolved in touch and tone…”, and the Detroit Free Press has said, “Marcus Elliot represents next generation of jazz”.

Elliot leads and co-leads many different Detroit-based bands including the Marcus Elliot Quintet, Clockwork, Balance, and the Beyond Rebellious Ensemble. Elliot performs in the Shigeto Live Ensemble.

He is a Fellow of the Geri Allen Gathering Orchestra. He is the founder of Creation Code Records.

Marcus Elliot
University Musical Society
Marcus Elliot


Marcus Elliot

"Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present, and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, MI"


Michael Jewett: A much anticipated performance is coming up this weekend in Ypsilanti from saxophonist and composer and bandleader Marcus Elliott. "Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, Michigan." Big long title. We got It. Presented by UMS in their Depot Town Freighthouse series, happening Friday and Saturday this weekend. Complete information at UMS dot org. He is a very busy man. This is a very bold project, and we're thrilled to be able to catch up with Marcus Elliott. How are you? And thanks for taking time to do this.

Marcus Elliot: I'm doing good, Michael. Thanks for reaching out.

Michael Jewett: When the word got out about this project, you know, it's, like, my mouth hit the floor. This sounds really, really outstanding. One, just the scope of it and what you're doing and also the nature of the piece and the ensemble. It features both the music and also an oral element. There's a narrator with the project and also a visual artist. So, it's a real multimedia presentation.

Marcus Elliot: That's right. Yep.

Michael Jewett: Now, this was a commissioned piece. Give me kind of the origin story of this.

Marcus Elliot: Yeah, no problem. So, UMS reached out to me, I think, in February. They asked me to do a performance for their new space that they've been occupying in the Freighthouse--

Michael Jewett: Mm hmm.

Marcus Elliot: In Ypsilanti. And I said, "Yeah, I would love to do it." But I told them, you know, they originally wanted me to do something in April. And I said, "Well, that's a little bit of short time for me. I'd rather, you know, spend some time and give you all a performance that I, you know, put some time into." So, we started talking about September and they said, "Yeah, you know, send us a proposal." And they told me to dream big. So, I was like, "Okay." And I got off the phone with them. And then I started. You know, I basically just got onto Google and started looking up the history of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Michael Jewett: Mm hmm.

Marcus Elliot: And the first thing that popped up was this thing that said, "Did you know that Ypsilanti had the largest Black community in 1865 in Michigan?" And I was like, "What? That's interesting."

Michael Jewett: Mm hmm.

Marcus Elliot: And then I started digging more and more and more into it. I started seeing all these ties to the Underground Railroad. And then, I started finding all of these other historians who have done all the documentation on them and all of these different stories. And one thing led to another, and it was like, "Okay. Well, I think I found what I would like to focus on." And, I just found this really deep and beautiful and rich history of that city, specifically with the Black community and the Underground Railroad.

Michael Jewett: So, that's the jumping off point for the piece. It's you, Miles Lindsay, who is the narrator--poet and narrator. And the visual artist element. Is that Curtis Wallace?

Marcus Elliot: Correct.

Michael Jewett: Yeah. Now, the visual art element. What medium are we talking about? You don't want to think about a multimedia thing. Okay? You know, you, Dwight Adams, piano, bass and drums. You have a cello in the ensemble. It's a really unique sounding music happening. Can you give us a little insight on what the visual element is going to be like?

Marcus Elliot: I really can't. I told Curtis I want him just to bring himself and just to be very much in the moment and to let the music completely inspire whatever it is that he's doing. So, there's going to be a lot of different levels of improvisation happening both in the music and in the visual art. So, I have no clue what he's going to be doing.

Michael Jewett: The more I hear about it, the more psyched and excited I am. I'm personally attending the second performance.

Marcus Elliot: Okay. Good. Good.

Michael Jewett: Again, the ticket demand has, as we understand, pretty high. But if you have any last minute questions or whatnot, UMS dot org, the University Musical Society website, for complete information and the latest about the happening. Once again, this is happening at the Depot Town Freighthouse Friday and Saturday night 7:30. "Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, Michigan" from composer and bandleader Marcus Elliott. When you started, once you had this idea of what you wanted to do, was this a different project for you to conceive of than say something that, you know, things that you've been working on in the past? This sounds really unique.

Marcus Elliot: Yeah, this was a different thing because I took about a month or so just to spend time just researching these stories and spending time with these stories. Myself and Miles Lindsey just went to the African American Museum in Washtenaw County.

Michael Jewett: Right.

Marcus Elliot: We spent some time over there. We would just go and visit Ypsilanti. We'd go to the library and start digging up books from A.P. Marshall.

Michael Jewett: Of course. Yeah.

Marcus Elliot: I was diving into that. So, we were just really trying to submerge ourselves in the history of that place. And it completely, you know, that process in itself, it completely changed my relationship to the city of Ypsilanti. You know, it really had an effect on me. So, after that, I just went straight into writing music, and he went straight into writing, you know, some spoken word pieces and some narratives around some of the stories. And, yeah, now we have a complete work.

Michael Jewett: And I'm telling you. I can't recall being this excited about something. So, bravo in advance! Again, for complete information, latest information, about the event. UMS dot org. "Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, Michigan." This weekend, Friday and Saturday, 7:30 both evenings at the Freightouse in Depot Town. Composer, saxophonist, visionary and a very busy man, Marcus Elliott, thank you so much for your time.

Marcus Elliot: Thank you. Thank you, Michael.

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Michael Jewett is the long-time host of 89.1 Jazz every weekday afternoon. Besides his on-air work; Michael is WEMU’s Operations Manager. Mr. Jewett started working for WEMU in 1983. He’s been on the air longer than any other current WEMU music host.
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