Marcus started learning the piano, as did all good middle-class children at the time, when he was about five. He quickly mastered the business of reading music, and found the theory of music fascinating, but it was soon apparent that the piano was not the instrument he was going to excel in. In fact, he was, and still is, a lousy pianist. As he seemed not to have complete control over the movements of his fingers, it seemed that performing music might be forever out of his reach, until, aged eleven, he started taking lessons on the trombone.


 ...and music


At school, he discovered and fell in love with the music of Stravinsky, Bartok and the second Viennese School, which led him from his previous diet of the Classical and Romantic to the modernists of the second half of the 20th century. At Sheffield University, he was a founding member of the free-improvisation group AMG, and produced a portfolio of compositions towards his BMus. Bewildered, bemused and bewitched by contemporary giants such as Stockhausen, Cage, and Boulez (and later by Ligeti and Xenakis), Marcus has tried, not always successfully, to build on the undoubted influence they have had on him, while forging a style of his own. Many of his works are miniatures for solo instruments or small ensembles, such as the trombone quartet Carreaux (which won a second prize in the British Trombone Society’s composition competition 2008 and was premiered by the Black Dyke Trombone Quartet), but he has also written some more extended works for larger forces — including a set of Preludes for orchestra, and a Percussion Quartet — and is currently working on a massive piece for trombones and strings in homage to Iannis Xenakis, amongst other things.

Marcus also enjoys composing for less "serious" line-ups: he has written several pieces for the ska/funk group Mad Hatters, and every so often produces a jazz composition for whatever band he happens to be playing in. A long-cherished ambition is to form an "avant garde big band" to perform some of his compositions and arrangements. Watch this space.

As well as writing original compositions, Marcus does a fair amount of arranging, mainly for bands which he is associated with in one way or another. These arrangements range from jazz quartets and quintets through to full-sized big bands, and are tailored to suit not only the forces but also the abilities available. They are sometimes commissioned by the bands, sometimes just at the whim of the arranger, and include new takes on old standard tunes, big band arrangements of jazz and rock classics (including a set of Lennon and McCartney tunes for the annual "Beatles Day" charity fund-raiser in Hastings), and tributes to some of the great jazz composers.

A recently-composed short piece for solo clarinet:

Composition and arrangements

Marcus learnt to read music at much the same time as he learnt to read English, and started composing when he was about six years old. Unlike Mozart and other child prodigies, his early works were not only derivative, but also instantly forgettable. Undeterred, he has continued composing, and learnt much along the way.

At last he had found an instrument he felt comfortable with. And what's more, it was one that gave him the opportunity to play in all kinds of different musical styles and ensembles: orchestras, quartets and quintets, brass bands, jazz bands, rock groups; early music, classical music, avant garde and improvisation. His teenage years were a whirl of musical and social engagements, as he was one of the few trombonists around and thus much in demand. Perhaps not the best player in the world, but always willing and a good sight-reader.

So he learnt, through the brass bands, pit orchestras for shows and operas, classical orchestras and jazz bands, the necessary technique, and worked hard at pieces such as Berio's Sequenza V, to master the extremes of the instrument too. At university he gave a number of recitals showing off the versatility of the trombone, which led to a couple of pieces being written for his peculiar talents; and the performances of the free-improvisation group AMG often featured his playing.

Other musical activities

Marcus has sometimes been persuaded to conduct, and has been Musical Director of groups as diverse as a youth brass band, a community big band, and a madrigal consort, and has conducted orchestral and small ensemble concerts in a variety of performances. If pushed he will also sing (anything from a growling bass to a strangled falsetto — but it's not a pretty sound), and has been known to teach music theory, composition, and jazz improvisation to those who would like to know all about it, but don't want to pass exams.

Although he loathes doing it, he has also organised a number of concerts, ranging from straight recitals through avant-garde ensembles, to charity fund-raisers involving several rock and jazz groups.

As well as writing and performing music, Marcus also writes about music. So far he has had a couple of his books on music and musicians published, and has been a contributor to several encyclopedias and the Spitalfields Festival programme book. He is currently working on ideas for further musical books, including a biography of Iannis Xenakis and a series of travel guides for the musical tourist.

For more information about his writing, go to the Words page of this website.


Marcus studied Musical Instrument Technology at the London College of Furniture, and was involved with piano tuning, servicing and restoration, on and off, from 1981 until Psoriatic Arthritis took hold in 2006, forcing him to down tools.

For some years this meant mainly working on modern instruments, but an appointment to tune a player piano for George Veness led to involvement with the Stanhope Collection of Historical Keyboard Instruments where Marcus became (nominally) curator, and an interest in instruments of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As well as maintaining and restoring pianos in the collection, Stanhope uses its workshop facilities for repairing instruments in other collections and private ownership: interesting projects have included restoration for the Finchcocks Museum of an enormous American square piano built by Mathushek in the 1890s, overhauls of mid-19th-century Broadwood grand pianos, and repairs to square pianos of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Despite his interest in historic instruments and his commitment to "authentic" performance, Marcus is also a champion of new music; and although he has undoubted expertise with the insides and outsides of pianos, he steadfastly remains a dreadful pianist (admittedly now having the excuse of arthritic fingers). Nevertheless, he has not let this deter him from giving lecture-recitals, particularly on the charm of the "prepared piano" and unorthodox piano-playing techniques, featuring the music of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, and John Cage.

To contact Marcus by e-mail,

click here

Photo: Richard Platt

For a while after leaving university, he played semi-professionally wherever he was asked, but soon found the pressures of earning a living and raising a family meant he had less and less time for the trombone. Then, in the 1990s, he teamed up with like-minded players to form Blue Sumatra, playing a mix of bebop and funk tunes, and later joined the ska/funk/jazz supergroup Mad Hatters, now sadly defunct, but fun while it lasted. These days, he plays mainly for pleasure (he's certainly not in it for the money), and almost exclusively jazz. He is currently a member of the Eastbourne-based “open jazz” group DJO, the straight-ahead band Blueshift, a couple of big bands, and anybody else who will have him, and is always on the lookout for a gig.

Marcus is a member of the British Trombone Society, whose website, if you're interested in trombones, you shouldn't miss.

Photo: Ann Kramer