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CYE50 Spotlight

Marcus Elliot

“When did I know I would become a musician? When I was four years old,” says Marcus Elliot, Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Civic Jazz Ensembles Director. "My earliest memories involve music. That’s Black culture: music in the kitchen, music in the car, music in the church. My mom would sing and my dad would dance all the time. We listened to gospel and Motown. My dad would play jazz and I didn’t really care for it, but then I picked up a saxophone.”

Before Marcus was a Civic Youth Ensembles Director, he went through the program himself. When a high school classmate who had joined Civic invited him to a concert, Marcus says he was "blown away."

“I couldn’t believe there was a community of people my age who were playing at that high of a level. That was a defining moment in my life.” After the concert, Marcus, then in 9th grade, immediately picked up a program application and was accepted.

Marcus says community is central to the CYE program. Being part of a community of like-minded individuals with similar goals not only pulls you up when you’re struggling but also pushes you to excel. “If I’m the best person in the room, I usually want to leave that room. I am always looking to be challenged and to be surrounded by people who are going to push me and who have an even bigger vision for themselves than what I have. That’s what I learned from being part of that program.”  

He can say something so simple, he doesn't make it sound profound—it is already profound on its own—and it changes your whole mindset. It's an honor learning from him. ”

Adrianna Sewell, Civic Jazz Student

After graduating from CYE, Marcus earned a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies from Michigan State University and a Masters of Music from the University of Michigan. His resume includes performances with Bob Hurst, Karriem Riggins, James Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Marcus Belgrave, Johnny O'Neal, Jimmy Heath, Shigeto, Thaddeus Dixon, Ettiene Charles, Mulgrew Miller, Rodney Whitaker, Talib Kweli, and he was a 2020 Kresge Artist Fellow. 

As a member of the Shigeto Live Ensemble, he explores techno, funk, ambient, jazz, and hip-hop through use of acoustic and electronic instruments. An early favorite was Michael Jackson's Thriller: "I absolutely destroyed that record scratching it when I was first learning how to DJ and then I tried to hide it from my dad."

Marcus says being a CYE director as an alumnus of the program is an honor. “It is such an opportunity to come full circle and be on the other side. I remember the exact things they are going through as students and I know the growth that is going to come from them being part of the program.” 

Hear Marcus discuss his musical journey and work with mentors Rodney Whitaker and Marcus Belgrave in the Jazz from Detroit Virtual Music Marathon.


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Encore: Virtual Music Marathon