Glen “The Kid” Marhevka is the trumpet player for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and a master trumpeter at that. Here is a story of personal drive, mentor relationships, disciplined training and cooperative band experiences over the past thirty years. It sounds a lot like the music he makes: collaborative, energizing and filled with those gorgeous brass instruments that make you feel good from start to stop.
How it all began:
Glen Marhevka was 10-years-old when he first started playing the trumpet, something he initiated and his parents supported. His father was a saxophone player on the weekend for parties and events and he wanted his son to start off on the clarinet, but Glen had the trumpet in mind. “I refused to play clarinet and it took me a while to convince my parents to get me a trumpet but they finally got it for me and I started playing it and just took to it. I don’t even really know why I chose it, I was just adamant about it. I told them I wanted a trumpet, and would learn how to play it and I never looked back. I’ve been with it ever since.”
Growing up in Southern California, his childhood environment was filled with music. “I was surrounded by music, going to festivals and sitting on stage watching my Dad play.” He was also fortunate enough to have a teacher in school who was also a musician and would give Glen tips as a young boy about who to listen to and how to learn more about the instrument. Glen continued to meet mentors in his adolescents that were helpful and encouraging, helping him find more musical niches and opportunities as a young lad.
After high school Glen attended California State University, Northridge and studied classical trumpet with an emphasis in musical performance. At the time jazz wasn’t a major that even existed so it was interesting to be studying classical jazz, Glen says. Glen did go to CSUN though because it had one of the best collegiate jazz bands in the United States at that time and he wanted and did become a part of it and it was close to home. At CSUN, Glen was surrounded by professors who were either “top-notch studio pros” and performers or academics trained in theory.
His school experience and time in the school jazz band gave him opportunities to play with salsa bands, swing, jazz, ska bands, reggae bands, rock bands, chamber music, brass quintets, you name it, he played it. He met many students who were also training to be musicians or teachers and finish degrees in classical music. He learned “commercial playing” and started working for money when he met the members of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and everything changed.
The path of performance chose Glen Marhevka, and he’s happy it did.
Just a year out of college Glen was invited by to play and from there he recruited the pianist and saxophone player. “I’m happy you know…I wasn’t planning on playing in a band for 20 years…that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but now I’m glad that I did” says Glen who was just looking to be a paid musician after college graduation. Then he found himself in a group that was playing against the 90’s grunge music¬ scene that was the current trend. “We’re a fairly upbeat band for the most part; we don’t do a lot of sad songs, not the dramatic thing. [We’re] Mostly straight ahead, high¬ energy, jazz and swing, American music from the early 20’s up until the 60’s…more modern New Orleans street bands also.”
Although Glen makes the process of forming seem very simple, the seamless nature sounds fortuitous. The singer and drummer was looking for a band, found a bass player, then trombone player, Glen joins, then a few more talented players come on board and twenty years later they are still playing together. Bands that sounded like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy weren’t thriving, it was “Nirvana and full¬on grunge” that was in, but that didn’t stop the band from hitting the LA club scene. Each player had different training, but enjoyed playing together and vouched for each other’s abilities and groups they’d played for. “We blended street-musician, punk rock guys with three more jazz guys with more classical training and it was pretty cool to learn from each other.”
Glen and six other musicians have been playing and collaborating for 20 years—something that seems to break average band records everywhere. “I like playing in front of people, it is kind of what music is all about. You feed off of the people who feed off the music you’re playing in front of them…I know a lot of time when we are recording you don’t get that kind of energy,” says Glen when reflecting on the performance career that found him long ago. “We’ve all learned a lot from each other…it’s been a cool blend of rock n’ roll and jazz.” They’ve taken me out of my trained mind you know when I’ve been sitting there reading charts and really getting things tight and maybe lacking in some of the showmanship type of things and these guys are like.
‘No, we want to present things this way’ and it’s like more high-energy, more like a show. This band is an amazing show band…you just put Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on stage and the musicianship is a high level but the band just really excels live.”
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: A Successful Evolution
Glen and these other six musicians learned a lot from each other over the years. Teamwork is certainly something that stands out when Glen talks about them. He calls everyone a “partner” in the band and how the partners live nearby and their families have grown up around one and other. It is a very collaborative thing they have had going on and with tremendous success to boot.
The very essence of seven personalities working together, teaching each other about different strategies, and different musical talents with different trainings turned into an amazing journey that is still going. “If you keep communication open and all respect each other you can probably make it work…we’ve been lucky to grow up together…and realize there is a business side to this…we own a small business and we have made it work.” The band has played all around the world and has a tour setup almost yearly. You may recall their first and famous turn out in the LA-based movie “Swingers” which was quite a natural step into the industry. Glen says the band had been playing at the very club the film was shot and the actual dancers in the film were regulars at their shows. It was a great step and an organic one at that.
Another remarkable part of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s evolution is the accessibility their music provides that was once inaccessible. The tunes come from a 20s and 30s era of big band showmanship and sounds that send you into immediate jive. I listened to them before and after the interview and it is amazing the complexity and art each instrument brings to the table. The sounds are geared towards American music that was once against the popular sounds of grunge and rock, but now finds a following worldwide.
Social Media is our friend and yet, “it’s all about who you know”
I asked Glen what makes today’s aspiring musicians ahead of the game with technology as their friend and he said that certainly you could start a band now perhaps a little easier and for projects with others you have recruitment possibilities at your fingertips, but again like many professions the art of personal relationships truly matters. It also helps with fans. They have evolved from physically mailing post cards to their attendees at shows to developing and running a website.
“You know we had to learn how to do bulk mail for thousands and thousands of post cards.”
Twenty years ago when BBVD formed Glen recruited the best players for the job and picked the guys he could vouch for in the end. It turns out, he was right. At the same time he does know it is true that it’s all about who you know in this industry and “it’s all about your contacts and who you know and building up friendships and that sort of thing. I mean anybody can also go online and say ‘I’m starting a band’ and that sort of a thing but the way to be successful is to meet people and create contacts along the way. So if you’re in music school or playing in other bands you’re going to meet people along the way that you perform with and you’re gonna say, ‘Hey I get along with this person and they’re a great player and when you form another project you’ll think about them.
That’s how we [BBVD] decided to play together.” His emphasis on personal relationships cannot be understated, he went on to say this is how they have been successful for over twenty years. He is on technology all the time updating their feed on the internet, maintaining their social media 24/7. “You have to constantly stay on top of it…sometimes I feel like Frodo carrying the Ring” he said in reference to staying on the media. “You have to be unique and interesting. You don’t want to shout at people and not have them hear you because so many people are shouting at you. Back when we mailed post cards, people wanted those, but now if someone likes your Facebook page they may not notice updates…” Glen also added that young people just getting into this industry and managing the technology vehicle just need to stay “open to change and be on top of it,” because he certainly has seen a lot and it has been tremendous. From recording everything on tape to now full digital, every aspect of technological change has happened in the last two decades.
The Discipline Factor: If you want to be a Pro, P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E
I asked Glen how often he practices and he said that in order to play as well as you can you have to practice a few hours every day. “Most instrumentalists practice their whole life; you never stop learning. There’s always stuff to learn; you get better with your endurance, your ears… you never stop learning how to play. I know some of the best trumpeters in the world who still have to practice. Somebody like Arturo Sandaval is one of the best trumpeters on the face of the earth and he practices several hours a day. That’s just something to help keep up your game…a brass instrument especially, if you don’t practice for one or two days you will notice. You have to keep in top shape.” The trumpet takes a lot of endurance in order to advance harmonically and jazz music really goes on infinitely so there is no learning it all and then you’re done. “The facial muscles, especially your lips, are like the equivalent of running a marathon: you need to be in top shape physically.” Being an instrumentalist you have to do the work. You choose to be a lifelong student in this case. Glen is the lifelong student of the trumpet and while everyone does it a little differently he knows that after performing for over 3000 concerts you know how to do it, but not without practice. I said it must be nice to hear that music all the time and he chuckled and said, “Well you can ask my wife” (implying it is not all that jazz to be hearing harmony tunes day in and day out). “The guys who are the best guys you see on stage practice all the time.”
Major Influences: Mentors & Musicians
Glen listed the influences he’s been listening to since a young kid: Doc Severinsen, leader of the Johnny Carson Band, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, all those guys he said, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Winton Marsalis, all very inspiring to listen to. And of course himself. He didn’t say it, but he did say he practiced more than most others. His nature was to practice. He was guilty of sometimes neglecting his studies, but it paid off. He was in the All Southern California Jazz All Star Band, which is pretty competitive. He met many talented students from other schools who inspired him to practice to improve his playing. As a kid he would think: “Man that kid must be practicing four hours a day so I’m going to practice five hours, and I just practiced my butt off …So it is just kind of like setting goals, which I still do to some extent. I keep a standard, you know? And you know I had great teachers from the beginning. William S. Hart High School in Newhall gave me an amazing mentor and teacher, George Stone, as a 7th grade teacher. He was in college and working at the time, a trumpet player, piano player, composer and arranger and he is super talented, like very, very talented… He sort of took me under his wing and he was sort of like my mentor and big brother and he gave me advice and helped get me ready to do it. We are still friends…He’s still one of my really good friends and mentors.”
What if BBVD had never formed?
I asked Glen, what if BBVD had never formed? Or fell apart? He replied that if he wasn’t in a such a successful band he would probably be a commercial player and would’ve found other artist work. Who knows, maybe he’d still be at Disneyland or would probably been a freelancer, even teaching right now? So many teachers helped him along the way after all.
What’s next for BBVD?
The three-to-five year plan is to continue playing and growing as a band. They are always evolving but the priorities have changed: they have families and children are mindful of length of tours that they weren’t before. Glen said that while they go on tour a lot, at this point in his career you have to ask yourself how much work you want to do. The band is having their 25th anniversary coming up and the new website is up and running with tour dates, information and links to all kinds of social media sites. Glen works at this daily, managing social media and distribution of band information. He also directed their video for “Why Me” and has three other Christmas videos up. They have dates coming up at the Santa Anita race track and have international tour dates too.
As Glen says, “It never stops: I know guys in their 90’s who are still learning: You never stop learning.”