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Sam Marcus

  • Popular Music

Saxophonist Sam Marcus (1910–2007), who taught at NEC in the 1940s, died August 23, 2007, in Winchester, Mass.

At a time when much of the music that is now categorized as jazz was the popular music of the day, and NEC's Popular Music department had its heyday, Marcus designed much of the department's curriculum at the invitation of NEC Director Quincy Porter. Marcus himself had come to NEC in the 1920s to study saxophone, but with no instructor available in that instrument at the time he was put on clarinet. This was his first lesson in the importance of versatility.

As head of the musician's union local at a time when it had thousands of members, most of them finding lucrative employment in dance bands, Marcus knew that he had to prepare professional musicians to be expert sightreaders and transposers, ready for a wide spectrum of charts and tunes. He himself had to prepare charts every week for two separate radio bands, one of which broadcast from NEC. He created courses in "Practical Theory" and "Rhythm Physics." Marcus said that when the Popular Music students walked into a classical harmony class with his courses under their belts, "they knocked the subject for a loop!"

In 1947, Marcus expanded on his ideas of pedagogy when he and Nicholas Slonimsky opened the School of Contemporary Music on Boston's Newbury Street. In the 1970s, he served as president of the Boston Musicians' Association, by which time he was also working as a commercial real estate broker.