Tina Marsh, Austin’s avant-jazz leader, gravely ill

The founder of the Creative Opportunity Orchestra, a musicans’ cooperative of composer-improvisers on the model of Chicago’s AACM, is suffering late stage breast cancer. Beautiful Tina Marsh, age 55, whose disease was successfully treated in the ’90s but recurred in 2008, is resting in a private home, with friends close by.
A pure-voiced vocalist who employs extended techniques in dramatic interpretations of songs such as Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” with brilliant control for deep affect but who has also conducted a wild ‘n’ wooly ensemble through open structures to fine result and been described as singing “scat to the highest power,” Tina has been a community-sensitive artist-activist in her adopted hometown for nearly 30 years. Having worked in musical theater on the east coast in the ’70s, she attended the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock in 1980, and upon returning to Austin organized CO2 from the core of her first band, the New Visions Ensemble. Since then more than 200 musicians have participated in CO2 under her direction. 

Besides recording five albums under her own name (and appearing on saxophonist Alex Coke‘s recordings, too), Tina initiated “Circle of Light,” a multi-denominational winter holiday artistic celebration (see a trailer of a film about it here) in 2000. The CO2 recently completed 10 years at Becker Elementary school, described as being “disadvantaged,” where she was Artist-in-Education. She was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Austin Artists Hall of Fame in 2008 and her projects have been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and Chamber Music America, among other funders, but she has received woefully inadequate press attention outside her immediate locale — much less than her music deserves, as it is always warm, penetrating or provocative, and satisfying.

This video clip of Tina singing “Love Look Away” is from a performance with pianist Eddy Hobizal and cellist Terry Muir, just last January. Funds for her health care expenses or cards and notes can be sent to Tina at PO Box 3215/Austin, TX 78764.

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  1. says

    Thanks for this, Howard.
    A small note – I was at the Creative Music Studio with Tina in summer ’79. (She may also have been there in ’80.) She did some tremendous things there-Roscoe Mitchell was artistic director, Braxton, George Lewis, and Leo Smith guests for a week each. One memory I’ve often told students about was our performance of a Braxton piece in which we had to make sounds at different heights in space according to the dynamics. Tina took it to an incredible level and inspired everyone there, singing very softly with her mouth on the floor, etc. It was unbelievable and triggered this incredible performance that made Braxton come back the next day with Nickie and a professional video setup.
    I’ve followed her work from afar since then, through CDs and news and friends (Ken Filiano, ROVA) and she’s been a real hero of the music and her community. Thanks again for letting people know. I wish her whatever is best for her in this difficult time.

  2. says

    Thank you Howard for your beautiful tribute to Tina-an amazing woman, vocalist, composer, and educator who has been an inspiration to all who have come in contact with her.
    Tina was our guest composer and performer with our big band in July 2007, here is a segment of that performance “Milky Way Dreaming”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kn_zhLuW17E