Beth Marlis has carved out an important path in the jazz guitar world. In an industry dominated by male players and professors, Beth’s amazing talent and hard work have made her one of the top names in the West Coast jazz guitar universe. She has an undergraduate music degree from UC and a Master’s in Studio/Jazz Guitar from USC.
During her 30 plus year tenure at the famed Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California, she has risen from instructor to department head to Vice President.
A gigging guitarist, composer, studio player, published writer, and arranger, she is an integral bridge to new generations of jazz guitarists.
With over 30+ years in the music industry as a musician, author, and educator, I’m thrilled to be featuring you in GGM. It’s been way too long since we last spoke, and it was so nice to see you at the She Rocks Awards. You received the Champion Award in 2014.
Tara, it was great to see you be recognized with your own “She Rocks Award” this year, congratulations! Yes, I was honored to receive the She Rocks Champion award in 2014. Since then, the entire WiMN organization and the awards show have really grown into something special. The awards are now respected across the music industry – as an example – I noticed several CEOs of the biggest guitar companies in the audience this year. You better believe they’re paying attention, taking notes, and getting an education about women in music.
You have served on the Board of WiMN since 2017. Laura Whitmore and the entire team has made great strides for women in music through that organization. Keep up the good work! What are some of the projects that you are most proud of for WiMN?
There isn’t a singular project per se – I think the real measure of their success is sustainability and relevance. The WiMN has begun to cultivate a real and tangible legacy by working hard to grow and be an inclusive, diverse community that connects and educates while being supportive of the many paths and possibilities for women in the music industry. The organization and their She Rocks Awards celebrate and acknowledge the success of women in the industry and highlight positive role models for those who are coming up now.
We both just recently attended the NAMM Show. How many years have you been attending?
I stopped counting after 20…
We previously had this discussion with Tish Ciravolo of Daisy Rock Guitars about the years of lack of female representation at NAMM except for the “booth babes.” When did you sense the shift towards a more positive female presence with performances, educational panels, and marketing geared towards the female buyer, and do you feel there still needs to be more done in this area?
Probably what’s created a more welcoming vibe for women at NAMM is that there are more talented women musicians getting positive press, great gigs, endorsement deals, visibility, and respect as serious players. I heard a lot of guys talk about how blown away they were by a great female musician they just heard at NAMM.
I also think the industry recognition that 50% of first-time guitar buyers are women is a big factor in marketing decisions and how companies at NAMM want to pivot and capitalize on our demographic.
There is still a definite “bro” situation NAMM, but it’s refreshing to see some evolution away from the locked doors of the boys club.
Let’s talk about your role at Musicians Institute. You started as a student back in 1985 at the Guitar Institute, and then returned several years later to work as an instructor and never left! From faculty, to Department Chair/Director, to Vice President, you’ve done it all — teaching, creating curriculum, growing enrollment, funding scholarships, supervising departments, and everything in between. Tell us about your career trajectory at MI.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a really long run at MI. In 1985, I was already a semi-professional player with a degree in music, so I enrolled in the school in order to learn everything I could to become a session musician. I really loved my studies and the whole immersive experience of MI.
I was hired as a guitar faculty member in 1987, about nine months after I graduated. What a thrill to join this amazing group of instructors (all guys) – except for me and Jennifer Batten. Jennifer left when she got the Michael Jackson gig that year. So besides a few exceptions (with relatively short tenures), I was the only woman guitar faculty member. Now 33 years (and several thousand students) later, I’m still teaching a couple of hours per week, and I’m the only female guitar faculty member at the college. That’s crazy to me!
After getting a Master’s degree in Studio/Jazz guitar at USC in the 1990s, I wrote curriculum for MI and helped to design their Bachelor’s degree. In the year 2000, I became the Guitar Department Chair at MI (GIT) and managed a faculty of about 50 instructors and 400 guitar students. In 2009, I was asked to become a Vice President at MI and also the Executive Director of our scholarship Foundation. I was honored to serve as the Chairman of the Board for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 2015-16, and I’m currently serving on several non-profit boards. In spite of being very busy, I always played various freelance jazz, R&B, and casual gigs during these years.
During your tenure at MI, I’m sure you have seen a rise in female enrollment. Looking at historical photos from GIT, it was a predominately male environment. Share with us some of the female alumni. We like to see this positive trend and look forward to more!
No, unfortunately, the number of female guitar students at MI hasn’t really changed dramatically over the years.
On the bright side – there have been some impressive female alumni success stories that have come out of the guitar department. There are also many female MI graduates that are successful working players around the world. Some highlights include: Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck), JinJoo Lee (Jonas Brothers, DNCE, Jordin Sparks), Gaby Moreno (Latin Grammy winner, Emmy, and Grammy-nominated songwriter), and Liso Lee (Gwen Stefani, Fifth Harmony).
You have experienced so much in your career from your teaching, your charitable work, your service to the Hollywood community, gigging, authoring books, and so much more. So, what’s next for Beth Marlis?
I performed in two great jazz festivals last year. I started to practice guitar like a total maniac when I first got the call to do these shows, and I’m still keeping up my crazy practicing. I’m “doing the work” and playing better than I ever have. I’m super-excited about it. Looking ahead, a very talented jazz pianist/composer and I have been putting the pieces together to form a killer band in LA- stay tuned!