Marchel Lee Ivery, celebrated tenor saxophonist, was born on September 13, 1938, in Ennis, Texas. He was the son of Hawkins and Mary Louise Ivery. He grew up in a musical family where jazz and blues records were played at home, and his siblings were singers. Ivery began playing trumpet in junior high marching band but switched to alto saxophone in the early 1950s after hearing Charlie Parker on the radio. After graduating from George Washington Carver High School in 1957, Ivery joined the United States Army. Upon enlistment, however, he did not mention that he could play the saxophone. Instead, he pursued medical training, in part due to his mother’s wishes. After basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, he was sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to begin his medical training. While studying medicine, he also played the saxophone with fellow musicians at various functions on base.
After a few months, Ivery received orders to go overseas—his first time to leave the States—and was stationed in Paris where he was assigned to a medical clinic one block from the Champs-Elysées. During the late 1950s the jazz scene in Paris was thriving, and he spent evenings visiting jazz clubs and sitting in with French musicians and American expatriates. Ivery saw drummer Kenny Clarke perform at the Saint Germaine club and asked to sit in but was rejected. However, when pianist Bud Powell came to Paris in 1958 for a string of dates, Ivery, who was in regular attendance, got his chance. When an altercation occurred between tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson and bassist Oscar Pettiford, Ivery was invited to sit in for a few songs. Although Ivery was anxious to be on the bandstand with the piano legend, he said afterward, “From that point on, deep down within, I had the feeling I could play.” Ivery’s interest in a medical career began to wane, and he continued to play regularly until returning to the United States in 1960.
Upon being discharged, he spent a short time in New York, then returned to Texas to be with his ailing father, who passed away in late 1960. He assumed the responsibility of helping his two sisters take care of his mother. Ivery continued to play at various clubs and at private parties in and around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. At that time he performed with both jazz and blues groups. He toured with a variety of rhythm-and-blues bands, including Bobby Blue Bland, Al "TNT" Braggs, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Little Willie John, Big Joe Turner, Johnnie Taylor, and Freddie King. In addition, he was frequently called upon to be the second saxophonist in groups put together for Dallas appearances by traveling stars like Sonny Stitt, Hank Crawford, and James Moody.
In 1966 Ivery met Red Garland, a Dallas native. Garland was the pianist in the Miles Davis Quintet that included John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones. They became friends as well as musical partners. Ivery described Garland as “like a father, such an important force in my life.” Their musical relationship lasted for many years. It began in 1975 at the Dallas jazz venue the Recovery Room and continued until June 1983, when Ivery played with Garland on his last performance at Lush Life in Greenwich Village in New York City.
Although Ivery had a long performing career, he did not make his first album as a leader until he was approached by record producer Mark Elliott in 1994. He made a total of three albums all on the Leaning House Jazz label. Other musicians Ivery recorded or performed with include: Cedar Walton, Clark Terry, James Moody, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Woody Shaw, George Mraz, Pharoah Sanders, Kansas Fields, Joey DeFrancesco, Roy Hargrove, Hank Crawford, "Philly" Joe Jones, James Clay, Red Holloway, Al Foster, and Albert "Tootie" Heath. Ivery passed away on October 30, 2007, at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas from complications of pneumonia.