13 Famous Marimba Players You Should Know

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

The Marimba is a musical instrument that has been used for centuries by many cultures. Its sound is rich and full, with the ability to create a wide range of moods. You’ll find them played in orchestras but they’re also amazing solo instruments too.

This article will introduce 13 famous marimba players and look at some of the musicians who have made significant contributions to their respective genres and the instrument itself.

1. Evelyn Glennie

No list of famous marimbists would be correct if it didn’t start off by introducing Evelyn Glennie.

Glennie is a Scottish percussionist who specializes in Marimba music who has been playing percussion since she was 12 years old when she entered the Ellon Academy of Music. 

Evelyn’s most distinguishable feature doesn’t have to do with her music but her hearing.

She is deaf, having lost her hearing when she was between 8 and 12 years old.

Her teacher at the Ellon Academy, Ron Forbes, taught her how to feel the music with her body instead of her ears. 

Her first instruments were the timpani and xylophone, and she toured with a famous teenage percussion group called the Cults Percussion Ensemble.

After mastering her skills, she attended the royal academy of music and became the first-ever solo percussionist in history.

2. Keiko Abe

One of the most famous people to ever strike the keys of a marimba is Keiko Abe.

She plays the marimba with such skill that even people used to the complexities and tones of modern music are astonished by the instrument’s stunning range of sounds. 

Winner of the Japan Fine Arts Festival Award six times over (1968, ʼ69, ʼ71, ʼ74, ʼ76, ʼ89), Keiko is one of the most recognizable marimba players ever to grace a stage.

She is a regular guest lecturer at percussion schools and music conservatories throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. 

Perhaps even more impressive than her live performance history is Keiko’s composition credits.

She has composed over 70 full-length pieces and you’ll find many of her compositions in Marimba textbooks to this day.

They are considered exemplary of the instrument and its musical style. 

3. Gary Burton

Gary Burton is a unique marimba player because he’s entirely self-taught.

His unique technique changed the way people look at four-mallet playing.

Instantly impressive, Gary recorded his first music at 17 in 1960 in Nashville, Tennessee. 

He studied at the Berklee College of Music but quit the school after receiving an opportunity to tour with George Shearing and Stan Getz.

Burton won a could of awards with Getz’s quartet before moving on to form his own in 1967. 

On his own and with his quartet, Gary released several albums that combined elements of rock with classic jazz percussion.

All of his work was highly rated and adored by fans of both jazz and rock.

He’s also one of the greatest vibraphone players too.

4. Micheal Burritt

To this day, Michael Burritt is in high demand on the percussion stage.

He has jammed on the Marimba in countries on four continents and throughout the United States. 

His accolades are a reputation as a soloist in the U.S. Air Force Band, Omaha Symphony, Dalla Wind Symphony, Ju Percussion Group, and several other famous ensembles.

His solo recording career is just as decorated.

He has released three solo albums, and several chamber projects, the most recent was his Home Trilogy, released in 2018. 

He has also composed three concertos and is now the professor of percussion at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. 

5. Gordon Stout

A recent selectee to the Percussive Art’s Society’s (PAS) hall of fame, Gordon Stout is one of Marimba’s most widely known and respected artists.

Born in America to parents who were both professional musicians, Gordon’s destiny was truly written into his genes. 

Gordon’s musical mentor, Jim Salmon, was the reason he decided to pick the Marimba as his instrument of choice.

Salmon showed Gordon that music could be easy-going and that life didn’t need to be taken seriously. 

As a performer, Gordon was recruited by several musical instrument brands to showcase their products on the Marimba.

He recorded his first album, Music for Solo Marimba, in 1977 and has since released several projects.

He’s also a respected composer known for writing Marimba pieces on other instruments. 

6. Andy Harnsberger

Like many people skilled in Marimba, Andy Harbsberger has built a sound reputation for himself as an educator, performer, and composer.

Although he’s graced stages across the continents, he is most known for the annual recitals and clinics he hosts in the United States. 

However, he’s also a staple at Marimba and percussion festivals like the Tamborimba Percussion Festival in Colombia and the Patagonia Percussion Festival in Argentina.

He’s also performed on the impressive stages of the PAS, performing at their International Convention (PASIC).

7. Katarzyna Mycka

Known as “she who dances with mallets” among the marimba community, Katarzyna Mycka is a marimba virtuoso and composer.

Her playing style is impressive and incredibly unique.

She can produce six tones simultaneously on her custom-built concert marimba with sixty bars and pipes. 

She can produce a wide array of sounds and tones during her performance, leading to the universal praise she’s received from the percussion community.

She started her career on piano and drums and started with the Marimba while studying in Poland, Germany, and Austria.

8. William Moersch

A professor at the Illinois School of Music, William Moersch, is a marimba virtuoso and composer.

William has performed on more than 70 recordings from famous composers like Irwin Bazelon and Akemi Naito. 

William got his performance chops as a freelance musician in New York City for over twenty years.

He was honored to play with classic ensembles like the American Symphony, Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City opera. 

As a professor, he delivers his nearly forty years of experience to his students and emphasizes commitment to new pieces and repertoire performance.

9. Mark Ford

After a long career in performance and composition, Mark Ford settled down and became a percussion instructor at the University of North Texas College of Music in Denton.

He coordinates one of the most extensive percussion programs in the U.S. at that school and is also a co-president of the PAS. 

Performing in countries like Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia, and throughout Europe and South America, Mark took his love for performance into his own hands by becoming the artistic director of the Drum Fest Marimba/Vibraphone Competition in Opole, Poland. 

He has also released three solo marimba CDs and written famous compositions for the Marimba chamber and solo acts.

10. Linda Maxey

Linda is one of the most easily recognizable Marimba concert performers, striking the keys in hundreds of concerts throughout the U.S, Canada, and Europe.

She had her debut performance in New York at Carnegie Hall in 1990. 

She was also one of the first Marimba players to perform at the Ameropa Chamber Music Festival in Prague and the Internation Festival de Musica in Portugal.

She’s received multiple awards for her performances, like the Fulbright Senior Scholar Award and the Intellectuals of Lithuania and the USA Award.

11. Makoto Nakura

Makoto Nakura has been performing Marimba for more than twenty-five years.

He moved from Japan to New York City in the mid-1990s to pursue his music career and immediately won first prize in the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. 

Now, he’s been known to light up the stage in London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and several other cities globally.

He’s been playing marimba since he was eight years old and has released several albums.

The most recent of which is “Bach Parallels,” released in 2020.

12. Alex Jacobowitz

Alex Jacobowitz by Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Although he’s classically trained, Alex Jacobowitz gained his notoriety on the streets, not the stage.

While he’s delivered incredible performances in famous venues like Lincoln Center and the MMOA, you’re just as likely to find footage of him performing in Central Park and Coney Island. 

He’s known to perform traditional and classic Jewish music on his marimba.

He now lives in Germany but has done performances in Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, South Korea, Poland, and many other places. 

He has received the Meet the Composer award and released his most famous CD in 2002, Art of Xylos.

13. Thomas Alexander

Thomas Alexander is a solo marimba recitalist. He is one of the only people who perform full concerts with only himself and a marimba.

Between concerts, he is also the director of Melange, a chamber music group. 

He studied at world-renowned music schools like Royal Northern College of Music in the United Kingdom and the Rotterdam Conservatorium in the Netherlands.

He has studied under some of the biggest names in percussion and marimba like Ian Wright, Graham Jones, and Robert Van Sice. 

Thomas has done concerts throughout the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Several European nations, and Mexico.

He has performed 30+ concerts for Marimba and released a solo album in 2003.

Summing up our List of Famous Marimbists

That’s it for now and we hope you’ve been able to learn about some of these great marimba players in this blog post, and maybe even discover a new one or two.

Remember that this list hasn’t even scratched the surface and there are many other great musicians who we haven’t included.

Let us know who we’ve missed and we’ll add them on!

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.