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Interviews

Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist

By Published: January 26, 2006
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Charles Gayle

AAJ: Can you talk about Charles Gayle? I've heard the Knitting Factory album you did with him.

ME: Sure thing. My work with Charles Gayle does intertwine with my recordings during this period. I didn't remain idle for long. Charles Gayle had heard good things about me and he decided to try me out in his band. The result of that effort can be heard on disc two of the double-disc set put out by the Knitting Factory—More Live at the Knitting Factory. I didn't last very long with Charles. He has decided to use Michael Wimberly instead.

I like Michael Wimberly although to my ears, he's not a true free jazz drummer. He is a talented drummer in his own right. I like his drumming. Charles apparently likes to get drummers who aren't into free jazz. Michael Wimberly can be seen in the documentary that aired on Public Television called Exploring the World of Music. This series was very interesting. I learned a few things from watching this program. I hope it becomes available on DVD. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...


Alphaphonics

Now, it's back to Alpha Phonics. When I did Time & Space Vol. 1, I wrote some of the pieces because I knew Rob Brown had studied with one of John Coltrane's teachers. Alto saxophonist Cara Silvernail came to my attention when I was with Charles Gayle. She had approached him about playing. She wanted to play this music so I gave her a chance. We did a gig at the old Knitting Factory on Houston Street. Cara didn't want to cut Rob Brown off as he was ending his solo. I had to stop playing and gently used my drumstick to push her forward to the microphone. I can't say I've ever seen a woman on saxophone playing free prior to Cara Silvernail. She sounded good. I learned during the rehearsals that she reads music well. She and Rob worked well together. Hill Greene played bass and provided solid support on this record date. There were some leftover compositions that didn't make it on the first CD. I plan to release them in the future. The music won't be enough to fill a CD. I like to give a minimum of one hour of music on my recordings. Some musicians who are working frequently come up short in this department. I don't understand why nor how working musicians put out CDs that are less than an hour.

After I did Time & Space Vol. 1, I changed the band and started using Sabir Mateen on tenor saxophone. I love what Rob Brown is doing however, drums balance better with the tenor saxophone given my style and the loudness of my drumming on occasions. Sabir was supposed to come to the recording of Time & Space Vol. 1, however, he never got my phone message. I owe drummer Tom Bruno a big thank you for letting me use Sabir Mateen. Remember, some leaders prefer to hold on to their musicians like they're personal property. The public would be very surprised to learn how selfish some of these musicians are. I had seen Sabir playing on the street with Test, the band with Tom Bruno, Sabir, Daniel Carter and Matt Heyner. We've had Matt Heyner on bass on a few occasions. I did work with Daniel Carter off and on. We had an unknown tenor saxophonist for one gig. I never ran into him again. I wonder if he's still in New York City. Some musicians are nomads. You see them today and tomorrow, it could be months or years before you see them again. Bassist Hill Greene has been working in my band over the years. He also works with singer, Jimmy Scott. I think it's a good idea for free jazz musicians to work with inside jazz artists. One helps the other in my opinion. We have also worked briefly with the legendary trumpet player Roy Campbell.

I also did a performance once with electric guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors. He is the opposite of me. He plays using softer dynamics and specializes in playing at slow tempos. I tend to be more upbeat and into quick tempos. It's hard to describe his sound. I know that if Loren got more exposure, a lot of guitar players would copy what he's doing. I hear a transcendental New Age quality in his playing. I have heard Alice Coltrane use this sound on some of her albums.

Hill Greene drove us—me and Sabir Mateen—to Bob Rusch's place in upstate New York. We did the album, Red Sprites & Blue Jets. This record really helped Sabir's career. He was working when the CD came out, I wasn't. I've always had to keep a low profile because of my job. Now that the job is behind me, I'm concentrating on music. The events of September 11th have had a negative impact on my career. Things are harder now than they ever were however, I'm sure we'll break through in the future. Progress is slow but I'm not complaining. My drumming is rock solid and keeps getting better. I do need to get more CDs out. We're working on it.

AAJ: What was it like to open for Sonic Youth?

ME: I'm glad you asked that question. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the show we did when we opened for Sonic Youth. Thurston Moore is a huge fan of free jazz. He's doing what John Coltrane tried to do, that is, help as many musicians as possible. He has helped drummer William Hooker, me, tenor saxophonist Paul Flaherty, drummer Chris Corsano, David S. Ware, and many others in free jazz. This is what we need more of, not the petty jealousies, rivalries, and vindictiveness which some artists continue to perpetuate into infinity. We played at the Academy Theater right across the street from the New York Times building. It has since been renovated as part of the renewal plan for the 42nd Street area. I hardly recognize this area now. It looks different from how it was when I was a kid.

This happened on Saturday, October 21, 1995. This was the best sound I've ever had playing in front of a live audience. I could hear Sabir Mateen and Hill Greene clearly. Because the sound was better than average, it changed our musical presentation. The band locked into a much more musical approach than usual. It wasn't the loud drumming that I normally get into since I can't hear the horn player most of the times. On this Saturday afternoon, it was a very musical presentation of melodic free jazz. The young teenagers in the audience went wild after our show. Thurston had arrived and he was sitting on the side listening to us play. He was very pleased with our performance. He wanted me to do more shows with him, but my commitment to my day job was the problem. I told Thurston to use Sabir. Thurston wanted to record Sabir. I told him to go ahead do it, that wouldn't be a problem. I try to help the musicians that work for me to get ahead. This is how Tom Bruno and Sabir got to work with Sonic Youth. I did get Sabir and Hill recorded the very next year when we did Red Sprites & Blue Jets. I appreciate and thank Thurston Moore for his magnanimous support. This is so rare in the world of jazz. I wonder how many artists that Thurston has helped have bothered to publicly thank him.

I did work with Thurston Moore when I filled in for William Hooker at a performance that took place at the Knitting Factory. According to my notes, that was on January 11, 1996. Thurston should consider working with me in the future and do a recording. I'm sure the record will turn out fine.

AAJ: That brings us to your current guitarist Tor Snyder. How did you meet him?

ME: Tor Snyder began asking to join the band. He would come to our performances and he finally asked if he could play with us. My first guitarist, Peter Mazzetti, had moved to the West Coast. Peter was a rock guitarist. He wanted to try his hand playing free jazz. The first gig we did, his performance wasn't what I had in mind. He was very concerned that I wouldn't call him for the next gig, but I kept him in the band. As Peter continued playing with us, he relaxed and was able to give the band a unique timbre. I regret his departure due to his moving to the West Coast.

Tor sensed that I would be open to using a new guitarist. I didn't want to take him because I knew he was a member of Dennis Warren's Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble. I'm not in the habit of stealing musicians from other people's bands. After Tor convinced me that he was going to remain in New York City, I decided to give him a chance. The first time he played with us, it didn't work out. I let Tor go and he returned several months later. This time, he played very well with the group and he's been in the band ever since. Sabir Mateen's career took off after the release of Red Sprites & Blue Jets. By the time I was able to start getting the band work four years later, Sabir was already up and running.

AAJ: How about your other two band members, saxophonist Ras Moshe and trumpeter James Duncan?

ME: Ras Moshe began approaching me about working in my band. I did use him because I can no longer get Sabir when I need a horn player. Sabir is always working these days; good for him! I wanted to add one more horn player and somehow James Duncan's name came up. I did see him play with Ras at one of Ras's The Music Now! Festival on Sunday, June 24, 2001 at the Orange Bear on Murray Street. I ran into him earlier this year in Midtown and I called out his name. It was James, however, he looked different since the last time I saw him. It must have been a year that had gone by since we last saw each other. James made inquires about the unreleased performance the band did previously. I told him I had not yet found a record company that would take it and put it out. It's hard to get your music out there sometimes. Both Ras and James happened to be in the right place at the right time. It's not likely I will expand the band. I could add a pianist, but, I'm not hearing the piano in my music right now. The Black Queen CD was specifically designed to help pianist Matthew Shipp and alto saxophonist Rob Brown get their foot in the door.

Tony Williams had problems with his band when he had John McLaughlin on electric guitar and Larry Young on organ. Jazz venues said the band was too rock-oriented, while rock venues said the group was too jazzy. Sometimes, an artist can't win. The industry has caught up with Tony Williams Lifetime group and now they're saying what a great band it was. It's hard to build a career when you're in no man's land. If people are saying your group is this, that and the other, the artist suffers greatly. An artist needs support now, not tomorrow or thirty years from now. This is what I'm facing today with my band Slipstream Time Travel. Most record companies won't record us. I have to do it myself, somehow.



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