Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist
AAJ: How did you come to this thing called free jazz?
ME: The person who introduced me to free jazz was an unlikely source. One of my classmates in the high school band kept pestering me about visiting his apartment. He wanted to turn me on to a new form of music. I kept putting him off for as long as could until one day I had the time and I said "Yes, I'll visit your place and listen to this music you keep talking about. Rodney Bacot was one of the tenor saxophonists in the band. Since he was new to music, I didn't take his claims seriously. "What does he know? He just starting playing the horn, I thought to myself. Rodney was ecstatic that I was finally coming to pay him a visit. I spent an entire Saturday afternoon listening to the many ESP & Impulse records Rodney had. He put on one record after another. The person who made the biggest impression, of course, was John Coltrane. I was intrigued by the photo on his album, A Love Supreme . Because of his serious demeanor and talent, I decided to investigate this music further.
Coltrane didn't strike me as being crazy or foolhardy. I knew he was dead serious about this form of improvisation. I thought to myself, "A man like John Coltrane wouldn't abandon his traditional jazz roots for frivolous reasons. There must be something to this music. I don't understand it, but, I'll keep listening until it begins to make sense. By the time Rodney put on Sun Ra, I was nearly on the floor laughing. I said to Rodney, "Is this cat for real? Rodney assured me that he was. Rodney had played one of Sun Ra's ESP recordings, The Heliocentric World of Sun R . Sun Ra had his photo next to some of the great men of science. I thought he was quite a character. I did meet Sun Ra when we [the Cecil Taylor Unit] played at the Foxhole in Philly in May, 1976, also known as the New Foxhole Café, Penn University, Philadelphia, PA. Sun Ra was a well-read individual. He knew a lot about mysticism and other related topics. It was an education listening to him speak when David S. Ware and I ran into him on the streets of Philadelphia. He did come down to see us perform as did most of the members in his Arkestra. They were pleased with the Cecil Taylor Unit album Dark Unto Themselves. I got a kick out of observing their reactions during the concert.
Here's a comment I sent to Rick Lopez regarding this gig:
"Since we were in Philadelphia, Sun Ra attended at least one of the shows. I can't recall if he was there for all three nights. Many of the players in his band also came. They really enjoyed the music. These performances drew a sizeable crowd. A good audience helps to make things happen."
Rodney began visiting me at our apartment on 158th Street. We began mimicking what we heard Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and other musicians doing on their records. We didn't have the energy to stay out there long (that would come later when I started playing with Apogee) but when we did reached those musical heights, the whole neighborhood got real quiet. Even the dogs stopped barking when we started playing. When you play drums in an apartment in New York City, folks tend to take note. Drums have a way of getting everyone's attention. One of my neighbors told me, she thought someone was rolling garbage cans down the stairs when she heard my drumming. Ha! I was trying to recreate thunder and lightning. I did this during my tenure with Cecil Taylor and we would kill audiences night after night wherever we played.
ME: During my senior year in high school, I had been hearing about the Warriors Drum & Bugle Corps. For several years, musicians had suggested I try out for this group. Tenor saxophonist Russell Bailey stayed on my case about this. He would say, "Marc, the Warriors are very good. You should try out for them. You have the talent to make their drum line. I didn't have that many classes during my senior year so I went to the church on 155th Street, near Broadway and began to attend the long rehearsals. It took a while, but I did get a spot playing rudimental bass drum. I had to practice hard because playing outdoors required an entirely different level of loud dynamics. It takes physical strength to put out this amount of energy. When I heard my playing on record from one of the live competitions, I was surprised to learn that I was playing louder than my fellow rudimental bass drummer, Don. Don had worked with me, making sure that I learned all the parts for the pieces the corps would be playing that season. I stayed with the Warriors for one year.
Note I can be heard in the competition on The 1968 New York American Legion Championships, Volume One put out by the American Legion (Volume SCS-150). The back of the album cover states: March of Champions, New York State American Legion Convention, July 27, 1968, Syracuse, NY. This is strictly for drum & bugle corps enthusiasts. I have no idea where one would go to find this recording. Happy record hunting!
AAJ: Tell us about your drum instructor of the Warriors. I know he had to be very good. Rudimental drumming isn't easy to execute.
ME: You got that right. Rudimental drumming is a little of both: it can be very hard and some of it is easy. To answer your question, Robert Winslow, or Bobby as we called him, was said to be a child prodigy in this capacity. He had joined and played snare drum with one of the other drum corps. The word of mouth is that you had to be exceptionally talented to even consider trying out for this drumline. Bobby Winslow made that drumline and I hear he was sixteen years old. That was unprecedented. Most of the drummers in that drumline were older, perhaps in their twenties. The movie Drumline (2002) provides a taste of what it's like to be in a drum & bugle corps. I regret that I couldn't work with the Warriors longer. I was told that Bobby Winslow had gone to Africa and did drum studies over there. He would put those African rhythms in our parts.
Sometimes during a competition, the drum judges didn't know what we were doing. I saw one judge throw down his writing pad and pencil on the ground in disgust. He was so frustrated that he couldn't figure out what we were playing. During the final event of the season, which the Warriors won, Bobby Winslow's teacher of his former drumline was one of the drum judges. I did a slight infinitesimal hesitation during one of the drumline solo sections and you know what, he caught it. Only a master drummer could have caught that hesitation. He rubbed it in by looking me in the eye while he wrote a checkmark on his pad. "You demon, I said inwardly. "No one should have caught that, but he did. I'll leave you with another thought about drummers in drum & bugle corps. Many of the snare drummers can take down a lot of jazz drummers. I'm speaking in terms of technique. To be fair jazz drummers even the score by their work on the drum kit. Snare drummers from the marching bands can't touch us there. After leaving the Warriors, I began concentrating on playing free jazz. This was the year 1968.