Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist
AAJ: Where did you go to hear live music in Boston?
ME: The second advantage of my stay in Boston was that I was able to see many of the jazz greats at the Jazz Workshop. It was right next to another club called Paul's Mall. I hung out at the workshop and met many musicians playing in the bands of famous jazz artists. I saw Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Thelonious Monk at the Jazz Workshop many times. Rahsaan always put on a good show. The first time I saw him was one of the few off performances I caught. The rest were dynamite! David S. Ware and I went to eat at a Chinese restaurant on Mass Avenue after the show. When he asked me what I thought of Roland, I replied, "I didn't enjoy his playing that much. David said Roland had an off day performance-wise and that I should catch him the next time he came to Boston. David was right. The rest of the shows that I saw of Rahsaan Roland Kirk were sheer joy. Roland knew how to move an audience.
One memorable performance happened during the Jazz Pop bookings that George Wein experimented with during the late sixties. Rahsaan and his band played at this festival. I was curious to see Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. When Frank Zappa and his band came on, the band members began making verbal nonsensical sounds. The audience promptly got up and started leaving the Memorial Auditorium. They were not going to have their intelligence insulted. One by one, folks started getting up and leaving. George Wein didn't want the show to end poorly. He asked Rahsaan to go back on stage and play again. When he began playing, people came back and sat down in their seats. The band began playing "Louie Louie, another popular song from the fifties. Some of you may recall this song from the movie, Animal House. Roland sounded good. This venue was near the Boston Sheraton Hotel.
AAJ: That's an incredible story. Readers and Frank Zappa fans may think you're making this up. Is there any documentation regarding this incident?
ME: Frank Zappa never played a note. He stood on stage and smoked a cigarette. The concert took place on January 31, 1969. This was the Boston Globe Jazz Festival. The next day, or it could have been a day or two later, the Boston Globe showed a photo of Frank Zappa smoking on stage with a clearly visible no smoking sign in the background. The photo struck me as being surreal, like a Dali painting.
This was the only time I got to see Frank Zappa. I hear that his live shows were great, however, I didn't see it that night. I take my shows seriously in the sense that I understand this may be someone's only chance to see me in this lifetime. I try to leave a more positive impression. Artists must play and not do what Frank Zappa did. I really wanted to see him play. I'm mentioning this story so that upcoming musicians won't take their shows for granted. I mean no disrespect to Frank Zappa, the word of mouth about him is that he always did great shows. As I said before, I didn't see it on this particular night.
I wish Mr. Wein had continued in this direction. If he had, jazz would be in a different place today. Miles Davis shares, in his autobiography with Quincy Troupe, that Tony Williams suggested they open for the Beatles. Imagine where jazz would be today if Miles had acted on this tip?
Monk came to Boston often. During the week, attendance was sparse however, from Thursday night on, the place was usually packed. The first time I saw Monk, he got up from the piano and started dancing. I had heard that he sometimes liked to do this. Miles Davis was one of the few artists who could pack almost any venue whenever he played. Once I started listening to his records, I fell so in love with his music that I would run into Miles Davis at odd hours of the day and night whenever he came to Boston. I once saw him leaving Berklee. He had been in the school and no one recognized him! On one occasion, I saw him and I stared at him so hard he turned sharply and looked at me. He was standing between two cars and waiting to cross the street. I quickly apologized and said, "I thought you were someone else. He found my comment amusing and he started laughing as he walked across the street. This must have been around 2 AM on a week night. Had I been a little less shy, I might have been able to talk to Miles. Despite his standoffish demeanor, he was approachable.
McCoy Tyner was a frequent visitor to the Jazz Workshop. I met drummer Eric Gravatt when he came to Boston. We have stayed in touch although it's been many years since I last saw him. I saw him many times with McCoy's band and later with Weather Report. Eric had an uncanny knack of playing funk rhythms behind McCoy Tyner. I never heard this in McCoy's music. To my astonishment, this approach worked. Elvin Jones usually came to Boston and always did great drumming leaving drummers with their jaws on the floor. Some of the drummers who were into Buddy Rich said Elvin had no technique. My tutor, Lenny Nelson, told me that Elvin and Buddy Rich once had a drum battle. He said "Cats may say that Elvin has no technique, but Buddy Rich had a heart attack shortly after that event. Lenny felt that Elvin had pushed Buddy in his own way playing what he plays. That's not bad for a cat who has no technique!
Elvin Jones had a good sense of humor. I went to speak to him after he finished his first set one night. When I shook his hand, he began applying pressure on my hand and fingers with a vice like gripe. I looked at him and he had a mischievous grin on his face as he noticed my discomfort. Elvin was something else. He is one of my main influences on the drums. There are many others and it's mostly the jazz greats that I dip into the ocean for inspiration. Some of the writers think I'm influenced by other free jazz drummers. That's completely false; it's way off base. I'll repeatmy influences are the traditional jazz drummers from bebop, the Big Band era and others.
AAJ: You say you're influenced by the traditional jazz drummers? How can that be, you're a free drummer?
ME: Not really. My playing style is more inside than most writers realize. Listen closely to what I'm playing; you'll hear a lot of inside ideas and concepts that are used by traditional jazz drummers. I had the opportunity to talk about why Free Jazz Isn't Really Free at the Knitting Factory as part of their defunct Jazzhool series. This took place on October 19, 2000, from 2 - 3 PM and was broadcast live to schools in the Northeast quadrant via the Internet. I believe Verizon was the sponsor for this event using DSL to broadcast this in real time. I clearly demonstrated what it is I'm doing and why it's not free. It only sounds that way, but, it's far from being free. Think of it as an audio illusion. The sounds I create fool the ear into thinking they're something that they're not. We're sorry to disappoint music fans; there really is no free music. It is not possible in this dimension. Music is based on melody, harmony and rhythm. A musician can never get away from those elements completely.
AAJ: Who else did you see at the clubs?
ME: I didn't go to the clubs alone. Usually, David went with me or some of my fellow students from Berklee went to checkout specific jazz artists. I didn't see everybody, mostly the ones I liked and they happened to be some of the jazz greats. Yusef Lateef, Stan Getz, Deodato (though he wasn't a jazz great), Pharoah Sanders, and many others who were working during that time period. I should also mention that during the summer school break, I would return to New York City and catch musicians at Slugs on the lower East side. It was there that I saw Tony Williams with Larry Young on organ and John McLaughlin on electric guitar. The club didn't have very many people in it that Friday night. That didn't stop Tony and company from tearing down the house. I remember a very sexy thin black woman was the sole waitress in the club. She may have been a dancer; she had a dancer's body. Slugs is where I first saw Pharoah Sanders. He had a hit with his Karma record at the time. That recording received a lot of air play on the radio. I met Billy Hart when he played with Pharoah. This began our relationship.
I also enjoyed bassist Jimmy Garrison as he usually made those gigs with Elvin. They had a bad falling out one night in Boston and after that we didn't see Jimmy with Elvin anymore. One of my classmates, a student at Berklee, witnessed this event. I had a ball hanging out with Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Jimmy was a real ladies' man. He was always talking to attractive females who came to the club to see Elvin play. I was talking to a lady whom Jimmy was very interested in and he came over and said, "Get away from her Marc! Jimmy said it in a joking manner and we all laughed. Jimmy looked good just like he did when he was with John Coltrane.
The last time I saw Jimmy Garrison was in my old neighborhood when he played on the Jazzmobile at 159th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. This was an annual event that took place around September. Jimmy looked terrible. The effects of his drug use were very obvious to all but when he picked up the bass and started doing what musicians call "walking, the young children listening to the music would start dancing to the rhythm of what Jimmy was playing. They would move their body in time to the sounds Jimmy was making. Very curious, why is it that young children can hear jazz and some of the writers can't? The Jazz Workshop closed and is no longer in business. This is a major blow for the Boston area. It was located across the street, not far from Lord & Taylor which is near the Prudential Center on Boylston Street. This area has been upgraded tremendously in recent years. I'm surprised film makers don't use this location for some of their movies. The area looks great and is visually quite stunning. I would love to see Boston officials add a jazz club to this location. It's easy to get to the Prudential Center with the public transportation.