Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist
AAJ: Tell us more about Apogee, your band with David S. Ware and Cooper-Moore.
ME: To answer your question about Apogee, the group didn't get started until around 1970 or 1971. We would get together everyday and play. This is how we developed. I won't go into specifics as to what we were actually doing. Just get together with the guys in your band and play as often as you can. Any band will grow using this method. Apogee wasn't my band. It was a cooperative according to Gene Ashton (later Cooper-Moore). A cooperative means no leader. All of the members are equal partners. We found out otherwise when Gene learned that David took the Birth of a Being tapes to Hat Hut Records. David put the record out under his name. He told us, the guy at Hat Hut wouldn't take the group as a collective. I had my suspicions; however I had no proof of any wrongdoing. I held my tongue and kept my thoughts to myself. Gene Ashton had put up the money to do the recording in the first place. David chose not to share this piece of information. I didn't learn this until many years after the fact.
We once did a concert at the Old North Church in Boston. I had the impression that we were losing the audience. I began to play Latin & African rhythms on the drums. This provided the necessary spark for Apogee and we were off and running. When we finished our performance, a very strikingly beautiful black woman came up to me. She looked like an actress; she was a very attractive female. She started hugging and kissing me. She really enjoyed the music. Today, I seldom see black folks atfFree jazz performances. Things have changed over the years, and not for the better. I didn't ask this lady for her telephone number since I already had a girlfriend. She was drop dead gorgeous. Chris Amburger did perform with Apogee on another occasion at this venue. We played on a music festival. There were numerous bands playing at the church, including a good Gospel choir. They were singing and started getting into that sanctified feeling. I was impressed because they locked into this feeling almost from the very start of their show. The host was a black guy who did a jazz program on the radio from Boston University. We did play on the radio show once. It was during this performance that I found my sound. It happened by itself spontaneously. I've been playing this way ever since this radio broadcast.
Apogee was a wonderful band that most jazz writers missed. Most concentrate on the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other groups of that era. I've yet to hear a band that could match Apogee. We rehearsed nearly every day and we knew what we wanted to play, musically speaking. Apogee did perform once at the Jazz Workshop. Charles Mingus was in town. David and Cooper-Moore went down to see him. They spoke to him on the break and asked if we could sit in. Cooper-Moore told me, "Marc, David was so arrogant about it. He was so arrogant, emphasizing something I know all too well. He told Mingus, "We don't want to play with you. We want to play by ourselves, with our band , not sit in with all those other cats.
Mingus just looked at David when he said that. He didn't say a word. I guess he was thinking whether or not to pop David in the mouth! ...Just kidding. When Sunday afternoon arrived, I had to leave my job early in order to play at the workshop. I had gotten myself a job playing drums in the Combat Zone at a club called the Two O'clock Lounge formerly on Washington Street. I would walk on Boylston Street until I got to Washington Street.
The previous drummer, Fred Wren, had decided to pursue his musical interests in New York City. Fred was also a talented artist. He showed me some of his pencil drawings. I was trying to hook up with Fred Wren when David was driving along Boylston Street, we saw Fred walking towards us. I got out the car and talked to Fred, asking if he was still leaving the club and if he wanted me to replace him. Fred answered in the affirmative. He told me when to come to the club. I started working at the Two O' Clock Lounge shortly thereafter. Fred Wren did move to New York City and things didn't go as he had planned. He ended up being homeless for a long time. The last time I saw Fred Wren, I hardly recognized him. He was off the streets and had apparently gotten himself a day job. Many musicians are opposed to working day jobs; however, most could use the disciple that a day job provides: getting to work on time, turning in the assignments on time, etc.
Working at the Two O' Clock Lounge was an unforgettable experience. I was a young man playing drums behind women taking their clothes off, every stitch of clothing, almost every day. When it was close to election day, the ladies would take everything off except their G string. At first, I was very judgmental because of my Christian upbringing. I talked about the ladies with Gene Ashton. "Those sluts, they take their clothes off everyday for money. They're nothing but sluts! Gene Ashton provided sage consul and I was able to tolerate the environment much better after he talked some sense into me. I've seen so many naked women, when on occasions I've entered the wrong area where women were dressing in later years, most will cover themselves and tell you to get out. I can pretty much figure out what they look like after my tenure at the stripper club. Thank God I had a girlfriend! I would have gone insane without one. A naked woman will have an effect on a young man.
We arrived at the Jazz Workshop and Mingus' band was playing very well. When they finished playing, Charles Mingus asked if any musicians wanted to sit in. Several local musicians went up and began playing. After they finished, David, Cooper-Moore and I went up to the bandstand.
I think Don Pullen or tenor saxophonist George Adams spoke to Mingus on Apogee's behalf. Mingus may have forgotten that we wanted to play by ourselves, not with the many musicians who came on stage previously. Just before I sat down at the drums, Mingus' drummerit wasn't Dannie Richmondasked my name. When I gave my name, he said, "I've heard of you. We did a short but torrid twenty minute set. I would've liked to have played longer but on this day, I was tired and I think David and Cooper-Moore were tired also. Mingus came up on stage and asked if we wanted to play more. David and Cooper-Moore both said no. I was glad; I didn't have anything left either. We received several rounds of applause from an enthusiastic crowd attending the matinee performance.
The next night, I was in the Jazz Workshop, I asked one of the waitresses what she thought of the band that sat in yesterday. She recognized my face and said, "You were in that band. You sounded great. This was the only time Apogee played at the Jazz Workshop. I don't recall the date when this happened. This took place at the Sunday matinee afternoon performance. Normally those performances were held from 4 - 7 PM.
AAJ: I'm very surprised to learn that David S. Ware was arrogant with the great Mingus. Did he have a personal reason to be rude?
ME: David has always been a handful! He was always headstrong and it may appear to others as arrogance. When you have a strong musician and he knows he's good, that can carry over into their normal everyday behavior. David tends to be high strung. When he talks it may sound like he dictating, telling folks what he wants. It's part and parcel of the David S. Ware's creative makeup. It's hard to separate one aspect from the other. It's an amalgam of different elements that give rise to David S. Ware's creativity. He has major issues to resolve; don't we all? This was in the past. He's probably a different person today.
Regarding Mingus, I found that Mingus was approachable. However, I could tell he was filled with stress. Remember he was around before the Civil Rights Movement. That means he along with many other black people had to swallow a lot of bullshit. Mingus was known to have a fiery temper and I've heard stories that he would punch club owners in the mouth if they didn't pay him fairly. He didn't tolerate any nonsense. In this case, it's not that he was temperamental; he went through a lot of stuff. Artists are often treated poorly in America and around the world. Most of us swallow it and move on. Not Mingus, I've been told he'd punch you in the face. If I did that, I'd end up in jail. You can't engage in this type of behavior anymore. Things have changed and there are those who will sue you simply because they think they can get a few dollars out of the process. It's all about the money now. Most musicians know to channel their anger into their music and not punch people in the face.
AAJ: Talk more about Apogee. While you're at it, who is Lenny Nelson?
ME: You've been doing your homework, Taran (Laughs). To continue with Apogee, I met my tutor, mentor and friend, Leonard "Lenny Nelson when Apogee played at the Boston YMCA. Lenny sat in the very first row in front of my drums. I recall dropping a drumstick at one point during the show. Lenny picked it up and gave it back to me. A police officer stood outside the room. Lenny told me the police officer would come in and listen for a few minutes, and then he would walk out of the room shaking his head. He didn't understand the music we were playing. I had seen Lenny on the streets or coming out of bookstores before I started working in the Combat Zone. We would always say hello to each other. At the time, I didn't know he was an exceptionally talented musician. Lenny felt that when I played with Apogee, I was the right drummer for the band. "Marc, when you're on your own turf, no one can touch you. You are a king in that band!
Lenny also hung out with Milford Graves during the sixties one summer. I heard Milford talk about Lenny during a radio interview on Columbia University's WKCR. Milford Graves and I are the only two drummers who talk about Lenny Nelson. Many well known jazz drummers either know Lenny personally or have heard of Lenny, yet they refuse to talk about him. What's up with that? Lenny knows more about jazz drumming than any drummer I've met. He also played in the Combat Zone at a club across the street called The Piccadilly. I had the chance to see Lenny in action on many nights. I got off from the Two O' Clock Lounge in the evening. Lenny didn't start working at the Piccadilly until 8 PM. I would head back downtown and hang out with Lenny. We would talk about drums during his breaks. Sometimes Lenny would let me play a set. I did fill in for him when Lenny needed to take time off. The ladies at this club were more mature than some of the ladies at the Two O' Clock Lounge. I was interested in one young lady at the Piccadilly. I later learned that she made an adult film after I had moved back to New York. Had I dated her, my life would be very different today.
We would head for the Jazz Workshop after he finished for the night. Lenny would secretly record the set and we'd sit in his car while he would break down what Elvin and other drummers were doing. Lenny has a keen musical ear. He can figure out what drummers are playing. This process would go on for hours. We'd go to his car and finish talking around two, three, or four in the morning. I didn't have to report for work until 2 PM. I would sleep late the next day. I had studied with Alan Dawson, but it was Lenny Nelson who rounded out my sound. This was similar to taking a rough marble sculpture, polishing it, and making the image more attractive.
My sound continues to grow and evolve and some of that credit belongs to Lenny Nelson. He's one of the great drummers in the Boston area. He once told me that when he retires, he plans to start teaching. I hope the Berklee College of Music adds this man to their staff when it is convenient for Lenny. As I said before, I've never met anyone as knowledgeable about the drums as Lenny Nelson. That will be a great day in Boston when that happens. I also met drummer Bobby Ward. Bobby's drumming is a reflection of his personality. He talks fast and plays drums very fast in the Buddy Rich sense of the word. He was hanging out with Lenny and some of the others drummers who worked at the other clubs in the Combat Zone one night. It was a rare gathering of most of the drummers working in the Combat Zone. The Combat Zone was Boston's equivalent of 42nd Street during the sixties. There were lots of sex clubs along Washington Street. That's how 42nd Street area used to be until city officials decided to clean up the theater district. Some of the hookers would hassle theater goers as they were leaving the shows. That was the last straw and 42nd Street began changing from that day forward.
Bobby demonstrated something that he likes to play. Bobby showed us, but he played it at the speed of light, super fast. No one could pick it up. Harvey, a white drummer from Canada, had the courage to ask Bobby to play the figure at a much slower speed. "Slow it down Bobby. Bobby complied, but it wasn't enough. "Slow it down some more Bobby, and we were able to get it. I have since forgotten that particular rhythm since I wasn't able to incorporate into what it is that I'm doing in free jazz. Bobby Ward remains active on the Boston scene today and I think he writes some of pieces for the band he's working in. I have one of his albums in my CD collection. He works with saxophonist flutist Henry Cook frequently in the Boston area.
It is very important for musicians to continue increasing their knowledge about the instruments they play in public. I maintain contact with Lenny Nelson even to the present day. We haven't spoken in a long time, so, he's due for another long phone call. Whatever success I enjoy in this lifetime will be due to Lenny Nelson's influential drumming concepts. I can apply some of Lenny's concept easily into free jazz. I hope he gets recognition on some level before he dies. He is one of the true unsung heroes in jazz. Lenny also studied with Alan Dawson. I'm also intrigued by master frame drummer Glen Velez's mesmerizing work. His studies have been very useful improving my drumming; however, I don't think I will get into the frame drum as is the case with Hamid Drake. I want to master the drum kit, plain and simple.
After Gene Ashton left Apogee, we did try other musicians while we were in New York City. I recall William Parker doing a rehearsal with us. I was playing a particular idea which I noticed seemed to throw William off. After the rehearsal, I told David, I should have asked William, if what I was playing was messing with his head. David had a good laugh when he heard this. He couldn't stop laughing. We also had trumpeter Arthur Williams for a rehearsal or two. We settled on trumpeter Raphé Malik.