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Interviews

Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist

By Published: January 26, 2006

ME: I should mention I met drummer Don Sweatt, a very talented drummer at Berklee. He could play jazz but he excelled at playing funk extremely well. Irvine Elligan, III was very good at arranging songs (charts as we called them at Berklee). We had many long discussions about music and my growing interest in Indian spirituality. Irvine couldn't get into that, but he loved talking about music. He graduated from Berklee and taught there for a short time. Irvine did a beautiful arrangement of one of the Fifth Dimensions songs, "Paper Cups. Tenor saxophonist Junior Cook was in the room. Junior Cook taught at Berklee briefly for a few years. He was impressed and went over to checkout Irvine's arrangement afterwards. I was so proud of Irvine. The musicians in the ensemble liked the chart too.

I can recall a trumpet player by the name of Eric. I can't recall his last name. Eric had perfect pitch. I was in his room at the dorm and I played a chord. I asked Eric the name of the chord. When Eric gave his answer, I said, "I got you. That's not the chord I played. I already had been informed that Eric had perfect pitch. Eric didn't argue; he came over and said, "Play the chord again, Marc. I did and Eric played a different note on the instrument that I was blowing. We could both clearly hear that he was right. I had heard the chord one way; Eric heard another chord which contained the notes of the chord I was playing, blowing into this keyboard wind instrument. I told Eric, "Okay, now let's see if you can get this one! Eric burst out laughing when I said that. I was amazed at the phenomenon musicians call "perfect pitch. I don't have it. Maybe in a future lifetime, I will develop this ability. Eric's main focus was funk.

Another musician by the nickname of El Dorado was also interested in this music. During that period my attention was on free jazz. I didn't approve of the dance music. My position has changed dramatically, as I've come to realize that the music of James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone are valid musical expressions. The music during the sixties was far superior to the stuff we're hearing today in hip hop.

There was another talented funk drummer whose real name I've forgotten. We called him "Smoky. Smoky was the funkiest drummer I've ever heard. If James Brown had heard him play, he would have had one of his representatives make him an offer to work in his band pronto. Smoky was in a class by himself. He was just as good as some of the drummers that have helped James Brown get to where he is today. I have no idea what became of him.

Robert Garcia was another monster jazz drummer. The only information I have on him is that he once played in the marching band for Florida A & M. This college drum & bugle corps stood out above the rest back in the day. Their routine was completely different from what other colleges were doing during that era. I loved Robert's playing, he was also physically strong. Alan Dawson spoke favorably about Robert Garcia. He went to New York and tried out for a few groups and no one took him. I could never understand that. The last I heard he got a day job driving a truck. I never saw him again. I have seen a Robert Garcia listed in the papers such as the Village Voice, performing at some of the clubs; however, I don't know if he's the same Robert Garcia I met at Berklee.

I saw two composers at the school, although I didn't get to know them: Alan Broadbent and Alan Silvestri. Alan Silvestri did the soundtrack for the movie Predator. The CD [of the soundtrack] is out of print. I cannot understand why Hollywood allows certain popular soundtracks go out of print. It doesn't make any sense. Alan Silvestri continues to write scores for motion pictures today.

Tenor saxophonist Billy Pierce was at Berklee while I was there. He now teaches at the school. Abe Laboriel was a monster on the electric guitar. He changed to playing electric bass afterwards. He has a video out which teaches young musicians how to play this instrument. Abe has worked with Al Jarreau, George Benson and Quincy Jones, Johnny Mathis, just to name a few. I have seen Johnny Mathis sing at Radio City Music Hall. At the time, I was more interested in dancer/actress, Debbie Allen of the Fame TV show, a very short-lived series. She performed before Johnny came on.

I also met drummer Keith Copeland. I saw Keith on television playing with Dr. Billy Taylor. I met trombonists Art Baron and John Licata at Berklee. Art has worked with just about everybody in the music business including Stevie Wonder. Art Baron was the last trombonist Duke Ellington ever hired. I met an attractive singer while I was at Berklee. I remember her first name only, Janet. David had an interest in her is all I can say. She did work with Abdul Hannan.

Abdul Hannan was one of the more interesting musicians living in Boston. He played alto saxophone and flute. I recall Abdul because he did a recording with David called The Third World , (RITE, 1968). I never bought the album. The last time I saw Abdul, he was playing on 42nd Street next to the headquarters phone company building, 1095 Avenue of the Americas, sixth avenue. Abdul was on the other side of 42nd Street holding captive a small crowd of listeners with melodious sounds from his flute. Adbul Hannan made an impression because he was very intelligent. He always knew how to uplift my spirits. If anyone knows his whereabouts please get in touch. My email is provided at the end of this interview.

Bassist Chris Amburger did attend Berklee. I didn't play with him in the ensemble classes. Bass players were in great demand during that period. Chris did join Apogee, however his appearances were rare at times. There were other musicians I met, however, I can't recall them at the moment. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...


Live Music in Boston

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 repeat—my 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.



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