Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist
AAJ: Can you describe your musical development as a free drummer, how did you develop your sound?
ME: The direct effect of not playing with a bassist on a regular basis is that my musical concept is different from most drummers. Most drummers learn to play music in more traditional settings meaning drums, piano, bass and horn. I never had that except for the time I was attending Berklee. By not having a bassist to work with during my developmental phase, my drumming went off in a different direction. Had I learned music in a traditional setting, my playing would be more conservative. I describe what I do as similar to a wild stallion. No one will ever be able to ride this horse!
My concept, the way I play the drums, I tend to fill up the space. When you have a piano in the group, the band can get lazy because the piano fills the space. When your pianist leaves, you'll feel the difference immediately. My drumming is one of continuous sounds. That's how I hear the music and it comes through that way. I really don't have much say about it. We're all different, drummers in general, and that's as it should be. I fail to understand why some musicians choose to make a career out of living off another musician's style. As I mentioned earlier, I found my sound when we did a live performance in Boston on a college radio station. We also did a performance at a college in the Kenmore Square area. I understand that the guy who directed it has the video tapes in his possession, according to Larry Sands.
AAJ: Can you describe the activities at 501 Canal Street?
ME: When we moved to New York, we began rehearsing at the space, 501 Canal Street. This space would never have worked if it were not for the extraordinary home improvement skills of Cooper-Moore. He did a majority of the repair work on the building and made it easier to live at this location. Other musicians such as Tom Bruno, and Ellen Christi came, but that was after the fact. Alan Braufman was one of the original tenants in this building along with Cooper-Moore, David S. Ware and Chris Amburger. We began rehearsing here also, the same as we did in Boston. Gradually, we began to run into Cecil Taylor.
Cooper-Moore did an excellent interview about the early years of Apogee and the formation of the activities at 501 Canal Street. Try to get in touch with Adam Lore for a copy of 50 Miles of Elbow Room, issue one. See Rick Lopez's site provided at the end of this bio. Readers will want to read this interview. Cooper-Moore's storytelling skills are much better than mine.
AAJ: How did Apogee happen to play with Cecil Taylor's band?
ME: David was a huge fan of Cecil Taylor. I never felt that we had to play with a big name jazz figure, however, I'm not stupid. Should the opportunity arise, we would take advantage of it and go with the flow. We would have discussions about this while we were in Boston at the end of rehearsals or sometimes in the middle of a rehearsal session. Cecil eventually asked David and me to play in a large ensemble he was putting together. We had talked to Cecil over a period of weeks and months. When he called a rehearsal, I think he was shocked that David and I could play. Cecil once came to my job when I was working at a bank on Chamber Street. I recognized him right away. He got on line and came to a coworker. I went over to her, and said, "Don't you know who this is? She didn't. "He's Cecil Taylor.
Cecil was pleased to see that someone knew who he was. I told him that David was trying to get in touch with him. Cecil quickly jotted down his number on a small piece of paper and gave it to me. I gave it to David at the next Apogee rehearsal at 501 Canal Street. From this initial contact, David and I would run into Cecil on many other occasions in New York City. We did see Cecil whenever he played in New York. We attended his gigs at Columbia University, the Five Spot, and the Whitney Museum.
Most musicians talk and can't play. We were very strong during the seventies. Nobody could out do us when it came to playing high energy music. They'd get tired and have to sit down and rest. We had done that so much in Boston that we created a name for ourselves on that alone. Apogee was more than a high energy band. We could play other musical styles and we did on occasions demonstrate that to the public.
AAJ: When did you meet Jimmy Lyons?
ME: After attending Cecil's Big Band rehearsal, Jimmy Lyons came down to the second or third one and checked us out. When the rehearsal was over, Jimmy sat down on the couch and listened to David and me playing high energy music. He was smiling the whole time. I went over to Jimmy and talked with him for a few minutes. The rehearsal was held at a musician's home. I believe it was tenor saxophonist Craig Purpura. I think he had studied with Cecil at one of the colleges. I'm not sure which one. Craig had a loft on Chamber Street. The rent was low during that time period. Later, the rent increased. This ended the loft scene which many artists for a short time enjoyed having performances and other activities in their homes.
At the end of one of the rehearsals, I remember Craig putting on "Respect, a song by Aretha Franklin, on his stereo and dancing to the music. Craig did come to see us when we played at the Village Vanguard. He brought his horn and politely asked Cecil if he could sit in. Cecil told him no. Very few horn players could handle that version of the Cecil Taylor Unit. I had to tell David that Jimmy was very down to earth and that he should try to talk to Jimmy. I told David, he's not stuck up like some of the so called jazz stars. I told David, "Jimmy is real. He's not a jackass like some of these folks out here. David did speak to Jimmy at the next rehearsal.
There were many musicians in that large ensemble. The program did not list the names of the musicians in the ensemble. Many years later, the names were put on the Internet specifically by Rick Lopez, with help from various individuals including yours truly, at his David S. Ware Discography/Sessionography site, however, I can neither confirm nor deny who those musicians were. Too much time has elapsed and I can't remember their names. I also don't recall the band playing at the Village Gate. I would remember something like that. I did see David S. Ware and company at this location when Beaver Harris joined the band. Anthony Braxton was playing opposite them the night I came down.
I can't praise Jimmy Lyons enough. He was very supportive and encouraging of my musical approach. I would tell him I'm not able to do this, and I'm having problems doing something else. Jimmy would calmly say, "You're already doing those things, Marc. That would force me to pause and I'd have to change my thinking. I was holding myself back with negative thinking and being unnecessarily critical of my playing. Jimmy was very helpful in this respect. He did ask me if I wanted to do any playing after I had left Cecil, but I was going through personal stuff. My head was not into music. Had I not been going through that period, Jimmy wanted me to play in his band. How I regret missing that opportunity.
From Rick Lopez's site, I wrote:
"I was one of the drummers in that show. Fellow free jazz drummer Rashied Bakr was also there playing traps. As per Cecil's instructions, we each took turns playing congas and a variety of other instruments that were on the far side of the stage during the concert. Andrew Cyrille did not play traps. He played tympani and small percussive instruments. Dave Saphra was in the bass section along with William Parker, Sirone & Earl Henderson. Frank Lowe did make some of the rehearsals, but, he didn't play with the band at Carnegie Hall. About a month before we actually did the performance, there was a large influx of new musicians that joined the already large ensemble. Since our names were not printed in the program, it's tough to recall many of the fine musicians that were on the stage that night. My apologies to those that I'm unable to remember."
From here, we did the concert at Carnegie Hall. I remember as soon as we started playing the entire audience got up and left. Only a few hardy souls stayed to hear the music Cecil had written. This was an all star ensemble, the likes of which we may never see again. Marvin Hannibal Peterson on trumpet, Sirone, William Parker, and Dave Saphra on bass, Charles Tyler on baritone sax, Sunny Murray, Rashid Bakhr, yours truly on drums, Andrew Cyrille on kettledrums, Karen Borca on bassoon, Jimmy Lyons on alto sax, Raphé Malik on trumpet, Sharon Freeman on French horn, Carla Poole on flute. I had met Sharon Freeman when I played with the All City High School Band. Tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe did attend the rehearsals early on, however, he stopped coming. I wish he had continued attending the rehearsals. We played the lines so many times that even if a musician couldn't read music that well they would have picked up on the lines due to constant repetition. Cecil would give out the lines and then he would ask the band to play them. "Again. "Again. "Again. Always, Cecil would say "again and the band would repeat the lines over and over. I hear that there is a tape of the ensemble from the Carnegie Hall performance floating around however, I have never heard it. I hope someone will forward a copy some day on CD.
While we were rehearsing for Carnegie Hall, Apogee was playing regularly at Sam Rivers' Studio Rivbea. This was the place to hear free jazz during the early seventies. From doing so much playing, this was why David and I were so strong. Steady work will help any artist to improve their talents.
AAJ: Can you provide more information about the Studio Rivbea?
ME: Sam Rivers had a space called the Studio Rivbea in the Village on Bond Street. What was nice about it was that if you wanted to play there, you only needed the recommendation of a musician. There were no tapes or records to be submitted. It was strictly word of mouth from another musician. The reason tapes, CDs are needed today is because most people don't know the music. Granted there is an increase in the number of musicians and bands on the scene. I feel that we have to submit these things because you have a lot of uninformed individuals out here who don't know the music. Years ago, I talked to a club owner about getting work for my band and he told me, I would do better if I hire so and so, and so and so. He really knew the scene. Most people in the music business don't even know the local scene in their own neck of the woods. It's a terrible situation.
AAJ: Fascinating. Let's get back to Cecil Taylor. What happened next?
ME: From our experience in the large ensemble, Cecil was impressed with our talents that he asked David S. Ware to join his band, the Cecil Taylor Unit. I was busy at my job when I got the call from Cecil. He asked that I join his band also. I eagerly joined and the Unit was complete. I was unaware that Cecil had asked Raphé Malik to join the Unit also. Before joining the Unit, we (Apogee, David S. Ware, Raphé Malik and yours truly) did perform the music for Adrienne Kennedy's avant-garde play, A Rat's Mass. A review of this event can be found in the New York Daily News, Tuesday, March 6, 1976. The short article was written by Ms. Patricia O'Haire. We did several performances at the La Mama Experimental Theater in the Village. Ms. Eileen Stewart still runs this venue today.
When Cecil hired us to play in his band, he in effect hired the Apogee band without Gene Ashton. While we were on the European tour during the summer of 1976, she attended the show when we performed at La Rochelle. I saw her back stage during our performance. I was really in the zone during this show. I sounded great that day. I could no wrong during this performance. Stewart was closely watching, taking it all in. At one point during the show, I went offstage to let Cecil take a solo. I needed to cool off for a few minutes. Stewart approached me and asked me to tell Cecil that she was there. I told her, "I'd gladly do that, but, I don't know who you are. When she said her name, I told her, "Cecil speaks highly of you. Can you stay longer? He's been telling us that you are somewhere in Europe. She had to leave, but I did give Cecil her message.
Here's what I wrote Rick Lopez a while back on this topic:
"Adrienne Kennedy's A Rat's Mass could be considered a prelude to my entering the Cecil Taylor Unit. I believe that Rashid Bakr was the drummer whom I replaced. By the time I arrived at the rehearsal space, the play was already intact, meaning everything was set. Cecil played kettle drums or tympani while I was on the drum kit. During the play, I began playing loudly. Cecil leaned over and whispered, 'Keep it down.' Immediately, I dropped to a softer dynamic level. There were no problems with dynamics from that moment on.
Raphé later shared that whenever I would play something, David [S. Ware] would start laughing. At this point, I had been working hard at my day job. I hadn't played in public for a while. The play was a different experience. I would love to work in that environment again. I'm not sure how many nights we performed at the LaMama Theater. Most likely, we did do at least two nights, with the possible addition of a third night. I'm unable to say for sure.
I also wrote about another performance in Europe:
"What's note worthy about the La Rochelle, France show is the addition of bassist, Alan Silva. Alan joined the band for the Montreux show in Switzerland on July 9, 1976. The band was rehearsing in a secluded area. It turned out to be not so secluded. One lucky fan heard us playing. He came in and sat down for a free concert. Alan Silva arrived minutes later. We continued to play with much passion. I turned it up an extra notch or two, just to see how Alan would react. Alan began playing; adjusting his musical ideas with what the band was playing. My reaction was that Alan was thinking that I was going to get tired and change to an easier level. That didn't happen! I kept playing harder and harder. Alan was checking me out closely. I kept playing so hard that Alan started laughing. Cecil was also highly amused by my tactics. He knew what I was doing.
Drummers tend to be very territorial. If anyone joined the band, I made sure that they played out stuff. On that point, there was no compromise. For the record, Alan Silva was the only musician to play with the Dark Unto Themselves Cecil Taylor Unit. No one sat in at any time. If you hear otherwise, it didn't happen while I was there. Anything is possible after I left.
This brings us to the La Rochelle performance in France, the next day we flew in a private plane. The plane was small, having just enough room for us, the musicians, and our instruments. We took only a change of clothes for one day. Our suitcases arrived later that day. I was uncomfortable in the plane. Raphé and I were in the back seat. My drum case contained the floor tom tom and the small tom tom. The case rested on our laps pressing against our faces. It was quite large. Had the plane gone down, there was no way for Raphé nor I to save ourselves. We were pinned to the back seat by my drum case. We were totally in the hands of the Almighty. Luckily, we arrived at La Rochelle without any mishaps.
Jimmy and David were laughing at us throughout the flight. They teased us to no end. After the plane landed, we were taken to the hotel. We were late getting to La Rochelle. The promoters of the concert wanted us to go to the theater ASAP. I was hungry. I didn't want to make the same mistake I had made at the Montreux Festival. During the show, I suddenly found myself very hungry. Getting hungry in the middle of a performance is awful because you can't do anything about it. You can't leave the stage while the band is playing to eat. That's a no-no! I went to David's room and told him that I had to get something to eat before we played. David took me to Cecil's room and explained the situation. Cecil understood. Within a short time, we were at a restaurant eating a lavish meal. Meanwhile, the promoters were having a fit. The show was not going to start on time. As soon as I had finished eating, the promoter, personally, drove me to the theater pronto.
I don't recall the name of the place. It was a large theater that could also double for showing movies. When I had finished setting up my drums, Cecil, Jimmy, David and Raphé arrived. We did a quick sound check. I could hear a concerned crowd behind the curtains. They were greatly relieved when the curtains went up. Finally, they were going to hear some music. The tape doesn't fully capture my performance. At the beginning, I was using brushes. On this day, I was in the zone. Everything that I played was superb. Jimmy Lyons turned around at one point because he was so impressed with my work on brushes. Later, I changed to drumsticks and the band took off. Alan really added another voice to the unit. I wish he had stayed on longer with the group. Listening to the tape, the band sounds great.
Towards the end of our long set, Jimmy, Raphé and David started playing together. This is one of the few times that the three horns improvised freely, other than when they were playing the heads. They kept playing on and on, I thought they would never stop. During this segment, Cecil thought that I was pushing the band. No, it wasn't me, it was the horn players. They had gotten into a hard driving mode and locked in. I had no choice but to keep up. That was no problem. I simply dug in and started to push the group as hard as I could. When we finished playing, the audience was very enthusiastic. They kept screaming and hollering. We bowed and left the stage. Because I had played so well, Cecil asked me to go back on stage by myself. I didn't want to, but, Cecil insisted. As soon as I set foot on the stage, the audience went nuts! They started screaming again, only this time, their collective voices went up another octave. Words cannot begin to describe how I felt at that moment. Now, I understand why people cry when they receive awards at the music awards shows. The audience can literally move a person to tears."