Eddie Marshall: Search and Recall

Josep Pedro By

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Legendary drummer and composer Eddie Marshall has been kicking hard for more than 50 years. He has played in R&B bands and in different types of jazz combos, in collaboration with musicians including Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Burrell, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, The Pointer Sisters and Dionne Warwick, among others. Furthermore, he's recorded his own music [Holy Mischief (Ruddy Duck Records, 1998)], played with younger musicians and taught music classes in different places.

The biography and resume of this versatile drummer helps one to understand the whole evolution of modern jazz. Unlike some other veteran jazzmen, Eddie Marshall has proved to be an open-minded person interested in old folk music from different country traditions. Capable of overcoming serious illness (he required coronary bypass surgery in 1984), Marshall shows effort, gratitude and joy for doing what he most likes. On top of that, Eddie Marshall is a charming, pleasant man who enjoys talking about music and his career, with a great sense of humor.

All About Jazz: First of all, how's the tour going?

Eddie Marshall: Well, actually I had only two jobs here. I came here primarily to visit my stepson and grandson. They live in Vendrell, near Barcelona. Usually when I come here, my wife and my son put me together with some guys and we do gigs. We had one gig in Terrasa, and that was very, very good. I had just met these gentlemen who I was playing with. We wanted to get a quartet together and they e-mailed some videos of them playing. I just liked the way they played and it was really great. If you're there tonight, you'll see.

AAJ: So you're playing with the same guys tonight?

EM: You know, I've been coming to Europe for years. I've been playing music for a long time. I think I started coming here during the early '60s, to different parts of Europe—mostly Italy, Germany a lot, England, Madrid—but I never stayed too much. And then, the musicianship of European musicians is not the thing where they say: "Oh, the American comes here and plays really good music." It's just like playing with people in the States, except that we don't speak the same language. We speak the same music language.

AAJ: In Holy Mischief you have composed most of the themes. It's is not very common to combine rhythmic and melodic instruments, but you have played both drums and recorder. How do you approach new compositions?

EM: Well, my first instrument was the piano because my dad was a pianist. I studied classical piano by the time I was ten till I was about 14, but I didn't like it. I wanted to play R&B—Rhythm & Blues—you know, the '50s. My hero was Little Richard, but I'd be practicing Beethoven and Bach... My dad was a pianist. That was not his total job, but he was a professional pianist. He played mostly dance music, he loved jazz and swing music and we always had rehearsals at our home. Like most kids, when the drummer got off the drums, I jumped on the drums until they told me to get off. In those years I learned how to play a bit. I knew how to keep the beat and how to play the brushes 'cause I was just watching them all the time. My dad and mum would take me and my brothers to see Count Basie or Duke Ellington in the cities. They had these big theatres where big bands played. The show would first start off with a movie and in the last part, by ten o'clock, the big band would play. It was beautiful. The theatre curtains would open up real slow and you'd see the big band with all the light and the music. Even before they played a note, you were spellbound. I really liked that.

AAJ: Let's go back to that time. In your website you recall the time you were listening to—among other things—R&B and jazz by people like Louis Jordan and Earl Bostic.

EM: [Surprised] Yeah, you like that?

AAJ: I like it very much, although it's not very common.

EM: I know! Nobody really knows who Earl Bostic is, but for me and you! [Laughs.]

AAJ: They were both considered to be jazz and R&B, weren't they? How do you remember those days?

EM: Yeah yeah, and that's a style I played. What happened is that I didn't play drums professionally until I was 14. Daddy rehearsed on a Friday and the job was gonna be Saturday night, but the drummer had a telephone call and he had to leave. He was divorced and he didn't pay his alimony. So he left, and my dad was on the phone trying to call everybody, but it was a Friday night and the job was gonna be on Saturday, and everybody was working, so I said: "Dad, I can do this job! Trust me!" He really had to hire me; there was no other way. That's how I started playing drums. Daddy's band was really tuxedo [sings a little tune]. It was like a dance band. But my uncle Cookie had a band called Cookie and the Seven Sharps, and they played R&B. In those days, everything was segregated and there was a white part of town and a black one. I was 14; I think I was still in middle school. I started with that band and I played with them until I graduated —well, I didn't graduate. I quit high school and I moved to New York!

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