Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist


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On Cecil Taylor

AAJ: Give us your impressions of Cecil Taylor. What did you think of him as a musician?

ME: What I liked about Cecil Taylor is that he held long rehearsals. Cecil asked me to come early before the horn players. I would arrive one or two hours early. I could hear Cecil playing as I walked up the stairs. He was already practicing. Cecil had a dog at the time. His dog was very quiet. He would sit there and listen to Cecil play for hours. I thought to myself, "A damn dog has more sense than some of these critics. All you have to do is listen to the music. You'll get it eventually. Every once in a while Cecil would look at the dog and he'd pat him on his head—a Hallmark card Kodak moment! I learned that Cecil has a much wider musical range than he's given credit by the writers. I played with Cecil, just the two of us, and learned how to play his music. I think my drumming had a tendency to clash with what he was doing, but, Cecil didn't mind the energy I brought to the group. Some of this has been captured on record.. During those duets, I didn't use my high energy approach, it wasn't necessary. I had only a partial drum kit. I couldn't play loudly at this location. Although it was Cecil's loft, he had neighbors.

I'd like to see the Blue Note performance Cecil did at the Blue Note celebration put on DVD, plus many of his other performances. Where most musicians go astray is that they jump right into the high energy aspect of Cecil's playing. Yes, that is a part of it, however, Cecil gives out melodic lines and he does that for a reason. I see too many musicians who ignore the lines and try to do their own thing. This is very stupid on the part of the musicians. I've heard critics talk about David S. Ware, and that talk is light years from the truth. David, more than most, knows how to make the lines sing, although I will say that Jimmy Lyons did it better than anyone else because he was with Cecil for his entire musical career. I wish Jimmy had done more things under his name and that he had lived longer. Cecil is one of the most significant musicians in jazz. He should be getting even more attention than he's getting. There should be an effort to bring his music to a wider audience; hence, this is why jazz needs to be on television.

Before I joined Cecil's Unit, I did go to Boston to the Jazz Workshop and they had finished playing for the night. I don't remember what year this was. My best guess is it took place after we did the performance at Carnegie Hall. It could have been in the fall of 1974 or 1975. Cecil, Jimmy and Andrew were both surprised and pleased to see me as I walked into the club. They were standing in my line of sight as I made my entry. I'll have to get in touch with Rick Lopez about this. He's trying to keep track of Cecil's performances.

Getting back to Apogee and David S. Ware, David can play almost anything you write for him. He's an accomplished horn player. You can't say that about some of the horn players in free jazz.

AAJ: Like anyone in particular?

ME: Because of my duo with Paul Flaherty, already one writer is suggesting that I work with Peter Brötzmann. I was at the filming of Rising Tones Cross with Charles Gayle. The problem is I was not moved by what Peter's doing. It's not very likely that we'll come together. I've already been with the best horn players: David S. Ware, Charles Gayle, Sabir Mateen and even Rob Brown. Ras Moshe, one of the upcoming horn players is more interesting to my ears than Mr. Brötzmann. If you're a musician and you think you have what it takes to do a duo, trio, quartet album, feel free to get in touch. I may say yes, you never know. My contact information is near the end of this interview.

My primary focus is working with the members in my current band, Tor, Ras, and James. I should also mention that because of my lifestyle and interest in yoga and meditation, it is not possible for me to work with everybody. I prefer to work with clean musicians who don't do drugs or are not too heavy into alcohol. These elements tend to lower one's creativity in my opinion. Some will say drugs can help. While that may be true, over time, it takes more drugs to get to those peak experiences, those moments of creative insights. In the meanwhile, drugs will begin to have a negative impact on the body. The same is true for alcohol. The law of diminishing returns will start kicking in. The focus of the individual will shift from creativity to that of drugs and/or alcohol only. Aren't drugs and alcohol an arduous means for a brief moment of epiphany?

For those who are interested, here is the schedule of the Cecil Taylor Unit European tour, summer of 1976:

We left New York City on June 14, 1976 at 8:45 pm.

We arrived in London and killed time by visiting Ronnie's and general sight seeing in London for about an hour before heading back to the airport. I quickly learned that I was no longer in America when I went into a store and asked for a quart of orange juice. "You mean a liter of orange juice, was the rebuttal from the female store clerk with a soft British accent. I had forgotten that the metric system is used over here. From Heathrow Airport, we made a connection for a flight to Yugoslavia.

18 June 1976 Ljublana, Yugoslavia—Airport security guards had machine guns and they looked like they were ready to use them. "Go ahead, do something wrong, was the look they had on their faces, "so we can blow your stupid ass away! Dark Unto Themselves was recorded here. I was relieved when we were in the air leaving the country. This was the band's first performance on this tour. My drums arrived late. They didn't get to Yugoslavia until the day that we were leaving. I remember talking to a Yugoslavian official at the airport who bore a strong resemblance to the actor, John Wayne. He didn't talk like him, but, he did look the part. Believe it or not, this is a true story.

20 June 1976 Rotterdam, Holland—The people in Holland were very friendly. They made me feel at home.

23 June 1976 Paris (with Archie Shepp)—Shepp's band played opposite us He also played opposite us at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco during the week in March 1976.

25 June 1976 Oslo, Norway—The only thing I remember is that I couldn't sleep in the hotel. The sun never completely sets in the Scandinavian countries. It always remains light. This threw my internal clocks off. I found myself having a longer day since my body was thinking it's still in the day time, not night.

30 June / 1 July 1976 Hamburg (Uncle Po's)—One of our performances was aired on live radio one night only.

3 July 1976 Macerata, Italy—We played opposite, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, and Philly Jo Jones and company. Although I thought Philly Jo Jones' drumming was impressive, Cecil leaned over and said "Marc, you should have heard him thirty years ago. We performed on a huge stage with giant Egyptian paintings. Dexter Gordon and an Italian trumpeter sat on stage while we were playing. They would point to the band members during their solos and the performance. Dexter called out to Cecil as he was walking off the stage after we had finished playing. Cecil acknowledged Dexter as he walked towards the dressing room. Dexter was impressed with the band. Johnny Griffin wasn't into free jazz. I did see him a few years ago in a small eatery on the corner of 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue. He remembered this gig and he asked if it that was where the giant Egyptian paintings were on stage. I loved the people and the food in Italy. The Italian people get a bad rap because of the Mafia. Most Italians are hard working people, the same as you'll find in any country. They're not into illegal activities. I thought their version of Italian food was much better than what we get in the United States.

9 July 1976 Montreux, Switzerland—Sun Ra went on first. This performance was released by HatHut Records. A Japanese trio went on afterwards. They played too long. By the time we went on, the audience had left as it was very late when we got on the bandstand. This event was filmed. They got about twenty minutes of us as the previous band had played too long and used up most of the footage. My heart sunk when the camera lights were turned off during our show. I knew they weren't filming us anymore.

10 July 1976 La Rochelle, France—My best performance on the tour.

11 July 1976 Nimes, France—We did not play here. It was on the schedule however, this gig didn't happen. We went on to another gig in Germany.

14 July 1976 Bremen, Germany (radio studio performance at SendeSaal Saal Studio)—I picked this up from Rick Lopez's site. I don't recall the date but I do remember the band playing at this venue. The acoustic in the room wasn't very good. I couldn't hear the rest of the band member very well.

16 July 1976 Finland, Pori Jazz Festival—I met drummer Edward Vesala here. He didn't speak much English but he made it very clear that he was deeply moved by this version of the Cecil Taylor Unit. Edward Vesala was playing with a rock band at this festival. I took photos of them while they were playing. I want to add that I met John McLaughlin at the Pori Festival. I told him how much I enjoyed his playing when he was with Tony Williams. John shared that he had done a recent performance with Tony and that Tony played extremely well. John and his band Shakti did come to see us play.

18 July 1976, The Hague—Herbie Hancock went on before we did.

Throughout this tour we would play either before or after Sun Ra and his Arkestra. That was an experience in itself. Sun Ra sounded great throughout the tour. I can recall at The Hague, he was feeling pretty good, he began playing the electric keyboard with his back facing the audience. We laughed when started doing this. We thought it was hilarious. Sun Ra and his Arkestra were in fine form when they went on before us at the Montreux Festival in Switzerland. That live performance was released on record by HatHut Records.

Prior to going on this European tour, the band did play in the US at the following venues: The Village Vanguard, The Keystone Korner in San Francisco, Oil Can Harry in Vancouver Canada, The Jazz Showcase in Chicago. We performed in at UCLA and in Michigan, April 15, 1976, The Power Center, Michigan State University at Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, Michigan. For more information about this time period please visitRick Lopez's site.

The band played exceptionally well when we worked at the Keystone Korner . That was in March 1976 around the third week. We played opposite Archie Shepp and company. Before Shepp and Beaver Harris heard us, they were treating us like little boys. After the first set (we went on first), everything changed. They were more respectful of David and me. The band received standing ovations after every set. Never have I received more love in the US than what we received from the crowds in San Francisco. One attendee, a visual artist, told us that he had planned to catch only one set. After the first set, he not only stayed all night, but many called in sick to their jobs and they came to the club every single night for the rest of the week. How many bands in jazz can do that today? The fans were terrific. I'll never forget them.


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