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Marco Eneidi: Still Here

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Alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi is one of contemporary creative music's unsung heroes. He studied with Jimmy Lyons and Sonny Simmons and has played and recorded with illustrious musicians including Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor, William Parker and Glenn Spearman.

Each of his albums is a special treat. Despite a significant discography ranging from trio to large orchestra to his name, Eneidi's work suffers from an inexplicable obscurity. That's a loss not only for the artist but for music lovers who haven't experienced this beautiful music only because the media failed to wise them up to its existence.

I took the opportunity to speak to the man in question on my radio show, Taran's Free Jazz Hour, this past October 8. Hopefully this excerpt of the interview will whet readers' appetite to experience Marco Eneidi's art.

All About Jazz: Hi Marco, we just listened to "Baby Please Don't Go" from the album American Roadwork...

Marco Eneidi: (humming) "Baby please don't go back to New Orleans, cause I love you so ...and now we all know what happened to New Orleans.

AAJ: I was wondering how it came about, the song of course, and the whole idea of a blues album?

ME: Well, that's pretty funny, but it just turned out that way and that particular piece which we did not do while we were on tour—where we did 32 concerts in 40 days and drove some 16000 kilometers—that was Lisle Ellis's suggestion, and the day before we made the recording we rehearsed that piece a little bit and then we went into the recording. My roots are the blues, I grew up listening to the blues, to the rock'n'roll San Francisco scene of the late 1960s and '70s. Then I learned about the Mississippi delta blues. Yeah my roots are the blues and it made sense to do that piece.

AAJ: I read in your biography that you played the guitar in the finger-picking style of the blues.

ME: I was a terrible guitarist, I played at the guitar I did not play it.

AAJ: Let's take it from the beginning, tell us about your background, in what kind of an environment did you grow up, did you belong to a family of artists?

ME: My father is a scientist. he was also a skier, you know a ski-racer, and both him and my mother were skiers and they met in Portland, Oregon in the mountain and they got married. He was scientist and got a job down in California working at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory which back then was called the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, the Rad lab which was the biggest place in America for making nuclear bombs and CIA funded and was a small cow town about 60 km outside of San Francisco. A small redneck and quite racist cow town but also half the population were the top scientists in the world and that's where are grew up, so no, it was not an artistic family and for me if I'd have gone into science and maths that would have been quite easy for me 'cause it comes easy to me those things. Music was very difficult for me, and it took a lot of time and effort to learn how to play—not only the music but to play the saxophone, this piece of metal that you blow into and make sounds come out of. In 1981, when I was 24, almost 25 I moved to New York and stayed there for almost 14 years, around NY and New England. Then I went back to California where I stayed for seven years and now I live in Vienna, in Wien (Vienna) Austria. I've been here almost one year—in three weeks it'll be one year. And I love being in Europe and am really happy to be the hell out of America, I must say that.

AAJ: I am curious to know about your life as a creative musician in the US.

ME: In the US there's no support for artists and you have to do something else to live so I drove a taxi. For several years I was a bicycle messenger, I did a lot of construction work, asbestos removal, and worked in restaurants, and taught for a little while, and was broke for a long time, this and that. The best thing about coming to Europe—the one reason I came to Vienna, to Wien—is that the cost of living is much cheaper here than San Francisco or New York, for the rent and everything else; and you actually get paid to play music here, you actually make some money, whereas in California and San Francisco you go and play and after you spend your money to buy reeds for the saxophone and gas to get across the bridge and this and that, you end up losing money. You play for one night and only ten or so people show up and you make 20 dollars but it cost you 25 to go there and play, whereas here, you actually get paid a little bit of money.

Europe has its problems—its history, its politics—as does America, has a long history of racism and blood shedding past and present history that America is doing now. Where I am right now is outside Vienna about 60 km to the east on the Hungarian border, in the little village of Nickelsdorf at the house of Hans Falbe—the Nickelsdorf jazz gallery. It's a small little village which looks like the [American] mid-west, looks like Nebraska or Iowa, and all these boys here they're farmers by daytime and they come in for their beer afterwards. Unlike America, here you deal with the kind of environment where you can talk to anybody about anything intelligent. The farmers come in and you can talk about politics, you can talk about the Green Party politics and about music and they know it all; it's really a breath of fresh air for me to be here, I must say it's really quite nice.

AAJ: My partner Jolyon here feels that there's great sensuality in your music and at the same time there is a lot of physical force in your playing, blowing. Are the two things, sensuality and physical force, compatible?

ME: That's really quite funny. I apologize to your audience that I don't speak French. Sensuality? Ok that's there. First, I'm half Italian, I'm a Scorpio and I'm a jazz musician so you have to be sensual. I love the blues, I love the melodies. You know I'm a Scorpio, I'm a nice man, I really like to be sweet. Where power is concerned, you know I'm not that big of a person. I'm small and when I was a kid I was very small. I learned at a very young age, the hard way that I did not know how to fight so I had to learn that if I was going to fight somebody I was going to have to do it in the first one or two seconds, and finish it then, take care of that person—otherwise they'd take care of me.

I'm shy, I'm quiet—although now I'm getting older and I talk more. But when you're small and quiet and shy then what do you do? You play as hard as you can play, just blow, the physicality of blowing hard. I play alto and I'll say that most alto saxophone players, I really don't like their sound, they sound to me, except for a few—and we all know who the famous few are—the rest of them sound like they're playing the kazoo. I've listened to tenor saxophone players and I try to get their sound, the tenor sound on the alto, which is completely impossible. But that's what I try to do and also when I was younger even though I was not athletically good although I tried to be a skier and when I got really serious the saxophone I pushed music the same way, I approached it as an athlete. You've got to be strong, you've got to work out.

Then there's meditation, yoga, breathing, Mohammed Ali... you know you attack the horn in a certain way with a certain approach which is subtle but powerful. And one thing I always say to drummers I play with who are younger is to play twice as fast and twice as intense but half as loud so you can play really intense and really hard but be really quiet and soft and have that intensity there. The power is there when you speak up and when you say something to somebody—you can yell at them or you can say it softly but in way that they know what it is that you're saying to them, so they really hear it.

AAJ: What do you call your music? Is it free jazz, creative music, just music or what?

ME: Well, that's a hard one to answer, you know I always have to go back to what Duke Ellington said when he was asked "what kind of music you play and Duke said, "there's only two kinds of music, good and bad, and hopefully I play the good. For me, all know is what I play, I play what I feel, what I hear. I'm very political and I pay attention to what's going on around the world today and that affects how I feel inside and I don't know if it affects how I play, but when I play I just play. My roots are jazz. I am a jazz player and I came up from the blues to Sidney Bechet and Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and everybody else. So what do you call it? I don't know—the name, the label, it's the writers and the reviewers that make the names.

But I come out of the avant-garde '60s. I grew up in the late '60s early '70s in California through the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam protest. I was young, but I was there. And we have the same situation now but those were my roots. How you label that, I don't know, but in the America we have a history of murder and violence, massacre of the Indians, and lynching and slavery, and all that's gone down and that's my history and I can express that in music. I don't know If I do or not, but what do you call that? I'm a musician first, I try to be a musician and that's what I want to be as a musician. As Glenn Spearman once said on one of the recordings which you have—Live at Radio Valencia with William Parker and Jackson Krall—Glenn said, as he introduced William Parker and Jackson Krall who'd flown in from New York, "these are a couple of," I forget the exact words, "very wonderful, beautiful human beings who just happen to be musicians." And that's all we can be. You tell me—you listen to me more than I listen to myself—Taran, what do you think it is that I'm playing?

AAJ: Well, I call it the music that I like. Do you have an aversion to other people labeling your music?

ME: Well, there are some labels that people have stuck on me, especially in California. I'll tell you one, I won't say who said it—a British man, he said "Oh, Marco he's just an angry free jazz player, just an energy player, its really not that musical. He said it to someone who he didn't know was my roommate at the time. Some people say he's just an energy player, just blowing hard and angry, angry white man, angry free jazz player. That kind of a label is kind of stupid I think. A lot of the free jazz, the avant-garde jazz of the late 1960s came out of the Civil Rights movement, there's a lot of power to it. It was in Frank Wright, Albert Ayler; but to dismiss it as being unmusical, well that's a mistake.

All I want to do is play music and by music I mean music in capital letters. Good music and thoughtful, intelligent music. Now I live in Vienna, the home of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven and Schoenberg; also Freud and Jung; and you just do what you can do and try to do the best in it and hopefully it's good, you don't hurt anyone in the process. But eventually you do hurt people, so to label it, well, I'm a jazz musician, I'm an American, I come from jazz, I grew up in jazz and I still consider myself to be a jazz player but then as Bill Dixon and many other musicians from the 1960s say, jazz is a racist term, cause jazz in the name itself has different connotations and insinuations. So what do we call it, well hopefully it's good music.
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