Eddie Marshall, still groovin’ after 40 years

Photo courtesy of Eddie Marshall.

Drummer Eddie Marshall has been on the top rung of Bay Area jazz for more than 40 years. In 2000, he was the first recipient of the prestigious San Francisco Jazz Beacon award for lifetime achievement. It was awarded a bit prematurely, though, because at the age of 72, Eddie Marshall is still growing as a musician. Reporter David Ross has the story.

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DAVID ROSS: On a beautiful summer day in a bucolic forest near the San Mateo coast, the sounds of Eddie Marshall’s drum set reverberate off the redwoods at Jazz Camp West, where jazz lovers of all ages go for a week each summer to study with jazz masters.

Marshall is one of the original faculty of Jazz Camp West, but he’s much better known in the jazz world as a player than a teacher. He’s been on the scene since the 1960s.

Originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, Marshall was a professional musician in his father’s band at age 14. Just a few years later, he thought he was good enough to take on New York City – the Big Apple – in the heyday of modern jazz.

MARSHALL: I was in New York in ’57. What was I, eighteen? And that first year, I just couldn’t hang. It was just the dynamic of New York, even if I was hell-on-wheels in Springfield, and I was just a nut. My whole life was just workin’ and practicing. I’d go to a jam session and Art Taylor and Philly Joe [Jones] were there and what are you going to do with that? You don’t play… and then you see Elvin [Jones], and then you’re really confused, ‘cause all the stuff that you studied, Max Roach and Art Blakey, he just wiped it all out. It had nothin’ to do with the way he was playing.  

Marshall was in the right place at the right time, learning at the knees of some of the legends of jazz drumming -- even if he couldn’t quite keep up. 

After a year of paying dues, Marshall found work touring with a brilliant young Japanese pianist who was making her name in America, Toshiko Akiyoshi.  

After a stint in the army, Marshall toured with Dionne Warwick, who was churning out hit after hit in the 60s.

That led to visits to the Bay Area. And when Warwick’s pianist Mike Nock asked Marshall to join him in a Bay Area-based pioneer jazz-fusion group called The Fourth Way, Marshall settled in. 

Marshall, who lives in the Twin Peaks area of San Francisco, is known as a bebop drummer. But he says he’s moved ahead as an artist because of his strong family life and his acceptance of all music.

MARSHALL: So what is progress? You can explain progress by saying the lack of progress is staying in one idiom or staying in one style, but to me, music changes, the boundaries change. The need to branch out and do something new is just overwhelming. Each style I’m interested in, I try to do the very best at it.

I have a big family and they all have kids, and of course they know I’m the musician in the family. So I’ll hear something and they’ll want to know how to do it. Now what the kids have done—the kids have access to all these sounds. So instead of going on the hi-hat “ch-ch-ch,” they may have heard some gamelan music, Indonesian music. Instead of going “ching-ching-ching,” they go “gong-ga-gong-ga.”

Eddie’s openness has made him a favorite of not only jazz players, but fine musicians working in other idioms. Latin drummer John Santos.

JOHN SANTOS: He listens. That’s his whole thing. Even though he’s a great soloist, and a great bandleader and a great writer, all those things, the drum set is an accompanying instrument intended to lay a foundation. When I’m playing, he’s listening. He’s hearing what everyone’s playing. He’s the glue that puts everyone in a cohesive way.

Marshall performs on drums with his own group called Holy Mischief, with which he also plays the baroque instrument, the recorder. But you’re most likely to hear him, on drums, with a group that features another legendary jazz man of Northern California, Bobby Hutcherson, who lives in Montara. Hutcherson and Marshall have toured all over the world since they joined forces in the 70s.  Hutcherson says their relationship goes far beyond music.

BOBBY HUTCHERSON: We travel, and when you travel, you’re together every day and you talk about everything. You share the same thoughts. We watch out for each other. We talk about our family situations a lot, a lot, how we work through family situations. My wife and I go camping, and Eddie and Sue will come up and go camping with us. He is my brother. Eddie’s my brother, that’s for sure.

You can hear Eddie Marshall with Bobby Hutcherson and bassist Glenn Richmond, tonight, tomorrow or Saturday at Yoshi’s in San Francisco, in an all-star concert featuring National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Jimmy Heath, Cedar Walton, and Slide Hampton.