Remembering legendary Bay Area jazz musician, Eddie Marshall

Feb 21, 2012

When musician Eddie Marshall died last fall, he had 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. Reporter David Ross spoke with Marshall in this piece from our archives.

On a beautiful summer day in a bucolic forest near the San Mateo coast, the sounds of Eddie Marshall’s drum set reverberates 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. “I was in New York in ’57. What was I, eighteen?” Marshall remembers. He says in that first year, he “just couldn’t hang.”

“My whole life was just workin’ and practicing,” Marshall remembers. He 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. Then, 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. 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. He credits his success as an artist to his acceptance of all music.

“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,” says Marshall. “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.”

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

“He listens,” Santos explains. “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 drums and plays the recorder with his own group called Holy Mischief. But he’s more likely to be found performing in a different band 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.

“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.”