Marc Edwards: Free Jazz Drummer & Percussionist
AAJ: I hear that David S. Ware and Sonny Rollins are great friends. Can you shed more light on this?
ME: David has a long standing relationship with Sonny Rollins. David talks about this in an All About Jazz interview. As I recall it, David met Sonny Rollins when he was a young boy. He followed Newk's career. At one point, they got together in a rehearsal room and played together. Just the two of them playing the tenor saxophone. I have heard the cassette tapes and you could hardly tell the difference between David S. Ware and Sonny Rollins. Their relationship goes back a long way, covering many years. This relationship is the reason Newk allowed Apogee to open for him at the Village Vanguard. I don't know of any other free musician that has a relationship like this (with a well known inside player). It's too bad Newk's busy schedule keep them from making an album together. That would be interesting.
AAJ: Yeah that'd be great. Could you describe the gig at the Village Vanguard?
ME: I was always in awe of Sonny Rollins. He's worked with many of the key figures in jazz. I arrived early since I had to setup my drums. When David arrived, I told Newk, "David's here. Newk was sitting down warming up on his horn. I touch him gently on his knee. Newk acknowledged but kept on playing. "He's totally into the music, I thought to myself. David, Gene and I really put on a show. Most of the members in Newk's band, save one, dug what we were playing. Ntozake Shange came and she wanted to read her poetry. David told her no. She and David fell out after that. There was a big misunderstanding. I have no idea how that happened. Shange went on to write a very successful play that ran on Broadway. The name of the play was For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf .
Max Gordon kept flicking the lights off and on, trying to get us to stop, but we kept on playing regardless. Max Gordon would do the same when David and I would join the Cecil Taylor Unit a few years later. When we started our set at the Vanguard, I began playing very loudly. Sonny Rollins immediately got up and went into the kitchen. After our short set, I was sweating very profusely as I entered the kitchen. A musician was talking to Newk. Both men seemed very pleased with our playing. Our eyes met while I was changing T-shirts. I said to Newk, "It's hard work to play this music. "That's what it takes, was Newk's reply.
AAJ: Max Gordon kept flicking the light off and on? He did this when you were with Cecil Taylor?
ME: Yes, here's what happened when Cecil Taylor and company played at the Village Vanguard. Cecil had taken the band to dinner at a restaurant not far from the club during the middle of the week. When we entered the club, everyone in the band was in a mellow mood. The mood carried over into our playing. We weren't playing very hard that night until I felt two eyes bearing down on me. I looked up and it was drummer Billy Hart in the audience checking me out. He was smiling because we had talked for years, and finally he was seeing me play with Cecil. Because Billy Hart was in the audience, I decided, I had to show him what I could do. I wanted to make a good impression as I had followed Billy Hart from the time he was with Pharaoh Sanders [the Karma album], to Herbie Hancock and other bands. I began to increase the tension and before you knew it, the band was on fire. We played a good two hours and a half or it could have been slightly longer. Max Gordon was flicking the lights off and on trying to get us to stop. We kept on playing and playing. This was the first set mind you. A member in the audience said we had played for close to three hours. The times varied depending upon who you talked to, but we had no idea we were on the bandstand for that long. I thought the set lasted for an hour-and-a-half.
The week that we played at Village Vanguard, I recall seeing, Tequila, the young lady who worked with Tony Williams as a singer. She was there the entire week. For this reason, after I had left Cecil Taylor, David told me that when they returned to the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, Tony Williams was in the audience. Beaver Harris was the drummer with the Cecil Taylor unit that week. I believe Tequila had told Tony about me or it could have been the word of mouth from other musicians.
I saw Billy Hart again during a music series at Sweet Basil's. It was called Our Friends from... followed by the name of the country. It would vary during this jazz series. On this afternoon, it was Our Friends from Canada. Don Pullen played piano, Billy Hart on drums, Jane Bunnett on soprano saxophone, and a trumpet player. It may have been her husband, Larry Cramer. When Billy saw me come into the club, he started playing some of my musical ideas. During the break, he said, "Marc, this is your gig. You should be playing in this band. I laughed and told Billy, "No, you are the right man for this gig. I noticed that Jane Bunnett released a CD, Live at Sweet Basil on the Denon label. I'll have to look into it and see if it contains the band I saw at the club. I hope so. Don Pullen did an incredible performance, playing extremely well throughout from the first note to the end of the session.
I hear too many players today and they don't have a firm sense of direction. We had that and much more. I explain this point a great deal more when I'm conducting a free jazz workshop. I once sat in with Sabir Mateen's workshop. Through the Apogee rehearsals, this is how we met Raphé Malik: Raphé heard us rehearsing at a space right across the street from the New England Conservatory. He was walking down the street and he heard what we were doing. He came upstairs to the second floor and started checking us out. Months later, Raphé joined Apogee after we moved to New York City. He replaced Gene Ashton after he left the band. We had played our first gig at the Studio Rivbea and Ashton walked out on us. David and I couldn't believe our eyes when we saw him leave the room. Gene's departure caught us completely off guard. We weren't prepared for this. The band was never the same without him. We had spent quite amount of time playing together, I found myself missing his sounds whenever we'd do a performance.
Readers might find these comments, from Rick Lopez's site, of interest:
"Chris Amburger did perform with Apogee, however, for the record, the band developed largely without a bassist. This had an enormous impact on my drumming. The times that Chris performed in public with Apogee were rare. While we were in Boston, bass players were always in demand. For that reason, Chris was unable to remain with Apogee as a permanent member. We were glad to see him make a few gigs with the band on those rare occasions. Raphé Malik heard Apogee in Boston while we were rehearsing across the street from the New England Conservatory. He can confirm that David, Gene, and yours truly, spent most of our time together as a trio, not a quartet."
The band did play at Columbia University's WKCR two times. The first time, we hit as the original trio, Apogee. The second time, bassist Chris Amburger played with us. Chris told me his last name is the word hamburger without the "h. I've had the opportunity to hear this version of Apogee for the first time on CD. Someone gave me a copy of this performance recently. I only hope that David S. Ware and Cooper-Moore can concentrate on obtaining the Apogee tapes that they have, that is if they still have them in their possession, and put them out on CD also. There is an audience for this music. Most of the places we performed in Boston were colleges, churches, café, one in particular, the Black Avant-garde. Many new upcoming artists played at this venue. Justo Almario [tenor saxophone] and Sid Simmons [piano] are a couple of the musicians I recall seeing at this club. We also played one time at the Boston YMCA. That performance was recorded. I hope David and Cooper-Moore can get that out on CD too.
More from Rick Lopez's site:
"As you already know, we rehearsed extensively as a trio. This helped us to develop musically on all levels."
"The only tape of Apogee that I know of was done by David and Cooper-Moore. I'll have to try and find the flyer, but, I can tell you that it was a performance in Boston, at the YMCA. Either David or Cooper-Moore has the tapes. The next tape, a studio recording, became the Birth of a Being record on the then new HatHut record label. If there are any other tapes, they're unauthorized recordings."
"During the early 1970s, while still living in Boston, we came to New York to play at Columbia University's radio station, WKCR. I don't recall the year we did this. Reel to reel tapes recorded Apogee live on the air. We did not talk nor do an interview. Most of the feedback that we got was that we didn't talk. It seems listeners were more interested in hearing us speak than the music. The personnel was David S. Ware, tenor sax, Gene Ashton, piano, and yours truly on drums... A fan tells me that there are two tapes of Apogee at Columbia University's radio station WKCR. They may confirm my hunch that we played there a second time."