| November 2011
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By Jeff Kaliss
“I started taking lessons at 16 or 17. Basically, I got my chops up and, after a while, I could really read pretty well. I didn’t realize that drumming was just on one line, so I would get all these gigs playing in the theatres because nobody could read music. The drummers couldn’t read music. They would always have to bring somebody in from New York to Springfield. But they’d say, ‘We’ve got this kid in Springfield, he can read!’ So all through high school I played in shows, I played in ‘Music in the Round,’ I played in these Catskills-type clubs with a singer, dancer, and comedian every night.”
—Eddie Marshall, www.eddiemarshall.com
Drummer Eddie Marshall performed around the world, with pop and jazz greats ranging from Toshiko Akiyoshi and Stan Getz to Dionne Warwick and Bobby Hutcherson. Photo by James Hall
When the Noe Valley Voice first spoke with jazz drummer Eddie Marshall 21 years ago, he was seated in his back yard on Day Street, responding to the surrounding birdsong and to his internal muse by tootling on his second favorite instrument, an alto recorder. On Sept. 7 of this year, Eddie suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 73.
Eddie had grown up in modest circumstances in Springfield, Mass., a town whose regional accent he retained. His grandfather had drummed with the influential Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in the 1920s, and his father let young Eddie sit in on piano and drums with his own dance band. By high school, Eddie had formed his own bop band. Moving to New York City after graduation, he worked with Toshiko Akiyoshi and Charlie Mariano before getting drafted, and with Stan Getz after his discharge.
Eddie first visited the Bay Area with Dionne Warwick and relocated here in 1967, founding a fusion band and anchoring the house band at Keystone Korner on Vallejo Street. His swing and tastefulness made him the go-to drummer for visiting jazz and pop greats, as well as for local luminaries such as fellow Noe Valleyan Bobby McFerrin and Peninsula vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, with whom he recorded. Eddie also spent time on major national and international tours. Still, he always left his heart in San Francisco.
“He didn’t long for the New York lifestyle so much,” testifies Sue Trupin, Eddie’s widow and longtime co-producer. “And he never traveled anywhere where he wasn’t wishing he’d come home soon.”
In 1981, home for Eddie became the picturesque Day Street house in Noe Valley occupied by Trupin. “We’d met at Bajone’s, the nightclub on Valencia Street,” recalls Sue. “Rob Fisher, the bass player, introduced us. I had two kids and a job as a nurse at the San Mateo County Jail, and Eddie was living in Oakland with his kids.” Noe Valley “wasn’t as clearly desirable then as it is now. It was more working-class and families.” Purchasing the property was “the only good financial decision I ever made in my life,” says Sue.
Tall and casually elegant, Eddie, wearing a skullcap and a smile, was a familiar sight at Drewes Bros. Meats, a couple of blocks from his home, and along 24th Street. Sue recalls his perambulating habits. “He worked in the morning and evening, and often when I would be at work at S.F. General [where she’s still employed part-time], Eddie would take off and wander the neighborhood, but with a list of errands. He was more talkative than I, very chatty with everybody. Then, on weekends, our favorite walk was going up Noe, from near 30th all the way to 18th. You could do the whole thing in 35 minutes and feel like you had a great workout.”
Eddie practiced drumming in the studio he’d set up in the basement of the Day Street house, but “he never did it after 9 or 10 at night, or very early, and there was no negative feedback” from neighbors. The studio was also his place to compose, for which he’d recently and easily acquired computer-assisted skills. He’d played the recorder since he was a pre-teen, but he started adapting the low-key instrument for jazz (a rarity) on the advice of a doctor, after undergoing a bypass operation in the mid-’80s. He suffered from congenital heart disease.
Extending music to the young was a prime directive for Eddie. He was on the founding faculty of the city’s School of the Arts, initiated a music program in the Bayview District, and participated in the San Francisco Symphony’s Adventures in Music series. Several of his and Sue’s five sons attended SOTA and became professional musicians.
But Eddie himself “didn’t have an inflated sense of himself as an artist who could break boundaries other people couldn’t,” says Sue. “He just wanted to play good music. And he made a good living out here for a long time, so he was very proud of what that meant.”
Eddie Marshall was honored by family, friends, and colleagues, including Bobby McFerrin and Bobby Hutcherson, on Sept. 11 at a word-of-mouth gathering at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, where he’d taught. No public memorial had been announced by press time.