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John Marshall

John Marshall started playing at school with some friends who were interested in New Orleans Jazz. Although I was not interested in that type of jazz it was an opportunity to play. My taste was for big band music which I listened to on the radio, in particular that of the Ted Heath Band. I'd become fascinated with playing the drums watching a drummer in a theatre pit orchestra. While at school and immediately afterwards while working in the Civil Service I played in a rehearsal big band and various small bands at dances, weddings etc. I took lessons from several drummers at this time including Jim Marshall (no relation) who was a really good teacher and who went on to great things with amplifiers - yes, that Jim Marshall !
Just before going up to university to read psychology I studied with Allan Ganley - who is still playing as wonderfully as ever. Later, at the end of the 60's I had the chance to study with Philly Joe Jones when he was living in London a privilege indeed. Until university, playing was a hobby. I had no thought of doing it for a living. However at that time there were lots of really talented jazz players among the students at universities all over the country - none of them studying music! jazz was unacceptable in music departments - and I spent a lot of my time playing. I was also chosen for the Tubby Hayes Student Big Band. - although final exams meant I could only play with it a few times. We ran a jazz club at the university and were able to get well-known players down from London to play with our rhythm section. One of them, a vibes player, Dave Morse, offered me the gig with his group when l'd finished my course. So, having got my degree I decided to give it a go as a professional musician. I started playing on the London jazz scene both with Dave and with lots of other people, subsidising this by some school teaching and psychological research work.

The first gig as a regular member of a regular band was with Alexis Korner's Blues Inc. This I got presumably because l'd played with and got to know the some of the existing band members : Danny Thompson (also in the Hayes band), Ray Warleigh, and Tony Roberts (the singer was Herbie Goins). We all had an interest in the music of Charlie Mingus which was not shared in general on the jazz scene which seemed to me to have become a bit moribund at that time. And this combined with the fact that Alexis normally preferred to have jazz musicians (it's sometimes forgotten that Jack Bruce and Ginger were originally jazz players). I'd often listened to Alexis's band as well as, later, the Graham Bond Organisation and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames and found in them some of the elements missing from a lot of 'pure' jazz. Alexis's band was a very good band and I enjoyed playing with it a lot. I really enjoyed the mixture of hard instrumental blowing and r'n'b material (James Brown, Bobby Bland, John Lee Hooker, etc.) - it really chimed in with the Mingus spirit. I followed this with a stint with a big band, an experience which was both enjoyable and valuable. Then a period of freelancing in London : all kinds of gigs and recording sessions - all kinds of music. I wanted to learn in as many different situations as possible. Through this I found playing in 'rock' contexts offered a lot of creative possibilities and I started to bring that kind of approach to jazz gigs where I could. This approach was particularly apt for Graham Collier's band which as well as doing Mingus-influenced stuff was doing a lot of pieces in different time signatures. This type of thing works best with a rock approach as it's based largely on patterns. Through working with Graham's band I got to play on the circuit being developed by the "new", younger musicians around London.at that time and which eventually centred round Ronnie Scott's Old Place. Perhaps because of the breadth of my experience and interest I got to deputise in a lot of the bands at that time and so came to play with practically everyone, in all kinds of contexts from straight ahead to free.

When I was asked to join Soft Machine, although l'd heard them briefly at Ronnie Scott's, I had very little knowledge of their music. My attitude was, as in most situations, that "the music begins here". The group's tradition would reside in the existing players and the interaction between us should produce something new but relating to what went before. Mike Ratledge later told me that they had wanted to ask me to join when Robert Wyatt left, but I was with Jack's band. When I joined them the atmosphere was pretty tense. There had been disagreement between Mike and Hugh Hopper on one side and Elton Dean on the other, in essence with Elton wanting the music to be freer and Mike and Hugh favouring a more structured approach. Perhaps they saw my bilateral approach as capable of reconciling the situation... Or perhaps not. Elton left not long after to pursue the freer approach with Just Us. Karl Jenkins was a candidate to replace him firstly because he was interested in this area of music (like me starting from the jazz end of things) and secondly he was a keyboard as well as a horn player. Karl and I had of course played together a lot and were very good friends (we even shared a flat) and so I thought he would make a good replacement. I said however that he should join only if the other two thought it right. His influence on the music became stronger over time as he became more and more interested in composing and less in playing. He was writing a lot of very good stuff and so we played it.

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