That Was Then/This Is Yesterday

R.I.P. Marco Eneidi (1956-2016)


Today I heard the sad news that Marco Eneidi has passed away. I had the chance to see Marco play a half dozen or so times when I lived in the Bay Area during the early 2000s, including a 2002 show in Oakland with Peter Brötzmann and a 2003 show at the Hemlock in San Francisco with his trio Sound on Survival. I also had the chance to meet and interview him in 2002 for an SF Bay Guardian article I wrote about him to coincide with a festival he organized in honor of his old friend and collaborator Glenn Spearman. I am posting the transcript of this interview here. I wish I could think of something profound to say, but in lieu of that, I just want to extend my sincere condolences to his family, friends, and musical collaborators. He will be missed. Goodbye, Marco, and thanks for the music.

What got you into playing alto [saxophone] originally?

I started out on clarinet in 5th grade. I started playing alto in junior or senior year of high school. I didn’t get serious about music until I was about 20. Then I just started practicing a lot, playing 12 hours a day, basically, from 8 in the morning to 1 or 2 at night.

On your own, pretty much?

Yeah, and with friends who were doing the same thing.

Are they still around here?

No, one friend—a piano player—he’s become famous in the pop music scene; he was like musical director for Mariah Carey, he’s done things with Luther Vandross, and he did one album with Kenny G. And my other friend, he’s been livin’ in Tokyo for the last 15 years. A couple of other friends, I’m not sure what they’re doing.

So this was, like, ’76 when you were doing all this stuff?

Yeah, ’77 through ’80, basically.

And you were out here in Oakland?

No, I was livin’ in Sonoma County.

Did you have many chances to see people play?

Yeah, Keystone Korner was happening, so we—my friends—used to go down to Keystone Korner all the time. A lot of times we’d go in, a lot of times we wouldn’t ’cause we didn’t have money. So we’d just hang out at the door, which was always open, and look in and listen. Then we’d go out during the breaks, we’d go play on the street corner, try to play what they were doing. In the late ’70s, the loft scene from New York was coming in through town all the time, so we heard everybody: Air with Henry Threadgill, Cecil [Taylor] was in town all the time, Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers—all those kind of people.

The New Yorkers don’t come out here much these days.

Well, there’s no place to play. Yoshi’s is basically cocktail jazz. And the San Francisco Jazz Festival is a cocktail jazz festival. This year they have David Ware; but mostly it’s cocktail jazz.

It is pretty square.

It’s very square, it’s always been square, and so is Yoshi’s. The old Yoshi’s—when they were on Claremont [Avenue]—they used to have locals in and a little more excitement, but now that they’ve got funding and they’re in Jack London Square, they don’t . . . do shit.

They had Bruno’s going for about two months last year. I was there about seven or eight times. [Matthew Shipp, Sam Rivers, Ken Vandermark, Tony Malaby, and the band Harriet Tubman with Melvin Gibbs, Brandon Ross, and J.T. Lewis were among the acts who played there during that brief time.]

Yeah, last year Bruno’s was bringing in some nice things and doing some nice stuff. But right now, it’s like—for creative black music, there’s no place to play. The Eddie Moore Festival is maybe the one thing.

What about some of the places in the past? There was Radio Valencia …

Radio Valencia, Hotel Utah. Bimbo’s had things once in a while. Great American was more open, so was Bottom of the Hill.

I have that Glenn Spearman CD with him and William Hooker [Mindfulness] and that was at Slim’s …

Yeah, that was at Slim’s. I didn’t realize that had gotten out on CD.

Yeah, it’s great. I just got it a few months ago. I looked at that and I thought, “Slim’s—that’s pretty crazy.” ‘Cause that would never happen now. Why did you move back out here in ’95?

Finances. I had no place to live in New York. Thought if I came out here it was gonna be cheap and easy to find a job, but it wasn’t that way and I got stuck, so I just wound up living here.

Were you pretty excited to be out here at the beginning?

It was tough times, and it’s continued to be tough times.

How would you compare then to now?

Well, when I first got here, when I first started comin’ out, being bicoastal, there were more places to play and good audiences. And that’s totally died off. Probably because the dot-coms pushed a lot of the clubs out of business. And people who came, in the audiences, I don’t know what happened to them.

Do you think they’re out here and they just don’t know what’s going on?

It’s hard to say. Audiences are always fickle. But a lot of those places, people came—I mean, there was just more of a scene. When you go to the Luggage Store, it’s not like there’s a bar or restaurant. And it’s a rough neighborhood; people don’t wanna go there. So I don’t know what happened to the audiences. They’re not there.

Yeah, I guess that was one of my questions—why you don’t play in the area too much. It’s not really by choice, it’s the economics?

I’ve been playin’ but sometimes it gets—playin’ for no audience, you know, why should I do that. If you only make five or ten dollars—I can’t afford to do that ’cause it costs money to get gas and buy reeds and this and that. And to play in a venue like the Luggage Store where the acoustics are so terrible, then it’s hard to play anyways. Unless it’s something special that I wanna do, then I don’t need just to go out and play just to play because I’ve already done that.

Do you still play with people around here or are you working by yourself?

No, I play with Donald Robinson and Spirit.

They’re in the same boat, obviously?

Yeah, yeah.

Well, this is probably a dumb question, but do you feel like there’s a lack of other collaborators out here who are into the same kind of …

Not too many people coming from the same place I am and doing the same thing I am. You have the “improvised,” you know, the white [improv] scene, which I’m not really a part of, or interested in being a part of.

Yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah, ’cause I was reading that interview in Signal to Noise where you were talking about the younger players in the more Mills College-type mode.

Well, I don’t know . . .

Not just Mills, but just like more minimalist, Cage …

No so much that, it’s just that most of ’em haven’t spent much time on their instruments and really are not that good of players. They’re beginners, still, and they’re into this mode of “concept.” They wanna do “concepts” but they don’t wanna practice their instruments.

So you don’t see a lot of the younger players moving in this direction that you …

I think some are tryin’ to; I’m not sure where they’re going or what they wanna do. See, when I went to New York I was young—I was 24—but immediately I was around people like Rashied Ali and Sunny Murray and Ed Blackwell and Dewey Redman and all these cats who had been around forever, you know, like Cecil and Don Cherry and people like that—those were like my mentors. They were my heroes, but they became my mentors. I hung out with them and got to play with them. And around here you don’t have that so much—there’s nobody here to guide younger musicians. And most of the younger musicians here that are into the improvised music scene, they’re not into those kind of people anyway; they’re not playing that kind of music, you know, they’re not interested in being jazz musicians.

With jazz, basically, it’s always been about virtuosity on your instrument first. Like Charlie Parker and all those cats, it was like, be a complete virtuoso on your instrument, and then you go out and play. And having the capability to do that. And a lot of the younger musicians here, they just haven’t been playin’ that long and don’t go towards that direction of being virtuosos on their instruments. I don’t care if you wanna play one note, but if you’re gonna play one note you’d better know how to deal with that, you know, on a virtuosic level.

And too much of it is Vaudeville. People wanna put on a theater-type thing or be goofin’ off, and I’m not interested in that. I’m into virtuosity, and having total control over speed and tempo and tone and volume or whatever, being able to do whatever I wanna do.

At what age do you think you kinda got to that level? Or are you still workin’ on it?

It never ends, it never ends. Like, John Coltrane was never satisfied with his work, you know, he was always practicing, trying harder, to the point of being neurotic. But yeah, the last five years, I think—or in the last few years—I’ve definitely stepped up to some other levels that I was always striving for. Right now I feel like I can do whatever I wanna do and have total control. But I’m still striving for the next thing. But right now I feel like I’m very focused with what I’ve been doing and know I can do what I want to do, and I know what I want to do. I’m more focused than I’ve ever been.

That probably makes it more frustrating that you don’t have more chances to get out. Sorry, I don’t wanna dwell on that. [He just laughs knowingly and wearily here, so I quickly move on.] What about recording—have you been satisfied about how much you’ve been able to record over the years?

Well, I’m not satisfied with the [situation of] not being able to record and get paid for it. It’s all about living in poverty. Some people can record and make tons of money, and some people record . . . . Like, I’ve had to put out my own albums, right? On my own label. That’s a losing proposition. So it’s all about getting paid.

Did the Eremite thing help? [In 2001, Eremite released Cherry Bo, an album of his, with William Parker on bass and Donald Robinson on drums.]

Oh yeah, Eremite’s totally cool. I think he’s one of the best labels in the country; he is the best label in the country. And most supportive, At least, it’s focused on the one kind of music that I’m involved with. He’s very honest and easy to deal with and very supportive.

Do you think he breaks even very much?

I don’t know how his business runs. I think some albums he’s done have done well; some albums just don’t sell. The music business in this music—you don’t go into it for the money if you’re a record producer.

Are you planning on staying out here?

Yeah, for the next several years. My son’s going to high school, he’s a freshman. So he’s got three more years.

What other jobs did you work before you were a substitute teacher?

Mostly construction, asbestos removal, digging ditches, hanging sheetrock, painting, driving a taxi, bike messenger …

David S. Ware drove a taxi …

Yeah, we drove for the same guy. He owned like five cars.

My next question was going to be about the American Jungle Orchestra.

I haven’t done anything in a couple of years with that band.

If you were to go out and try to do something with it—say you had something coming up in a month—would there even be the musicians there?

That’s the problem, that’s why I’m not doing it. The musicians—I don’t have the musicians out here that I’d wanna work with. There’s no brass players to speak of. A lot of saxophone players. But I’m used to working with, like, William Parker’s big band, where you have this big group of great people who are all into the same music. Well, out here, there’s no musicians who are into that music. So you gotta train them and they’re not really into it in the first place and they’re not ready for it. Whereas out in New York, you’ve got a whole slew of musicians who are doing this music and they’re into it. So it’s not a problem: you grab Roy Campbell or Sabir [Mateen] or Danny Carter, you get Jemeel Moondoc, you get all these people who are doing this music all the time—that’s all they do. Out here, most of the people, if they’re into jazz, [then] one night they’re doing a funk band, the next night they’re doing a swing band, the next night they’re [doing] a cocktail jazz band. I don’t do that stuff anymore.

You pretty much have to be committed to one thing?


When was the last time you did the other stuff? I read a story about you playing in a swing band and you got kicked out …

Well, see, that wasn’t a “swing band,” that was playing swing music. Now, “swing band” means you’re wearin’ zoot suits …

Oh yeah, I didn’t mean it like that.

That was in ’78. And when I first moved to New York, in ’81 and ’82 I was going to jam sessions up in Harlem and the Bronx, playing bebop, playing standards. I pretty much haven’t done that in quite a while.

Do you think it’s important to learn that kind of thing?

If you want to learn it, you learn it.

It’s not a prerequisite …

No, there’s no reason why you can’t go backwards, or some people wanna start in the 1920s and go forward. A lot of people get stuck in the 1950s and never go forward. But it’s not like “learning bebop,” there’s different academies: you study Monk, you study Charlie Parker, you study Dizzy Gillespie. Each person is totally and individually different. If you wanna learn, you know, the history of the music, you can go back and study those people and figure out what they’re doing.

I think one of the lamest criticisms is when people try to say about free players, like, well, can they play straight-ahead? They want people to prove it.

Well, what is straight-ahead? When they say straight-ahead, they mean cocktail jazz. Very few people out here in San Francisco who play so-called straight-ahead and playing the standards, you know, bebop. Well, they’re playing bebop at half the speed and they’re playing it wrong. They’re just playing it wrong: they’re not playing bebop; they’re playing white, watered-down cocktail jazz. Bebop was ultimate virtuosity at ultra-high-speed tempos. And they were playing free—Charlie Parker was playing free on top of that stuff. These guys now that are doing that are playing licks that they’ve learned, they’re not listening when they’re improvising, and they’re playing at half the speed. So they’re not playing.

But by the same token, if you wanna play bebop, why not [say that] then you have to learn how to play swing [first]? If you’re using that same rationale that to play free you have to do what came before it, well, if you play bebop, you have to play swing, to play swing, you have to learn to play Dixieland, and then you have to learn Brahms and Bach and all that.

If you listen to Wynton, he’ll say, “Well, only what I do is jazz and only this is jazz.” Well, those guys are trying to play like it’s the ’50s. Well, the ’50s was forty-fifty years ago—we’ve gone way beyond that now. Listen to Wadada Leo Smith—he’s playin’ the blues. You know, he may go “bah . . . bah” [mimics sparse horn playing], but if you listen closely he’s playin’ some real old traditional blues. It’s abstract with no beat, but you still hear the work songs and stuff out of the South.

The main thing is virtuosity. To play bebop you have to have massive chops; it’s the same thing when you play free. What is free? What are you free of? The only freedom that there was was freedom of form—open-form or closed-form. Well, with free jazz it became open-form because you didn’t have all those circles—a set twelve bars or sixteen bars—so it became open. And you’re open to change keys. The only reason they were [playing closed-form] with bebop is [that] the only way to get work was to play songs, Broadway show songs. But they took ’em totally out. But with the ’60s, they said, “We’re not gonna play these stupid Broadway show tunes, we’re just gonna play.” They were still playin’ melodies and key centers—sometimes it goes out of the key center and becomes 12-tone or atonal, but for the most part, there’s rhythm happening, there’s swing….

I’m trying to think of some of the people you studied with. Cecil Taylor….

His music is the most demanding I’ve ever had, the most challenging and the most rewarding. It’s not free at all; it’s very composed: there’s set lines, there’s set things to do, there’s little cells of notes that might implicate something else.

What is it like rehearsing with him?

Very demanding, very difficult. You had to really be on top of things and [be] focused. Rehearsals would last six to eight hours every day for weeks to prepare for one concert.

When did you first meet him?

I met him in ’84 at the Village Vanguard with Denis Charles and Raphe [Malik]. We just kind of briefly met. It was in ’92 when I called him up, ’cause I heard that he was going to the festival in Austria—in Saalfelden—and I heard that his alto player at the time, Carlos Ward, wasn’t gonna be able to make the gig. So I called Cecil and said, “Hey man, this is who I am,” introduced myself. And he said, “Well, come down and make the rehearsal and we’ll see what happens.” And he had heard about me through Jimmy Lyons and Raphe and William Parker. So I went out and made the rehearsal and I was on the band.

How long were you with him?

Uh, we’ve been playin’ off and on since then, since ’92, basically.

Who else was in that band?

That was a quintet with Rashid Bakr on drums, William Parker on bass and Thurman Barker playing marimba.

But you met Jimmy Lyons back …

I met Jimmy out here in ’79 when he was with Cecil. I met him here at the Keystone Korner. So when I moved to New York in ’81, I went there specifically to look up Jimmy, to study with him.

Was he like one of your early role models?

Uh, [one of] many. My first real teacher before that, in ’78 or ’79, was Sonny Simmons, out here.

How did you meet Glenn Spearman?

I met him at the ’87 sound Unity Festival in New York. I just met him for one minute, basically. But then in ’92 I did a recording, the Coalition recording, and I had Raphe come up from Boston. And Glenn was staying with Raphe at the time, living in Boston—he was in Boston for like six months—and Glenn asked Raphe if he could come along and make the set, too, and I said, “Okay”—I didn’t really know who he was. But that’s where I really met him. And he told Raphe I should be in Raphe’s band. So, spring of ’92 I was working with Raphe in Boston every week for about five or six months and then we went to Europe. Glenn had already come back out here [to the Bay Area]—that was the beginning of Glenn’s Double Trio band.

So then Glenn brought me out here and I started being more bicoastal, coming out here for a month or two months at a time and doing ten concerts in six weeks, you know. So we just hooked up, got very close, you know. Me and Glenn and Raphe were like the horn trio. Especially me and Glenn. We hooked up totally, we played together so well.

Were you guys more like equals or was he more of a mentor to you?

Well, he was like seven or eight years older than me. But yeah, I kicked his ass, he kicked my ass.

What was his personality like?

Oh, beautiful. Very warm, open, sweet guy.

Was he more of a leader type or … ?

Yeah, absolutely. His personality drew people like a magnet. He was definitely a leader. He knew how to lead rehearsals and control situations and bust into other people’s scenes and lead them too!