Grand Rapids drummer Randy Marsh has been a mainstay in bands across West Michigan and host of a long-running SpeakEZ Lounge jazz jam. Today, he reveals the albums that influenced his career the most.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians can trace their inspiration to a few key recordings that captivated them and influenced their own music and careers. Today, Local Spins writer Ross Boissoneau spotlights drummer Randy Marsh’s “Top 3 Albums” in that vein, plus some current favorites.
Randy Marsh is one of the area’s most visible musicians. A dual threat on drums and harmonica, he’s been drumming for more than 40 years and was named West Michigan Jazz Society’s Jazz Musician of the Year in 2013. He’s a founding member of the popular, award-winning Michigan band Organissimo, and Randissimo’s Sunday Night Jazz sessions were a staple at Grand Rapids’ SpeakEZ Lounge until the pandemic shut everything down. (Marsh plays with Clif Metcalf and Jordan Finn at the new GRNoir Wine Bar at 7:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 10, and with Organissimo on Feb. 27. Details here.)
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He admits he had a difficult time narrowing his selections to three. “To boil down the inspirations and influences to just three albums is next to impossible! I was always listening to my mom’s record collection, so at 10 years old I was listening to Art Blakey and Monk and Miles Davis. There are so many more albums I could mention by Max Roach, Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, Carl Palmer, Bill Bruford, and ECM drummer Jon Christensen. I was also blown away when I discovered Frank Zappa; I first heard the album ‘Freak Out’ in 1966 and was never the same after that frightening experience. In 1969, I heard the Captain Beefheart album ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and was again traumatized by the sheer genius of this record. In 1971, when I first heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra album ‘The Inner Mounting Flame,’ I could not believe the drumming of Billy Cobham!”
Be that as it may, we forced him to choose just three albums. And here they are.
1. Oscar Peterson, “The Trio” – The way drummer Ed Thigpen played with Peterson was amazing to me! The level of sophistication and hipness and how they creatively played together knocked me out. The African rhythms, I hadn’t heard that before. My mother wore that out. I could scat sing to all the solos. This was deep blues – (going back to) Art Tatum, Jelly Roll Morton – I didn’t know anything about those people until later. Around the same time I heard the Miles Davis album “Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet” with Philly Joe Jones on drums. That was my first taste of hard-swinging drummers.
Listen: “Blues Etude”
2. Dave Brubeck Quartet, “Time Out” – The second album that inspired me was the Dave Brubeck album “Time Out.” Joe Morello’s inventiveness, especially playing odd meters, was my first exposure to music other than 4/4. When Brubeck came out with “Take Five” and “Blue rondo a la Turk” it was like wow! All I’d been listening to was in 4/4, 3/4, 2/4. This was in 5, 7, 9 – whoa. On “Time Out” and “Time Further Out” (Brubeck’s next album), they really got into 7s and 9s. How they could swing in that time fascinated me.
Listen: “Take Five”
3. Jimi Hendrix, “Are You Experienced” – I had to juggle – “Fresh Cream” or “Are You Experienced”? They came out about the same time. I think Hendrix won out because of the writing and playing. Eric Clapton was still really in the blues. Hendrix was coming from a whole different place. That album blew me away. Drummer Mitch Mitchell had a jazz vocabulary and it fit very well with Hendrix music. He was playing (one track) with brushes. They’re swinging.
Listen: “Stone Free”
Currently Loving: A lot of the ECM artists – Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber, early Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea’s “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes on drums. I love it because the whole rhythm soundscape is coming from the ride cymbal; the colors and textures of the ride. Marcin Wasilewski is my favorite trio right now. I love the chemistry they have in the way they write.
Listen: “Glimmer of Hope,” Marcin Wasilewski Trio
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