Wednesday, May 02, 2018

I saw a video posted on the Oscar Peterson Facebook page the other day with Oscar and Basie together in 1974, with Skeets Marsh listed as the drummer. My heart leapt. Disappointingly, the camera angle only showed Skeets and Freddie Green (seated directly in front of him) from the back. Skeets Marsh was a mentor and encourager to many a young musician, myself included. It was only a few years later when, as a teenager, I found myself on gigs with Skeets in the traditional jazz circuit in the Philadelphia area. Skeets was a storyteller, and young musicians like myself would gather around and listen. Decades later, I was struck with the importance of this, as the musicians of my generation became the storytellers, and encouragers to the young players. I remember one occasion as I felt the baton being passed from one generation to another, and immediately thought of Skeets. During one storytelling session (which may have been the one about his only gig with Art Tatum, which didn't turn out so well) he turned his head, pointed his drumstick at me and said "See him? He's serious. His middle name is serious.", then continued his story. I didn't say much around Skeets, but I did listen. His business card read "formerly with Count Basie and Duke Ellington", but we never heard those stories. My friends and I wondered what that meant, assuming it was true. One gig with each? We didn't know. It appears now that I may know more, discovering another video from the same year that suggests that Skeets did a single tour with the Basie band in 1974, possibly under the stage name Skip Martin. Probably the Oscar appearance was part of that tour, with the rhythm section being a meld of Basie's and Oscar's (Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen on bass). In this wonderful documentation of a 1974 Basie concert, the drummer gets lots of camera time. 99% sure it's Skeets. It warms my heart to watch this. Skeets will always be an inspiration to me; to live the life, to encourage, and to tell the stories.


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