Local drummer Anwar Marshall brings the funk to Kimmel Cultural Campus

Marshall drum
Kosi Kosakowski

Local musician Anwar Marshall has become the ultimate rhythmic collaborator on the drums.

His work — both live and in the studio — has been heard within the music of jazz giants such as Robert Glasper, Christian McBride, Dave Douglas, Pat Metheny, among many others. And after releasing his first solo album, ‘Cold,’ last year —in which Marshall wrote all of its tracks, played keyboard and supplied a majority of its vocals — Philadelphians will now have a chance to see it all live, at Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Commonwealth Plaza, this Thursday, Jan. 18.

Marshall recently spoke to Metro about the ins-and-outs of drumming, his favorite leaders and more:

Why play the drums above all other instruments? What was the initial incentive and what did you know about the drums’ potential – not only rhythmically, but as a compositional tool?

The ‘why’ of drumming is that the drum set is extremely dynamic: it gives music, especially Black music—its vibe, pace, and tone. It gives a rhythmic context for everything that goes on top of it in a song. The breakbeat from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, for example, is responsible for thousands of other records through sampling, and it was because the grace and finesse of Clyde Stubblefield. A good groove is the ultimate compositional tool.

Marshall drum
Kosi Kosakowski

What connects you, beyond rhythm, to a bandleader-collaborator – say Orrin Evans, Joey DeFrancessco or Marcus Miller?

Orrin, Marcus and Joey have strong musical convictions and style, have the skill of finding the proper collaborators for the music they want to create. Each of these musicians has a sound that is immediately identifiable, but they’re still quite versatile, and they expect that of their bandmates, since they’re able to take the music into a different place at any moment.

Not every drummer leads – why do you? What sort-of band member do you need to make a part of your sound?

I’m a band leader because of the context that drums have in order to create. When I play, I hear the corresponding melodies and harmonies that could exists with other instruments. I compose, play other instruments and produce as well, so putting these different puzzle pieces together is a passion of mine.

You wrote and co-wrote ‘Cold’, played its keyboards, even sang on ‘Brother Malcolm’s Message.’ What do these songs say about you?

‘Cold’ was a record I worked on mostly during the pandemic. I sought ways to utilize different musical skills while unable to perform, and the collaborations with the other musicians helped me stay connected to my musical community. My father was an amazing person and great musician. He fell ill during the pandemic, and seeing his health decline made me want to distill that experience into a sound. ‘Cold’ was also a reflection on Black music—the different ways that Funk, Soul, HipHop, BeBop etc. intersect is interesting and inspiring. I sought to contribute to that cannon in my own way.

Can you elaborate of the power of Malcolm X on your song for him?

I wrote this after learning about Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity and the goals he had for it that didn’t come to fruition because of his untimely murder.

What will the upcoming show at the Kimmel feature – all Cold stuff, what collaborators, what vibes?

The Kimmel show will be funky, swinging and fun. I’m looking forward to collaborating with some great musicians that I’ve wanted to play with for quite some time, Lawrence Feilds on piano and Jeremiah Edwards on bass. Lawrence has an amazing touch on the piano and an incredible improvisational voice. Although Jeremiah is quite young, he’s already one of the best bassists on the scene. He’s a technical wizard, but extremely soulful. I’m excited to hear how they’ll approach and interpret my original material.

So, who is Anwar Marshall in 2024 that he wasn’t in 2023 or 2013?

It’s still January, but my goal is that this year I’ll be better. I’m practicing now to make that a reality. I also want plan to release more music and step into a greater role as a leader. I’m thankful to the Kimmel for the opportunity to get a jump start in that so early in the year.

For more information, visit ensembleartsphilly.org