by Christine Otis
His distinctive sharp rhythm catches people off-guard as his music echoes down the streets, blocks away from where he is playing. People investigate because his beat is catchy. Their eyes grow when the sight of his drum set comes into view. Their perspective changes when their eyes and ears come to understand the materials that are at anyone’s hands but not to everyone’s ability.
The man is Marcel Broadwater. He uses the nickname Z.
All the materials for his drum set were either given to him or he has found them. His drum set consists of a plastic can that is the bass, a dog pan that is the snare, a refrigerator rack that is the kick drum and the cymbals that are the deep dish kitchen pans and lids. His drum sticks are from a wooden cane broken into two pieces.
Z was not the first to come up with this idea and gives credits to those who taught him. “I want to thank Tony Jam for training me, Tommy for teaching me patience to get my rhythm right, they way I want it to.” Z emphasizes the importance of learning your way to your own beat. “You need to start beating up some things and find out.”
Tony Jam and Tommy are members of the Junkyard Jazz Group. Z is trying to become a member. He started playing drums about 5 months ago and stresses the different styles between the two.
“I play . . . a little bit club mixed with hip-hop. They play more go-go.” He adds, “I can’t keep up with them.”
His drums bounce away from the reverberation. He reshuffles them while maintaining the hip-hop beat. It’s hard to imagine how he is slower.
Sometime he likes to change materials using bed posts and machine washer lids. His only concern is incorporating the new materials while maintaining his own sound and style. That’s key. He can add or subtract, but his distinct sound must remain intact. That grabbing beat is recognizable regardless of the changes he makes.
There is one exception to a change he won’t make: owning a store bought drum.
Word of mouth has gotten around but locating him seems to be the hardest part. One spectator said: “There’s a mythology about him in the city. People talk about him. But does he exist or not?” Chris had been looking for him for months and found him on the lower end of Market Street, past City Hall outside the Gallery near the Gap store.
Z does move around. He gets out between 10-11 am during the week on the lower end of Market Street near the Gallery and moves around 3 pm to hit rush hour either at Tower Records or near the trains on the other side of City Hall. On weekends he usually goes to old city, where he moves around constantly. On one occasion I caught him at 18th and Walnut Streets.
His one request if you should go and listen to him play is: “Bless the bucket.”
Music isn’t Z’s only interest. He’s also involved in martial arts and meditation. The influence is seen in his musical discipline. One goal of his is to help his community, his home of Camden, New Jersey by making improvements to get real estate interested in making investments. He emphasized: “own your own land.”
It’s obvious Z feels good about playing. “I get paid and I’m in my own world.”
People watching and listening get caught up in his music, the dance of his beat. The resounding booms on the bass with the kick and snare going in continuum leaves quite an impression on everyone’s lips.