Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Interview with bassist Mark Wade

    As a veteran of over 20 years on the New York jazz scene, bassist Mark Wade his well on his way to
making his trio one of the names you know in jazz. His 2015 debut album, Event Horizon, is a blueprint for the way piano jazz trio should be put together. Along with Tim Harrison on piano and Scott Neumann on drums, the Mark Wade Trio is to be reckoned with. And Mark, individually, has seen the fruits of his years on the NYC jazz scene pay off as he was voted one of DownBeat Magazines “top 10 bassists” for 2016. In addition to be being one of jazz’s foremost bass players, Mark is equally accomplished in the orchestral setting. Mark has performed with jazz and orchestral giants including tenor saxophonist/composer Jimmy Heath, pianist Harry Whittaker, trombonist James Spaulding, guitarist and educator Sharon Isbin and renowned violinist Robert McDuffie.

Now Mark and his trio are on the verge of stardom and their brilliant debut project, Event Horizon will show you why their star is rising.

Featuring originals by Wade and a swinging version of the Harold Arlen classic (from The Wizard of Oz) “If I Only Had a Brain”, Event Horizon absolutely delivers. And Wade’s compositions and the trio excel, reminiscent of the Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro, where each player in the trio’s playing was as prominent as the others. Mark recently took a few minutes to talk with Jazz From Our Perspective.blogspot.com.

JazzFromOurPerspective: Mark thanks so much for giving Jazz From Our Perspective a few minutes out of your busy schedule. Could you provide us with a little background on yourself, I see you were born in Michigan as are we, Mark from Livonia and JFOP staff from Pontiac.
Mark Wade: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I was born in Livonia, Michigan as you mentioned but moved away when I was still very young. I lived in a number of places around the upper Midwest until I moved to New Jersey when I was 7. I didn't start playing music until I was in High School. I was a self taught electric bass player playing in rock bands until I started taking formal lessons a year before I went to college. My teacher got me into jazz and I never looked back. I attended New York University for jazz and studied there with the great Mike Richmond who suggested I start playing the acoustic bass. I picked up the acoustic bass a year into my studies with Mike. Three years later I was making my living playing the acoustic bass in New York. My career as a sideman has always been a mix of jazz, classical, and more commercial type gigs as I still play the electric bass.  I decided to finally step out as a band leader with my debut recording Event Horizon, which was released here in the U.S. in February of 2015 and in Europe on Edition 46 Records in February of 2016. I was had just turned 40 when the record was released. Most people don’t wait that long to put themselves out there as an artist, but I always had this notion of not wanting to record an album until I had something of value to say. I wanted to wait until I had developed my own voice as a composer and as a bass player. For me, it was worth the wait. Event Horizon has received strong critical reviews and airplay all around the world and has garnered me some great attention. I was very fortunate to be voted one of the top 10 bassists of 2016 by the Downbeat Magazine Reader’s Poll. It is quite an honor to be included on a list of many of my musical heroes, and if I’m honest, I never thought I’d ever make that list.

JFOP: When you play, fundamentally is it an expression of your state of being at that moment, a communication you are stating via music?
MW: Jazz music in particular is always an expression of the moment. Great players are able to be present in just that moment only and not be overly preoccupied with what came before or what might come after. It’s a delicate blend of focus, expression, and years of training that comes together to produce the music. That’s what I strive for and try to live up to when I play. It’s so inspiring to watch great artists like Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock who seem to speak so effortlessly through their instrument. They really embody this principle of true communication through music. Maybe one day I’ll get there.
JFOP: What do you expect from the audience/listener of your music?
MW: All I ask from someone who listens to my music is to give it a chance. I don’t expect them to like it; I just ask that they give it a fair hearing. I believe that everyone is entitled to their own musical tastes and opinions. I wouldn't want someone to tell me what I should like, so I don’t think it’s fair for me to tell someone what they should like. There’s a big world of music out there and mine only occupies a little part of it. Of course, I’m grateful for those who do connect with what I’m doing and I have been lucky that so many people have found my music, especially as a new artist.

JFOP: Listening to Event Horizon, I was reminded of Scott LaFaro when he was with Bill Evans, in the respect that his (and your) bass is featured as prominently as the piano and not just as a supporting vehicle. How much of an influence has the seminal Bill Evans Trio, with LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, had on your approach, if any?
MW: The Bill Evans trio was the first piano trio I discovered and yes, their influence on me is huge. The first track on my album is very much inspired by Bill Evans in fact. Scott LaFaro really showed a new direction for bass players on how to interact in the piano trio format. The Portrait in Jazz album, along with the live record Sunday at the Village Vanguard was staples of my listening as a new jazz listener. It’s not by accident that when it was time for me to put out my own music I picked the piano trio as the vehicle.
JFOP: What was the attraction to playing the bass?
MW: When I was about to go into high school, many of my friends started taking up instruments as a hobby. Someone suggested the bass to me and I ended up taking to it right away. The more I played, the more I was hooked. It’s hard to say if there was one thing or another that led to me ultimately becoming a bass player. Sometimes, things just work out the way they are supposed to.

JFOP: What are your practice habits? Talk about the physical demands of playing.
MW: Good practice habits are very important. Success on the bandstand is all about succeeding in the practice room. The challenge all musicians face is to be as objective as possible about what your strengths and weaknesses are and then follow through on a plan to improve what you do. Earlier in my career I was practicing as much as eight hours a day, every day. Now I practice less, but I’m much more efficient at fixing problems and accomplishing things. Good practice habits boil down to having a consistent focus, a consistent schedule, and a clear plan of action.
The physical demands of playing the double bass are quite significant. While most people would not be surprised to hear that playing quick, technical lines like a saxophone are difficult on the bass, what’s often overlooked is how difficult it is just to hold the instrument in a way that is relaxed and free of tension. To stay balanced and loose while I’m playing no matter the situation is something I work at constantly. The freer you are to move around the instrument, the more options you have to express yourself. This is particularly challenging if you are attempting to play the full range of the instrument and not just stick to the lower positions. My concept of playing the bass is to try to play from one end of the fingerboard to the other, so the technical challenges that result from that are never-ending. The payoff though is to have a wide palette of sounds to choose from both as an accompanist and as a soloist.
JFOP: The mix of jazz and classical is interesting, have you always played both genres?
MW: I only started pursuing classical music after I got out of college. Mike Richmond had suggested I start focusing on playing with the bow as a way to learn better technique as a jazz player. Once I started listening to the music however, I was hooked. It inspired me to really put in the hours to learn how to play classical music. It was slow going to be sure but eventually I began to get calls for some gigs. Now it’s a part of what I do as a professional. You pick up different skills from playing both jazz and classical and I know that has really informed my perspective as a musician.
JFOP: Your debut recording, ‘Event Horizon’, is outstanding; the simpatico between musicians is evident in the music’s accessible complexity. What was the thought process behind the session and how long has the trio been together?
MW: Thanks for the kind words. I had a chance to put together a band for a concert at Flushing Town Hall back in 2013. I hadn’t led a band in some time at that point. I had been playing with Tim Harrison and Scott Neumann in a different band and thought they might be a good fit for my music. That gig is what set everything in motion. I knew I had found the right players for my music and that I was finally ready to record an album. We spent the next year playing working out the material and playing a number of shows to build the chemistry within the group. We went into the studio in June of 2014 for two days to cut the record. It was fun to hear how our sound was still evolving during the recording process. Some of the takes were quite different from one another. It was great for me as the leader to have a range of choices to pick for the final product and it helped me to shape the overall sound of the record.
JFOP: Are you religious; spiritual: scientific minded? Does this inform, inspire your playing?
MW: I suppose I could say all of the above. I think anytime you are digging deep within yourself to come up with an artistic statement you are drawing on a spiritual part of yourself, so that definitely informs your playing. I have always been interested in science. In fact, the title for ‘Event Horizon’ is a scientific term for the edge of a black hole. In broader terms, it’s the edge at which something happens. For me, it’s the point at where my career as a solo artist begins.
JFOP: What’s next for Mark Wade?
MW: I’m planning a follow up record for the trio that we will start recording in May 2017. It will be another record of mostly my compositions with one or two arrangement of standards thrown in, much like the format of Event Horizon. I’m almost finished writing all of the material for it so we’ll have some time beforehand for the trio to play through it and develop it live before hitting the studio.
At the risk of being an overachiever, I already have an eye on the project after that. I’d like to put together a record of 19th and 20th century classical music arranged for a jazz trio. It would be a jazz record, though, not a note by note rendering of the original material. Its been a fun challenge for me to try to capture the essence of the original compositions but include jazz harmony and improvisation. I had first thought I would include a few on the upcoming record, but I think it would be more interesting to present an entire record with this concept. I have about five finished and I have a few other ideas in the works. Its been a fun challenge to work with the ideas of great composers like Sibelius and Goreki and try to retell them in my own voice.
JazzFromOurPerspective: Mark thanks so much for your time and hope to have you back again.
Mark Wade: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for the great questions and look forward to speaking with you again.

No comments:

Post a Comment