“I think in order for musicians to be successful in this day and age, you must have some promotion/business chops. It’s just not enough to be good at music, you’ve got to have at least a little savvy in getting your music heard by the right people.” – Mark Wade
Social media brings people closer together and such is the case for our Mark Wade experience. Introducing himself to our Ermina Yardley back in March with the release of his debut recording Event Horizon, Mark is very much on a worldwide mission to spread the news from New York City – news that we at UK Vibe wish to share with you. Bassist and leader of a trio comprising Tim Harrison on piano and Scott Neumann on drums, the revelation that is Event Horizon stand testament that self-releasing your music should never be ruled out. It reaches out in ways music could never do in the previous decades.
Photo: Courtesy of Yui Kitamura
SW: Greetings Mark, may we at UK Vibe first applaud you on the remarkable release of your first album and for your determination to self-promote. The industry is indeed saturated with new releases and getting people to hear your music must be the number one objective?
Mark Wade: Thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. You’re quite right about the importance of getting your music heard. There is so much music out there for people to hear now. With the rise of home studios and recording technology, musicians have many more opportunities than they used to have to record their music and release it. Of course, that’s what leads to the over-saturation of the jazz recording world. Trying to get attention for your record these days seems analogous to being in a crowded room with everyone shouting at the same time. It’s tough for someone to pick your voice out of the crowd and listen to what you have to say. I think that’s why it’s very important to find a way to have your voice stand out. Certainly, it starts with developing a personal musical vision, but actively working to find the right people to get your music to is very important. If you really believe in what you are doing, you will find a way to get it out there.
SW: The upright bass, the double bass, the contrabass – what first attracted you to this most splendid of string instruments?
Mark Wade: I was an electric bass player before I started playing upright bass. I started playing electric in high school and over time began listening to music that had upright bass in it – Miles Davis’s quintet from the ’60s comes to mind. Listening to that kind of music, along with the influence of my teacher Mike Richmond at New York University, convinced me to make the switch to upright bass after about a year and a half of college. It’s pretty late to start on the professional track I suppose but I was fortunate to come out of college making a living playing the bass. As one conductor said to me rather sarcastically, “It’s never too late for the bass”. I think I take that as more of a positive comment than he intended it.
SW: There is now a wealth of musicians for the new generation to draw inspiration from. You must have some specific influences yourself?
Mark Wade: There are a number of bass players that have influenced my playing. The biggest influence for me is my teacher Mike Richmond. Mike is the consummate professional. His résumé includes so many major figures in jazz music like Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Elvin Jones, etc. His vision of what a bass player should be is one that I have tried to adopt for myself – solid and dependable as an accompanist, creative and expressive as a soloist, technically sound and secure in any situation. Even more important to me though is Mike’s influence in the bigger picture, like showing up on time, being properly prepared for what the gig requires, being flexible in different musical situations, and always having a professional attitude. I think that combination has been a big reason why I have been able to make a living at playing music.
The bass players that I have always gravitated towards listening to represent a few different styles or approaches to playing. Ray Brown and Paul Chambers are the gold standards for playing straight-ahead time in an ensemble in my opinion. Scott LaFaro was such a creative force in a small ensemble setting. Red Mitchell’s soulful, swinging solos really show off the expressive potential of the instrument. Dave Holland is a powerhouse of forward-thinking ideas. John Patitucci is inspiring in his technical and musical virtuosity.
I went to school for jazz but started playing in community orchestras when I left college to get more technique on the instrument and I was really into the music. The music really moved me and I began to put a lot of time and energy into playing that music as well. One thing led to another, and after a while I found myself getting called for some gigs. Now classical music is part of my career as a professional bass player and is something that is an integral part of my musical experience.
Piano trios have always been a big influence on me and it’s no coincidence that when it came time to put together my group that the trio would be the setting. Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Brad Mehldau are a few that come to mind as being particularly impactful. That space and freedom of expression is something I’ve always been drawn to as a player and a listener.
SW: Which brings us to the current band… What was your reasoning for choosing Tim and Scott, and what do they bring to the trio?
Mark Wade: I had the opportunity to put together a band for a jazz festival here in New York in 2013. I had known Tim Harrison and Scott Neumann for a number of years and had played with them from time to time in Bill Warfield’s New York Repertory Band. As soon as I heard them play my music I knew this was the band I wanted to record with. They each have a great sense of ensemble and can each step out as a soloist. They seemed from the beginning to have an inherent understanding of the direction I had in mind for my compositions. I am the composer for the group but the musical choices they both make have influenced the writing choices I make. I often rely on their input in rehearsals as we work out the music as they are both very experienced players with a strong musical history. The group sound and dynamic that we are shaping really makes me excited for what’s to come.
SW: Tell us a little about the mighty Harry Whitaker of “Black Renaissance” fame? We notice his name pops up!
Mark Wade: I recorded an album in 1998 (or so) with a singer named Elli Fordyce. I had been playing some gigs with her around town at the time. She said she was going to be working with a different piano player for the record. That pianist turned out to be Harry Whitaker. It was a great experience as a young player just out of school to be able to work with a veteran like Harry. The musical presence of someone with his experiences is obvious as soon as the music starts. Harry was very encouraging with me and was also helpful in pointing out some tips on how to be a great accompanist. We ended up playing a number of gigs for this singer after the recording as well, so it was great to have to chance to check out Harry’s playing firsthand, so to speak.
Photo: Courtesy of Jesse Winter
SW: A moment in time to share with the grandchildren… Experiences all help greatly with learning the instrument and developing your own sound. Why then do you feel ‘your sound’ is being enjoyed predominantly across Europe per se, and ultimately picked up by a German record label?
Mark Wade: From the beginning of my time studying with Mike Richmond I always heard how much European audiences appreciated jazz. Much more so than people in the States do quite frankly. In my opinion, Europe and the UK are far more culturally aware when it comes to jazz and music in general. It’s ironic that America’s one true indigenous art form – Jazz – is more popular and better supported overseas. It’s really exciting for me to get my music to a European audience who, so far, have responded very positively to it. I think that audiences overseas are more willing to take a chance on new and progressive music which is very heartening for me as a jazz composer.
How I got the deal with Edition 46 is an example of the new way the music business works. I’ve been actively seeking reviews and airplay for the record through social media. As I’ve never toured overseas I didn’t have any contacts in Europe. A reviewer for a UK publication called ‘Access All Areas’ happened to find my music online during the US release and requested a copy of the CD for review. It got me thinking that I might try contacting some outlets overseas and see what might turn up. I made contact with the editor at Colozine Magazin in Cologne, Germany who took the CD for review and loved it. He gave me one of the best reviews the CD has received. Since it was in German, it caught the attention of Udo Betz, the director of Edition 46 Records. Udo took the CD to review on his blog and then offered to release it in Europe on his label. All of this happened through Twitter. As you mentioned, it is a very saturated situation out there with digital media. But there are opportunities as well. I’ve gotten airplay on over 30 stations/programmes in 7 different countries thanks to social media. Some of my best reviews have come from reviewers I ‘met’ through social media. I think in order for musicians to be successful in this day and age, you must have some promotion/business chops. It’s just not enough to be good at music, you’ve got to have at least a little savvy in getting your music heard by the right people.
SW: How much improvisation is allowed when playing live and do you like the notes written to be played formally or is there freedom to expand at each live gig?
Mark Wade: Interesting question about improvising. As a composer, I’m very focused on creating interesting areas for each soloist to improvise on. I like to offset the different solos in a particular piece with thematic elements from the written material as opposed to always playing simple head charts. I think setting up these different areas help to frame the solos for both the player and the listener in a certain way that gives more shape to the composition as a whole. If I have written material, I’m looking for the melody to be faithfully represented, but after that, it’s up to all of us to create a mood and vibe around that melody to give it meaning. I might start by suggesting we go in a certain direction, but it’s really about the three of us looking for the right sound together.
SW: Are you incorporating standards within your live repertoire or is the current Mark Wade concentrating on the new album?
Mark Wade: The focus for me right now is on original music in general, and the music for the new album specifically. It is always easier to find situations where you are playing standards and I love playing them. It’s more interesting for me right now to explore and further develop my own voice as both a composer and instrumentalist. To do that, you really need to be playing new music regularly. I have about six tunes written for the next album at the moment with one of those being an arrangement of ‘Autumn Leaves’ that incorporates Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’. Suffice to say it is a departure from the original. The rest are my own compositions. I’m thinking I will probably write a few more to fill out the next album.
SW: When performing live, do you find each venue dynamically challenging?
Mark Wade: Every room is different and none are perfect, especially if you are a bass player. Even in the best of settings, it can be hard to hear all the notes you play. Part of being a professional is knowing how to get the best sound you can given the acoustic properties of the room you happen to be in. The same is true for the other players in the ensemble. Both Tim and Scott play to the room as it sounds and not as you wish it would sound. That’s just part of the gig. For the gigs I’ve done with my trio, even at some very reputable venues here in NYC, there is no tech rider or sound requirements that I can negotiate. It is what it is. The gigs I’ve played with my trio have all been concert-style formats so I’ve not had to deal with background noise or competing conversations, although I’ve played my fair share of those as well in other situations. Again, it is what it is.
Photo: Courtesy of Jesse Winter
SW: With more albums these days pressed to vinyl, and with Jack DeJohnette’s vinyl-only new release a point in question, how do you see vinyl shaping your musical path?
Mark Wade: Vinyl is something which is not on my radar if I’m honest, although I have a few musician friends who swear by it. I think it’s great that some people are really being mindful of audio quality and the musical experience of it all, but it’s hard to believe that the general public will be running to buy turntables and building up cumbersome collections of vinyl. It’s a niche market at best probably. All signs point to the average listener wanting the convenience of an iPod that fits 1,000,000 songs in their back pocket!
SW: Who is Mark Wade – the science enthusiast, and is there a deeper meaning to the ‘Event Horizon’ album?
Mark Wade: Well I watch a lot of science shows on TV. Science was always something that interested me when I was a kid. Maths and science have much in common with music, so perhaps it’s no surprise I chose music as a career. As far as the title of the album is concerned, an event horizon is the edge of a black hole. It’s the point where you’re inexorably pulled in. In a larger sense, it’s the point where something starts to happen, and that’s why I chose it as my album title. ‘Event Horizon’ the album marks the beginning of my solo career – it’s the point where a new part of my musical life begins to happen.
SW: Are you writing for the next album and can we, the listener, expect a classical release in the future too?
Mark Wade: Funny you ask. While I am working on finishing up the music for the next album, I already have an eye on the one after that. I am planning 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. It’s 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. It’s 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.
Sw: It was a pleasure to share your time. We thank you for your contribution to music and hope to hear the trio live in the UK soon. Now that Jazz FM’s Ruth Fisher is pushing the release, perhaps it may be sooner than you think!
Mark Wade: The pleasure is all mine and thank you for the kind words. It’s always a wonderful feeling to see such a positive reaction to the music. Ruth Fisher has been a great supporter of the record and it’s exciting to get airtime on Jazz FM. I hope to bring my music to the UK in person before too long for sure.