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IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 103

INTERVIEW with Mark Sherman & Tim Horner


I have been reviewing fine jazz from Mark for a LONG time now... when he suggested I interview his band (mostly because they're coming to where I'm AT - Korea), I jumped at the chance.  This came out to be an exceptional interview, especially considering that Mark & Tim were on the road in Russia when they put this all together.  Be SURE to check their fine music out, too (there's a review of their brand new DVD in this issue (# 103).  Pass the word on to others you know that you first heard about him here in IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION!






Zzaj: In checking back through my 'zine archive, I'm seeing that you & I have been together for quite some time, Mark... first review I wrote was for a CD of yours called "Spiral Staircase", I believe. Would appreciate it if both of you gents could give us a bit more history than that, in the sense of a bio sketch for each of you? You know, where did you come from, when did you first start playing together, etc. My readers like to hear it "in your own words", so to speak.

Mark- I was born in New York City in 1957. My mother was a well known opera singer who sang with the Boston Symphony with Leonard Bernstein and also the Cleveland Symphony. She was Gian Carlo Menotti's choice for "Lucy" in "The Medium and The Telephone" on Broadway in the World Premiere of that opera. Also she was a Juilliard graduate as I am. I began playing music at age 8 as my mother forced me to take classical piano lessons. Then at 13 I heard the music of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. I had been playing drums and I found Elvin Jones teaching in New York City. I studied with Elvin for several years and
followed him around every chance I had. I was fortunate to see him up close regularly playing with Dave Liebman, Frank Foster, Joe Farrell, Steve Grossman, Jimmy Garrison, Jan Hammer, Gene Perla etc. If Elvin
was performing in New York (mostly at The Village vanguard) I was there sitting with a coca cola!!
After 4 years at Music and Art High School and 5 years studying classical percussion repertoire at Juilliard I began my freelancing career in New York where I did many recording jobs( films, TV music etc.)
Eventually this led to working with the singing team Jackie and Roy, and finally meeting Mike Renzi who is one of the greatest singer accompanists ever. He took me under his wing and gave me gigs with many
singers. This led to 7 year touring schedule with the late Peggy Lee. Gigs with Ruth Brown, Lena Horne, Gloria Lynn, and others.Eventually I got the gig playing, recording, and writing with Larry Coryell 4tet. Larry has recorded 10 of my tunes.

After a solo record (vinyl) with CBS records via a recommendation to Geaurge Butler by Wynton Marsalis my solo career began. 5 years after the "Spiral Staircase CD you reviewed, I began this band I have with Tim Horner. That was 2003. We first recorded "The Motive Series" (featuring the late great Michael Brecker). Then "One Step Closer" featuring Joe Lovano. "Family First as a 5tet with Joe Magnarelli. "Live at The Bird's Eye" recorded in Switzerland while on tour with the 4tet. and now this DVD live in NYC with the 5tet, as we
finally had a chance to document correctly the work of the 5tet that was together for 6 years.

Tim: I grew up in Virginia , a small city called Roanoke . I started playing viola and drums around the same time when I was 10 years old . At the age of 18 I moved to Boston Mass. where I attended Berklee College of Music receiving a degree in Jazz Performance and graduating in 1979 . I then moved to New York City in 1980 and I've been in NYC ever since , 30 years playing , recording and traveling with many of the great names in Jazz . Some of them include 11 years with The Maria Schneider Jazz Orch. , The Village Vanguard Jazz Orch. , Hank Jones , Warne Marsh , Joe Locke , Mark Murphy and Tom Harrell just to name a few . I now also teach for the last 8 years at New Jersey City University where we have had several students from Korea attend our music program . Mark and I met about 20 years ago but only started to play together some 7 years ago when Mark formed his new Quartet with myself , Allen Farnham on piano and Dean Johnson on bass . We have 4 wonderful CD's out , one DVD recorded about about a year ago live at Sweet Rhythm in New York City . We have a new CD out now with this ensemble that is traveling for the State Dept . and Jazz @ Lincoln Center , Rhythm Roads American Music Abroad .

Zzaj: One of the most attractive parts of the vibe as a jazz instrument (for my ears, anyway) has always been the fact that it can (& should, I think) serve as both a rhythm leader and a harmonic stabilizer... do you gents agree, or is that just an inane question?

Mark- I look at the vibes as a horn more than a chordal instrument when functioning in the group setting, but I do love to spread beautiful chords underneath any given soloist when playing. It is a fantastic instrument brought to life by my heroes on vibes in Milt Jackson, Mike Mainieri, Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton etc. I arrived at the vibes after many years of playing Piano, Drums, and Percussion. I was just looking for a piano I could hit with sticks as I had nice technique with the sticks.

Tim: Well , I see every instrument as responsible for melody , harmony , rhythm , feel and time . I don't really think that vibes stabilize any of that yet I do think that it has the ability to play melody and harmony as well as play time , feel and groove .

Zzaj: One of the reasons I was so interested in your CD's, Mark, is because you did a lot of self-promotion, and being an "indie" myself, I believe it's important to know how to do that. Do you still do a lot of self-promo, or as you gig more, do you find yourself having to hand off some of those responsibilities?

Mark- At this point in my career there are some agents and publicists that are helping a lot, but I do still hustle for gigs myself. My basic approach is to try to get bookend weekends in several venues in any part of the world. Then I try to fill in and extend these dates with clinics, and other appearances with other agents and promoters. And yes I still do a lot of self promotion. As a vibes player one must be a leader as there are a limited amount of situations where the vibes are needed in the sideman capacity. So I grew up being a leader and continue down that road. With the advances in today's technology it has become easier to do business across the world. Skype, the internet, web sites, and all the tools available have made it easier, cheaper, and
flat out faster to create visibility for yourself.

Tim: I think these days most Jazz Artists are somewhat if not solely responsible for their own promo and bookings . It's a tough business and not one that a lot of people get into it on the promotion / booking end of things . It's very difficult to make a living at this , expensive to travel , hotels , etc.

Zzaj: Since your band plays in both "straight-ahead" and "improvised" modes, can you tell our readers how you achieve a balance between those styles - or do you? Are improv skills important for today's jazz player, or is "straight jazz" more popular?

Mark- The art of improvisation is my life. Getting better and better at negotiating through various song forms and different sets of chord changes is what most of us jazz musicians pursue. My love is to write nice tunes that are good vehicles for expression through the art of improvisation, and to touch people along the way. Writing a tune that others want to play is very gratifying. It has also helped me to earn the respect of many great musicians across the globe. My band is group of musicians who do just the same. They all write and improvise at a really high level. Improv skills are everything in this music whether you are playing the melody , or just taking a solo. It is that freedom of expression that drives me forward in my life. It makes me happy. When I am up on the stage doing this for an appreciative crowd it is my happiest moment. I feel as nobody can touch me. The bill collectors, and all the other life issues we deal with day to day disappear. It is a really a beautiful thing!!

Tim: Well , straight ahead Jazz as well as modern Jazz , it's all improvised . All styles of Jazz normally have a melody that one plays and then you improvise over the same song form , usually playing the melody again to finish the song

Zzaj: When you're advising new players on what the "most important things" are, would you tell them that "ear" is more important than "book learning"? If so, tell us why? If not, tell us that, too, please.

Mark- I mostly encourage young players I teach to concentrate a lot on the language tools for improvisation. Improving those tools. The scales and chords and the rhythms used in jazz improvisation. The use of all
of this inside the negotiation of chord changes on various song forms. And of course listening to the masters of the art form like Coltrane, Bird, McCoy, Duke Ellington, Wynton Kelly, Hank Jones, Art Tatum, Oscar
Peterson, Phineas Newborn, and the list goes on and on. Transcribing is very important, as these masters have already laid the groundwork for the art form. Before one re-invents the wheel you must first deeply study the masters who created the wheel in the first place.

Tim: Studying from books is valuable and can be very important yet one of the most important things in any style of music is using your ear . You need to hear the melodies , the harmonies , the rhythms and play in tune , intonation is very important . These things you can't necessarily learn from a book so musicians should always be listening and challenging their ears . I know many musicians who can't read a bit of written music but they are some of the greatest musicians in the world because their ears and feel are so amazing . Their talents are beyond normal , they were meant to play music .

Zzaj: You seem to have been touring a bit more over the past 5 or 6 years... do you try to "pace" that, or does it get pretty chaotic? Do you prefer touring, or would you rather gig closer to home

Mark- I tour as much as possible ( although sometimes chaotic) as you must bring your music to the world, as the world will not come to my house to hear me. Plus playing a lot is how I continue to improve, and as I said, I feel best in my life when up on the stage doing what I do. I do it as much as possible anywhere because this is what I love to do. It has and will always be my dream to play the music live. Recording is great as you can listen to that one moment over and over again, but playing live is the greatest feeling. Practicing at home is important, but it means nothing if you cannot bring it to the world and do it live with a great group of musicians of your choice.

Tim: I always love playing at home more than anything else . I do love to travel but these days being in airports is very hectic and difficult . There are very few clubs left around the world where you can stay in one city for a week or more and play that club . Most gigs are one nighters which means that you are always on the go , it's very hard but when you have a great concert and meet wonderful new people and experience new cultures it is quite rewarding without question . I guess it's something you have to try and balance like anything else in life .

Zzaj: I believe that music can generate it's own "rush" (for both players & listeners alike), to the degree that other substances are totally unnecessary... please give us your thoughts on that... agree/disagree?

Mark- Yes there is a total rush of physical and emotional enjoyment that comes from playing. Other substances (drugs, alcohol etc) only take away from your ability to do it better. In the old days everyone was
always doing drugs, and drinking a lot, but there came a time when it was hip and cool to be straight. That time in now. I always wondered how much better Bird might have played if he had not been doing drugs. Perhaps no better. I don't know the answer to this but it is good food for thought.

Tim: Great question . I believe that music as in all art forms can be an unbelievable high but one must be very in tune with their own self before they can probably enjoy that feeling . In other words, you have to be able to and willing to let go , let your soul go and get into the moment of life and it will happen . I think it's a hard thing for people to do these days as I see that so many people are only interested in the stimulation of gadgets , electronics , stimulations out of their hands . I guess you have to know how and be willing to think out of the box .

Zzaj: What's the scope of your current tour? Where, when, how long? Will you be recording many of the sessions, or is the focus more on the live audience?

Mark- We are currently on a tour for Jazz At Lincoln Center, and the US State department. We are representing the US in a cultural exchange. The tour is 4 weeks long and we are spending a week in Russia, South Korea, China , and The Philippines doing concerts and masterclasses. The band has changed up a little as Tim Horner and I have joined together as co leaders on this tour. The piano player is Jim Ridl, and
on bass we are using Tom Dicarlo. These two musicians have quickly become very important to me. Jim Ridl is an absolute genius. He writes his butt off, and plays incredibly. Tom Dicarlo is a the youngest member of the band, but he is seasoned like a veteran. He locks together beautifully with Tim Horner. We did a CD awhile back that will be released this summer or early fall. It is titled "Good Rhythms Good Vibes"

Tim: We will be traveling to Vladivostok Russia , South Korea , China and the Philippines . I don't know how many of our events will be recorded if at all . The scope and meaning of our tour is cultural exchange and so we will be basically concertizing and teaching .

Zzaj: What made you choose the instrument(s) you play most nowadays?

Mark- As I said before I was playing piano and drums and eventually found the need to play piano with sticks. That led me to the mallet family. Vibes, Marimba etc.

Tim: My dad was a drummer and I always adored him so I chose the drums . I also write music out of passion for wanting to do that and I still play viola for the sheer enjoyment of it , it's an amazing instrument .

Zzaj: The microphones are yours... tell the musicians in our readership what is the most important thing about being successful in today's musical scene? What will make a player or a group go down the tubes? Is a musical career worth all the time, study & sacrifice? Or not?

Mark- The most important thing I think is to stay true to your beliefs. Commitment is everything in life and music. Music is not just a bunch of notes and chords on a page. Music is a life! Music is something that can change a life. Music makes me and others in the world happy. Music bridges the gap between enemies. This is one reason we are on a US State department tour to begin with. Perfectly practicing your craft a lot is what makes you great. Without this commitment you have nothing. I think once you lose your commitment to the direction of your life and craft, it is likely to go down the tubes as you say. You cannot get into music because you want to make a lot of money, or become famous. The heart of the commitment must be the music itself. The language. The art form itself. I always believe if you keep working hard on your craft and always reach for another level each day, then everything else will fall into place. Money, fame, happiness etc. Personally I cannot live without playing the music. I daily sit at the piano and write, or practice, and the same with the vibes. I just love the music and I try to keep that as my focus. It makes me a happier person whether I am making money or not. I am in love with the art form of jazz improvisation! And yes the sacrifice is well worth it!!

Tim: I guess for me the most important thing about being successful is that if I am successful then I am playing my music which I love and I am making a decent living as they kind of go hand in hand . I think one thing that will make a player or a group go down the tubes is simply not practicing , being on top of your game and playing from your heart . There is a lot of competition out there . I think for me a career is and has been worth every moment of my life as it's always been a part of me , it's always been all I ever wanted to do so yes it is and has been worth all of the time , study and sacrifice ......... Every second of it and I have given a lot of time to this


















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