I first reviewed Mark's exciting music (The State of
Black America) in
issue # 105... a drummer extraordinaire, to be sure,
I felt it important to touch bases with him and get a
bit more insight into his background and ideas for you.
My sincerest thanks to Mark for taking the time to
participate - anyone who digs jazz with an edge will
surely want to know more!
Zzaj: Your compositions are "precise & tight", as
I'd expect from a drummer... where did all this
start for you, Mark? & how did it bring you to
where you are (musically & personally) today? In
other words, give us some biographical background on
the "real Mark Lomax"...
ML: Well, I come from a family of musicians and have
been composing and playing since I was a kid. I
started playing drums when I was 2 years old and
always played for my mother’s gospel choirs in
church. I started thinking seriously about
composition when I was in 6th grade. My music
teacher, Dr. Robert Carpenter, was heavy into
technology and we had a midi lab that allowed us to
create music and hear it right away! I composed
little things for my friends school projects and
loved it. In performing arts high school composition
was something we all were encouraged to do. I wrote
for the ensemble I was playing in and arranged music
for the vocal ensemble I played piano for. It really
got serious for me when I was about 18 as I began to
lead my own groups and explore my music in
professional settings. This is when I began to
consider myself more a composer than a drummer and I
entered school as a classical composition major.
As far as my compositions being “precise and tight”
that is due more to the musicians than to the
compositions themselves. Being trained as a
classical composer tends to make one over complicate
music so I intentionally composed these compositions
with simplicity in mind. In the same way that we
read anecdotes about musicians going in with the
music sketched out on napkins, I wanted to recreate
the kind of immediacy that I think is missing in
today’s jazz which, for the most part, is over
composed and under improvised. I gave the guys lead
sheets, explained the concept, and we played. The
recording you hear is mostly first takes with the
exception of “Stuck in A Rut” which is the third
take only because the first two complete takes were
done so early in the morning!
Composing has done a lot for me in terms of shaping
who I am because it forced me to think about music
differently, and more completely, than I did as a
drummer only. This has had a profound, and positive
affect on my life outside of music as well.
Zzaj: I noted a lot of references to gospel music
in things I read about you... are you able to
integrate the gospel into your jazz work without
compromising "the spirit"?
ML: The “Spirit” permeates everything I do. I
believe that it is the essence of life itself. I
believe also that I am here to create music that in
some ways edifies the listener and the performer so
there is no compromising that… not even in the more
academic composing that I do, and that gets me into
trouble sometimes! My father is pastor of the First
African Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and
my mother is a leading composer of religious music
for children here in the U.S. so that knowledge of
the Spirit will always be the essence from which I
I will say that I think people get too caught up in
pigeon holing artists and trying to make them genre
specific. The training I’ve received in gospel music
is indispensable for teaching me how music can
affect people on a level much deeper than some
general emotional satisfaction. Music has the power
to change and to heal, to create and destroy based
on the intent of the musician communicating it
because, fundamentally, music is a collection of
frequencies just like people and things. We can use
music to change the frequency levels in people and
things if one knows how.
Zzaj: Are you still living in Columbus? If so,
what's the jazz scene like there? If you've moved
on, where to - & what's the music/jazz like there?
ML: I am in Columbus, Ohio right now completing the
doctor of music arts degree at The Ohio State
University. There’s a great music scene here, and
great musicians, but the jazz scene is suffering due
to lack of venues and local support.
Zzaj: How does a drummer "compose"? Is it more
"on the fly", or do you have to write down the parts
for all the other instruments before folks play it?
ML: I guess a drummer composes the same way a
pianist does ( : It also depends on what I am
working on. Sometimes I start at the piano, other
times I start on paper away from the piano. Other
times I start on the computer in a program called
Sibelius and only go to the piano when I get stuck.
Zzaj: Who are your favorite players? Have you
had a chance to play with any of them?
ML: Wow! There are so many players that I
think are wonderful! My favorite drummers are Max
Roach, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Ed
Blackwell. I got the chance to meet Elvin a couple
times before he died, and I met Roy back when I was
a teenager. I’ve had the opportunity to play with
musicians like Clark Terry, Ellis Marsalis, Bennie
Maupin and Billy Harper among others but I’ve always
wanted to play with Pharaoh Sanders and McCoy Tyner
but haven’t gotten that chance yet.
Zzaj: Do you play on the road a lot, or do you do
more studio work? Which type of playing do you
prefer, & why?
I mostly work on the road when I can get away.
School makes it difficult to work but I’ll be done
with that by the end of year and it’s back to work!
I’ve done some studio work but much prefer the live
situation with an audience, even for recordings
because the energy and communication between the
musicians and the audience is often so palpable that
I always wish it was recorded. There’s just
something that happens with an audience that is hard
to recreate without one.
Zzaj: Our readers always rely on this 'zine to give
them a bit of "inside scoop"... what kinds of
projects do you have coming up that you can tell us
am always working on different projects! I have a
production company called CFG Multimedia after my
grandfather Charles Fisher Gowens, and we have a
project I worked on with my Mom called ‘Wonderful
Rainbow World’ for children ages K-6 that we’re
really excited about. I am also working on getting
funding for a chamber music album featuring my
compositions as well as those of a couple other
young composers. I am really excited about releasing
music from my quartet (same guys on the current
release with William Menefield added on piano).
We’ll be recording music I wrote in honor of Elvin
Jones and another collection of Negro Spirituals!
Zzaj: Do you view the music you (& others) do as
a "healing" force in the universe? Or, is it "just
playing"? Or, is that just a ridiculous question?
ML: I do think that music is, or can, be a healing
force in the universe. It can also be just playing.
As a stated earlier, I think it all lies with the
intent of the musician. What does the musician want
to accomplish, and/or communicate to the audience?
For some, like Coltrane for instance, there was the
intent to use music as a means of communicating
spiritual ideals and the journey that comes with
that. For others, like Cecil Taylor, it might be
about creating art and letting the art speak for
itself. Music can also be used to cause harm. For
me, I think that music is best when the musician’s
intent is positive and with everything that I do, I
am working to entertain, bridge gaps, edify,
educate, uplift, and even heal.
Zzaj: In my playing, I know I've often
encountered drummers that kind of "steered" the
music... do you think a drummer should (other than
solos) be "in the driver's seat", or more subtle?
ML: I think the drummer should be well versed enough
to play to whatever situation s/he is in. Growing
up, I made it a point to prove that the drummer is
as much a musician as the pianist or whomever else
was in the band. It’s important for the drummer to
know the melody, form, and even chord changes. This
information is indispensable in helping one to
shape, drive, and communicate musically even when
Zzaj: What "words of wisdom" would you offer a
player who was at a decision point about whether to
make music a career, or move on to something else?
In other words, is music a viable option as a
career? If so, why? If not, why not?
ML: That’s not an easy thing to do because there are
so many variables to consider. I guess the only
thing I would say for sure is that I do think music
is a “viable” option as a career but what I think is
“viable” may be, and probably is, different than
most. The key is to believe in yourself and know
that what you are doing is what you are supposed to
be doing. For me, that happens when I realize that I
couldn’t be anywhere else, or doing anything else
while I am playing or
There are things to consider when choosing music as
a career, especially the arts side of music. One has
to have clearly defined goals and an idea of what
success is for yourself and your career. If it’s a
lot of money, then maybe art music is not the way to
go unless you are very patient. If it is to create
the most excellent expression of who you are and
your ideals as an artist, then you must be willing
to take what comes at you for art that is honest
will meet with criticism as much as it will find
supporters. Having said that, a career in music can
be very rewarding as long as you know and understand
that your successes may not be considered success by
everyone, but then, they don’t really matter do
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