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IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 106

INTERVIEW with Mark Lomax, II



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!


Be sure to visit Mark's site, at


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 draw inspiration.  

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? 

ML:  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 about?

ML:I 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 playing alone. 

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 composing/arranging/orchestrating music. 

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 they?


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