Mark Wade, jazz bassist: Something Else! Interview

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Mark Wade has quietly but surely created a stir on the jazz scene. Not only is he a very talented bass player but his debut album Event Horizon (Edition 46 records) has received starred reviews in several publications. It has been successful and even got two releases.

Mark was catapulted to everyone’s attention when he found himself in the ballot for the Downbeat reader’s poll. He is approachable and very supportive of other musicians. Meanwhile, Event Horizon is one of those albums you come back to time and again because there is a lot going on in the music – and it has deep layers, so one listen is never enough. Mark’s playing has that something extra; his understanding and interpretation of music makes him stand out. With so much interest in him, I decided it was about time Mark shared a little bit with the rest of the world.

I asked him about his background and Mark told me, “I was born in Livonia, Michigan. Due to my father’s job, we moved around quite a bit. By time I was 7, we had lived in Michigan, Indiana – twice – and also Ohio, Tennessee and New Jersey. I grew up mostly in New Jersey, before moving to New York for college. I started playing the electric bass in high school when I was 14. Music was the new hobby that my friends were taking up at the time. Since most of them had already started playing guitar, they suggested I play bass. I checked it out and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

When asked what or who inspired him to play bass and if there were any strong musical influences, Mark replied, “I started out playing rock music, so my earliest influences were electric players like John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. As I moved closer to jazz, I discovered Jaco Pastorius. I think every electric bass player has to reckon with his music at some point. It was the music of Miles Davis though that first really brought me into the world of jazz. To this day, it’s still amazing to think of all the music he made with his quintet from the ’50s, the ’60s, and everything that came after.”

Mark also cites other important influences as Paul Chambers, who recorded with Miles Davis as part of his quintet in 1956; Scott LaFaro, who worked with Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Stan Getz and many more and was killed aged just 25 in a car crash within days of recording two seminal live albums at the Village Vanguard with Evans and drummer Paul Motian; Michael Moore, who worked with Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck and others and whose book on the “Michael Moore Method” is a widely respected instruction book on double bass technique; as well as Red Mitchell. Mitchell was important in the West Coast jazz scene and played notably with Warne Marsh, Woody Herman and Ornette Coleman.

“Wayne Shorter was definitely an influence on me, especially as an early composer,” Mark says. “When I went to college to study music at New York University, I was still only playing the electric bass. I studied with professor Mike Richmond.” Richmond’s book Modern Walking Bass Technique is used worldwide as one of the leading texts on jazz bass technique; he performed and recorded with luminaries including Bobby McFerrin, Stan Getz, Charles Mingus , Jack DeJohnette, Dizzy Gillespie, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp and many others. So, Mark Wade’s tutor has amazing pedigree and Marks says Mike Richmond is still one of his biggest musical influences.

“Mike convinced me to give the acoustic bass a try,” Wade adds, “which I did about halfway through my second year of school. I think I was 19 at the time. By the time I graduated from college, I was just managing to make just enough from playing gigs to do it full time. It’s crazy to think I was making a living playing the acoustic bass a few years after starting my studies. I’m fortunate that’s the only job I’ve ever had.”

On his current musical influences: “New York City has such a wealth of talent that just listening to what is happening here from a variety of artists is very influential. I try to pick up ideas here and there from things I hear as much as I can. I will say though that lately I’ve been listing to a lot of Dave Holland’s quintet records,” Wade adds. “That’s a group that I had missed out on previously, but they’ve been something I’ve been thinking about these days. Listening to Dave Holland might sound like an obvious choice for a bass player, but it’s the group interplay and the songwriting with those records that intrigues me the most.” Dave Holland is English but has lived in the U.S. for the past few decades and recorded with Miles Davis, Steven Coleman and other jazz greats.

On his early performing and bands: “As a professional, I have always played a mix of jazz, classical and commercial type gigs. Once I hit the freelance scene in New York, I took whatever jobs would come my way – private parties, restaurant gigs, musical theater shows, cabaret gigs. For me, it was all about surviving as a full time musician while practicing hard to reach the next level. The variety of work has always been interesting to me and I believe that it has contributed to making me a more well-rounded musician. There are some gigs that stand out for me, though. I played in the string section for Jimmy Heath’s Four Black Immortals project at Lincoln Center here in New York. I also played at the Lincoln Center with the Janacek Philharmonic of the Czech Republic. I have played the Today Show with jazz vocalist Stacey Kent [a Londoner who has sang at Ronnie Scott’s and won the 2002 BBC Jazz award for best vocalist, among other achievements], and played a number of gigs with pianist Harry Whitaker. Recently, I had my first gig with the Grammy-nominated Pete McGuinness Big Band at the Blue Note just this summer.

Mark Wade took longer than many after leaving college before making his first album. “For me, it was about waiting until I had something to say, until I felt I had developed a personal voice on the instrument and as a writer before putting myself out there as a recording artist,” he says. “Until then I was busy as a freelancer and a sideman in other people’s projects. I was growing as a bassist and musician and waited until it felt like the right time to strike out on my own. In 2013, I had an opportunity to put together a band for a performance at Flushing Town Hall, where I was in residence at the time. That’s when Tim Harrison, Scott Neumann and I got together for our first trio gig together. I had known Tim and Scott from another band I had been playing in, and thought they might be a good fit for what I was trying to do. That was the moment when it all came together for me. After that gig, I knew it was time to record. A year later, we went into the studio and recorded Event Horizon. It was worth the wait.”

On performing with others: “Playing music is just like life: It can be exciting, terrifying, challenging or gratifying and it can be all these things at the same time. It’s never the same way twice, which is why I’m so drawn to it. There’s always something new, and to be learned. Audience reactions can be hard to gauge in the moment, depending on the setup of the venue, but certainly as a performer you want to connect with audiences. I also believe it’s important not to be solely motivated by the reaction of an audience. The music deserves to be played just as well if the room is full or if it is empty. Professionals give their best regardless of the reaction and that’s what I strive for when I play. That being said, I’m grateful that I’ve received very positive responses for my music. It’s always a treat to get positive feedback and have people feel moved by what you do.

“The more you can be aware of your band mates during a performance, the better,” Mark Wade argues. “That’s where the conversation takes place. Listening, reacting, taking space, leaving space: It makes the music come alive. One of the great joys of playing with my trio is to see the group’s awareness increase the more we play together. It’s been very liberating to play in a group that has that kind of cohesion. I’m excited to see where we can take things. 

“It’s powerful thing to see an audience connect with your music,” he says. “I think every artist at some level wants to feel that they have made that connection. In the moment of performance, though, I think it’s important as an artist not to be dependent on that emotional hook. Audiences can be hard to read in real time. I just try to stay in the moment and make the music sound the best I can. Whether the music is well received or not is up to the listener, and everyone is going to respond to it in their own way. ”

Wade adds that “most of my playing to date has been in the New York area. There are some very sophisticated concert goers here, so playing for them can be very rewarding. Outside New York, it’s a bit harder to find audiences that are looking specifically for modern jazz. I would love to bring my music to Europe. It’s ironic that jazz, a uniquely American art form, is more appreciated in Europe than in the States. Japan too has a great appreciation for jazz, and I am currently talking with someone who may be able to help me put together something over there. Fingers crossed.” 

When I asked Mark what a hard working bass player listens to, he said, “mostly jazz and classical music. While there will be some records I’ll check out to keep up to date with what certain people are doing, I also think it’s important to get away from the music and give yourself time to absorb – especially if you’re listening in order to expand your understanding of certain concepts. I play music almost every day, so on my days off I turn the music off and step away for a moment. I also think that spending more time with fewer records of consequence helps me to drill down and get more out of what I am listening to.”

I asked Mark how Event Horizon got picked up by Edition 46 and how it came to have not one but two releases. “The album had two releases – one here in the U.S. in Feb. of 2015 and one a year later in Europe. For the U.S. release, I hired two publicists to do the print and radio campaign. As it was my first record; I had no idea how to do that on my own. I quickly realized, however, that by reaching out to radio stations and journalists on social media, I could get radio play and reviews for myself. I began to focus on the overseas market. I generated more and more interest for the album, mostly through Twitter. Colonize Magazine in Cologne wrote up one of my best reviews to date, and from that I came to the attention of Edition 46 Records in Berlin. They released the album in February of this year, which helped start a second round of reviews and interviews including some back here in the States. Most likely it was that second push which helped me land on the ballot for the Downbeat reader’s poll.

“The response for the record was far and away much greater than I had imagined it would be,” Mark Wade says. “I had no reason to expect it would receive the kind of attention it generated. It has opened some doors I never thought possible and I’m grateful for that.” (What Mark does not add here is that Event Horizon is a really good creation; I can vouch for the quality.)

About his philosophy on life and music: “I would say my philosophy is to be balanced. Good music is all about the right balance of space, texture and time. It has a combination of sounds and ideas that forms a conversation. A successful life is one that is balanced between work and relaxation, personal and professional, private and public. It’s about never getting too high or too low. It’s about being grounded in success and in failure. One of the things I enjoy about my career has been the variety of music that I’ve been able to play. That balance of different musical situations has helped give me a certain perspective on music that I find helpful.”

On the future and projects coming up or things Mark would like to do: “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 arrangements of standards thrown in – much like the format of Event Horizon. I’m almost finished writing the material for it, so we’ll have some time beforehand to develop it live before hitting the studio.

“At the risk of being an overachiever, I already have an eye on the project after that,” Mark adds. “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. 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 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 numbers and 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.”

An ambitious and dynamic bass player and composer, Mark Wade is by my reckoning a force for the future and one who will bring new ideas and inspiration to the music. He is also very open to new ideas and developing them. Throw into the mix that Mark, from what I know of him so far, is affable, approachable, supportive of other players and has an affinity for exquisite expression when he plays – which is a rare and profoundly special quality – and you have a pretty good formula for a consummate musician.

Mark has already proved with Event Horizon that he can switch the atmosphere and emphasis in a heartbeat, and this is only the beginning. I think we shall hear a lot more from Mark Wade.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein

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