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Mark Sherman: Truth Of Who I Am

Mark Sherman: Truth Of Who I Am
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Vibraphonist Mark Sherman likes using the term consummate to describe musicians and colleagues that he's played with. While it would be difficult to speak to every notable musician that Sherman's played for and ask about their opinion about Juilliard graduate and professor, it is safe to assume that they would also describe Sherman as a consummate musician.

Mark Sherman has enjoyed a career as a leader with over a dozen albums under his name. While Sherman's albums as a leader have featured legendary saxophonists like Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
and the late Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
, Sherman the sideman has played alongside some of America's most iconic voices like Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett
b.1926
vocalist
, Lena Horne
Lena Horne
Lena Horne
1917 - 2010
vocalist
, Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
1920 - 2002
vocalist
, and Mel Torme
Mel Torme
Mel Torme
b.1925
vocalist
. As a classical musician, the Juilliard-trained percussionist has performed under the direction with some of the greatest conductors like Leonard Bernstein and Hebert Von Karajan. As a record label owner, Sherman's Miles High Records has released countless albums since the '80s up to this present day with Tim Hegarty's latest album, Tribute (2014), which features Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
b.1943
piano
, Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
b.1944
bass, acoustic
, Carl Allen
Carl Allen
Carl Allen
b.1961
drums
, and Sherman himself.

In a career that has spanned nearly four decades, Sherman has never dropped a beat and continues to maintain a busy schedule with performances, record dates, and teaching.

All About Jazz: Your mother, Edith Gordon, was a soprano who sang professionally, and graduated from Juilliard. What was her influence like on you?

Mark Sherman: I went on tour in Israel with her when I was eight for four months and I watched her perform a lot as a kid. She gave piano lessons. I grew up with her vocalizing everyday with the piano that I own now, the Chickering grand. My grandfather bought the piano for her when she got into Juilliard on a full scholarship at 17 years old from Canton, Ohio. She attended Juilliard as a soprano and had a career [after] that.

I took piano lessons when I was eight and then I got into drums. When I was around 13 or 14 I found the music of John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
through my friend's father. I eventually studied with Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
downtown and began attending The High School of Music and Art (now known as LaGuardia High) with Kenny Washington, Ray Chew, Omar Hakim
Omar Hakim
Omar Hakim
b.1959
drums
, Bob Franceschini
Bob Franceschini
Bob Franceschini
b.1961
sax, tenor
, and a whole slew of people. We had an incredible band in high school with Bobby Broom
Bobby Broom
Bobby Broom
b.1961
guitar
, Lenny Castro, and Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller
b.1959
bass, electric
on bass. We all grew up together at LaGuardia High School. I went to Manhattan Prep on Saturdays where I met Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland
1955 - 1998
piano
and Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones
b.1956
guitar
because I was studying with Justin DiCioccio, who was head of music and arts high school program at that time. So I studied with him as a percussion major and he turned me on to the mallets. [Dicioccio] turned me on to marimba and vibes by making me play bell and xylophone parts in high school. He also prepared my audition for Juilliard where I was accepted at 17.

There were two people that got accepted during the year I got in, Daniel Druckman and myself. I got in under the tutelage of Saul Goodman and Buster Bailey, who were the head of the percussion program at Juilliard in the classical division during the old days. I went there for five years and I played under the baton of the greatest conductors of the world like Leonard Bernstein, Tom Shelton, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta and a slew of conductors that came through the school; it was amazing. So after I did that, I was spit out into the freelance scene and ended up with a lot of studio work and I met Mike Renzi through that.

But all the time I was at Manhattan School of Music's prep division I had met Kenny Kirkland and Rodney Jones, who are some of my biggest influences growing up. Kenny and I were close growing up and we used to transcribe solos together. We used to hang out in his apartment and transcribe Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
and McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
. I played drums for his trio with Rodney Jones and some other people at that time at Manhattan School of Music, where Kenny went to school.

AAJ: So it was you, Rodney Jones, and Kenny Kirkland in a trio together?

MS: Yeah, Rodney played bass or he would play guitar while Cecil McBee
Cecil McBee
Cecil McBee
b.1935
bass, acoustic
played bass. It was a cool period in our lives when we were growing up. I ended up going to Juilliard but I still kept playing with those cats at Manhattan School of Music and up at the seminary across the street from MSM was where used to play a lot.

I would hang with Kenny a lot and he used to say, "Mark's going to give up the drums and play the vibes," because I was always hanging over his shoulder trying to learn what he was playing and his language.

AAJ: Was it Kenny Kirkland who introduced you to Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
? Or did you just meet Wynton from going to school at Juillard?

MS: No! It's through me that Wynton met Kenny. I went on to Juilliard and Kenny stayed at Manhattan School of Music. Mitchel Forman
Mitchel Forman
Mitchel Forman
b.1956
piano
was another close friend of mine who was my roommate in college. He's played with Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
and Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
. He's also on my last CD, Project Them (Miles High, 2013).

AAJ: Congrats on the record. I just finished listening to it and it sounded amazing.

MS: That's an interesting band. I'm looking forward to some gigs with them during this summer and fall.

Anyway, that was the scene in those days when I was going through college. When I got to Juilliard—at the end of my first year—I was practicing "Moment's Notice" or something at one of the practice rooms. Juilliard didn't have a jazz program then...

AAJ: Sorry to interrupt, but just so we're clear, which instrument were you practicing on? Vibes or piano?

MS: It was piano. I play a lot of piano and I feel that it's been a big part of my educational success. I can accompany my students who are trying to learn how to play vibes and I teach from that vantage point. It's a good thing to have; it's a good tool. I love to play the piano—I've been playing since I was eight years old. I used to play classical music from eight to 13. I branched off and got into harmony a little bit when I was playing drums and I was hanging around Kenny Kirkland's shoulders and I got a lot of cool voicings and things.

So I had been playing "Moment's Notice" at a practice room in Juilliard. Then this kid with a big afro and wire-rimmed glasses [came] in and starts playing his trumpet. He starts blowing a solo and we jammed. After we played, he introduced himself to me and said, "Hi, I'm Wynton Marsalis and I just got into school." We subbed in Broadway shows together— we were subs in Sweeney Todd. We played in Juilliard's orchestra for years and we jammed together at school.

When I was playing piano he asked, "Hey where did you get those chords?" I told him that they were Kenny Kirkland's chords. Months later or so, he got his first record deal at Columbia. He came to me and he said, "Man, I've got this big date with George Butler and I need a pianist."

He asked me who he should get to play piano, so I told him about Kenny Kirkland. [Wynton] actually cited that in a magazine once. It was a whole scene that we all grew up in during those days and it was a beautiful thing.

AAJ: Aside from standing over Kenny Kirkland's shoulders, you also studied with Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
Jaki Byard
1922 - 1999
piano
and Sir Roland Hanna
Sir Roland Hanna
Sir Roland Hanna
1932 - 2002
piano
. What was that like?

MS: I took a few lessons with Jaki and Roland Hanna and I used to trade lessons because I taught him on how to work Finale when it first came out. He wanted to learn how to do Finale and Rodney Jones knew Roland so he made the connection for me. We would do it on a Mac Plus; it was on a three-inch screen. You could only see a few measures of music at the time but everybody was so intrigued by it. Even musicians like Roland were like, "Wow! I can write down stuff like that! That's incredible." Nobody could believe you could put music into a computer like that. I would give Roland a lesson on Finale and he would give me a piano lesson. He would show me some of his drills.

AAJ: How was it like studying under the great Elvin Jones?

MS: It was just going to the Professional Percussion Center on 50th and 8th Ave and taking some lessons with him. You'd go up the top floor and he would be there with Jo Jones
Jo Jones
Jo Jones
1911 - 1985
drums
and Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
1929 - 1990
drums
. You would go up and sit with Elvin and play. I would just absorb the style. The triplet thing that was underneath his playing, his left hand, and the whole thing was incredible really. The main thing with that was he would give me the option to sit behind in at the Vanguard when he was in town. I was young, like 14 or 15.

A funny thing happened. I did a record date with Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
b.1946
saxophone
and Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell
b.1946
trumpet
for the singer, Erin Mcdougald. I went up to Dave and said, "Dave, it's such a privilege to finally do a date with you. I was watching you when I was 14 years old when you were playing with Elvin and now I'm here playing on a record date with you. It's great." And then he said, "But you had a lot of hair right?"

[laughs] I used to have a big giant curly afro like Roger Daltry. I said, "Yeah that was me." But sitting behind Elvin for a full week at the Vanguard was unbelievable. That's a thing that I remember vividly. Especially the sweating—it was amazing to be that close to that at a young age. I really enjoyed it.

Then I started playing with the records you know? I burned all my LP's out— Transition (Impluse, 1970), Live at Birdland (Impulse, 1964), Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957), Coltrane Jazz (Atlantic, 1961), all of the great Trane records. I played all those great LP's to death on the drums.

AAJ: You mentioned Saul Goodman. Did you study with him throughout your five years at Juilliard?

MS: Yeah. I studied formally with him for four years. The first year is always a prep year and they put you with Buster Bailey—at least in those days. You might take one lesson throughout the first year with Goodman just to familiarize yourself with what's going to come. But from my second to my fifth year, I stayed with Goodman and I became a darn good timpani player. I learned how to be a good orchestral percussionist. What it did was that it got me a lot of freelancing in the '80s and '90s in the studios, Broadway, and all the freelance opportunities in New York. I subbed with the Philharmonic once and I used to play with the American Symphony with all these different ballets.

I used to get a slew of that legit work. But you have to make a commitment eventually and I really was a jazz musician. I really just gained those skills as a classical percussionist during my time at Juilliard because I was there for so long. I played with some of the best conductors at such a high level. I played Mahler's 5th Symphony with Bernstein at Avery Fischer Hall when I was in college. So it really had a big effect on me. Those were amazing times and it was a hard decision in a way. In fact, Saul Goodman got me a job once. He got me a private audition with the Rio de Jainero Symphony. I was his boy. He took Daniel Druckman and me under his wing. Danny's with the New York Philharmonic now and is the head of the classical percussion program at Juilliard. And now I teach at the Juilliard jazz program.

AAJ: I'm sure a lot of things changed since 1975 when you were there but it must be nice to teach at the school where you and your mother before you attended.

MS: Oh man, it's a dream to teach at Juilliard! The level is so high on both sides, classical and jazz. It's an exciting place to be, it's a beautiful building, and of course it's got a lot of memories for me. There's a whole emotional value to it and I'm grateful to have the gig. I walk around there and go into the orchestral rehearsal room—if it's empty—and play the piano for a while. Or I go to Morse Hall on the first floor, which has a Fazioli and I'll sit down and play it. Truthfully, it's the first stop when I go. If I have some time, then I try to go and play at Morse Hall. There's 280 Steinways at the building and it's just a great place. I had great experiences there. I go into the orchestral room and I think about the fact that I was in there rehearsing with Sir George Solti, Karjan, and Bernstein. We had great experiences going into that program.

AAJ: As a teacher at Juilliard, do you think students get enough in the classroom or should they go out and sit behind someone like Elvin the way you did when you were coming up?

MS: Absolutely! I can't say enough for having to go out and "make the scene" as they say and go to clubs to see as much as you can. I'm a little bit too old to go out all the time now. I don't get out to see people play and hang as much as I should because things get more complicated with family and things like this. But I used to be out all night long. There was a scene at Auggie's and now there's Fat Cat and Small's. You kind of have to hang if you want to get into the scene and you just have to be out. But more importantly, yes, you should see the masters play. There are still plenty of great masters that you can listen to.

AAJ: Let's talk about your time with Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
1920 - 2002
vocalist
.

MS: I was spit out into the freelance scene after school and I met Mike Renzi and he was a big mentor. He gave me the Peggy Lee gig. Mike was her musical director along with Jay Leonhart
Jay Leonhart
Jay Leonhart
b.1940
bass
, Grady Tate
Grady Tate
Grady Tate
b.1932
drums
, John Chiodini, and myself on vibraphone. It was a nice quintet that we had for about five years and we sort of broke up. Mike stopped doing it and Peggy got another pianist and I played with her for about seven years and did three or four CDs with her.

Mike Renzi also plugged me into this circle of singers like Mauren McGovern. Rodney Jones also hooked me up with a bunch of singers. Rodney produced a lot of great things. He's one of the most consummate musicians around. He's an incredible producer, writer, person, and spiritual leader. He got me on a Lena Horne
Lena Horne
Lena Horne
1917 - 2010
vocalist
record date with Tony Bennett. I also played with Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown
1928 - 2006
vocalist
for two years because of Rodney. Ruth did a record of standards on Capitol that I'm on and it's very beautiful. Gloria Lynne
Gloria Lynne
Gloria Lynne
b.1931
vocalist
was on HighNote and I did that. They're just record dates but I'm grateful for them. I worked with Mel Torme
Mel Torme
Mel Torme
b.1925
vocalist
once or twice.

I got into the freelance thing for a long time and now I'm mostly trying to concentrate on my own CDs.

AAJ: That's a lot of names that you've pointed out. You also did work with the great Larry Coryell.

MS: I was part of Larry's band for seven years. Those CDs I did produce. I produced two CDs for Larry and I played on another one called New High (HighNote, 2000).

AAJ: What were the two records you produced for Larry?

MS: One of them was on CTI called I'll Be Over You (1995) and the other one was Sketches of Coryell (Shanachie, 1996). He liked my tunes. Larry recorded 10 of my tunes. That was one of the most important things that he gave me as a friend and a colleague.

AAJ: How did you get into producing records?

MS: Technology came around and I became pretty apt in the studio. I understand the technology pretty well. Rodney Jones and I actually had a little production company together where we produced some jingles and did some ghost writing for some stuff. We were always really savvy in that way. He's an intelligent and very smart musician. You kind of to be savvy here; the whole business changed. I was an acoustic player, playing classical music and freelancing on Broadway and the studios, then all the sudden the studio scene changed because MIDI came along and the computer thing opened up in the late '80s.

I got a record date in '86 and I was playing around with a MIDI vibraphone. I got a record with George Butler through Wynton. It wasn't through Wyton actually but it was through someone else who introduced me to George and kept saying, "George wants to sign you, George wants to sign you!" I didn't know whether to believe it or not and I said, "Well, let me meet with George and let me see what's going on."

Eventually it happened months later and when I met George he said he spoke to Wynton and asked if he knew me. George wanted to do something with vibes with a new young vibes player. So he did this record of mine called A New Balance (Columbia, 1986). It has a pop tune in it called "Changes in my Life" that many Filipinos and South East Asian people know because it was big hit there. Later in life I found out that it sold 60,000 CDs by someone else who recorded it and that it was a big hit there and that I was due all kinds of money. It's got 10 million views on YouTube—it's ridiculous. I make no money from it. I make shit money from it; it's ridiculous. Everybody in the Philippines posts videos of this song and that means 10 million people listen to this song for free. It's pretty messed up but it's all right, it's good publicity.

Some great things came from that record. "Changes in my Life" did very well but more importantly, I got a big publishing bump from it because 10 seconds of one cut that I did was picked up on General Hospital, the soap opera. It was just pulled out of the library. They somehow stumbled on my record and used it. It was just a stroke of luck. I made about $60,000 from publishing.

AAJ: Out of all the people you've played with as a sideman, which one jumps out at you the most?

MS: Certain ones you can't compare. The most influential on my life, career, and my development as a musician I would have to say Elvin, Saul Goodman, and Buster Bailey. If you're talking about my biggest influences as far as learning the music then Kenny Kirkland, Rodney Jones, and Mike Renzi. As far as superstar singers like Tony Bennett, they're great. It's been a privilege to play on a Tony Bennett record or a play a little tour with Liza Minelli as a percussionist.

They're just fun gigs. The most important stuff—for me—are the jazz gigs, and they rank a little higher for me. The ability to be able to play who you are... you can quote me on this: I'm just trying to play the truth of who I am. That's what it's all about; when you're just trying to play the truth of who you are. And the truth of who I am turns out not to be a full time percussionist playing freelance gigs with Liza Minelli, Broadway shows, jingles, and studio work. They're all good and fun to do sometimes when there's a craft to it and a true art to doing it well. But at a certain point you have to make a commitment to something and at a certain point I made my commitment to playing jazz and the educational profile. I like teaching and I like doing workshops. I have a great system for improvisation that I use to teach people how to negotiate changes and I enjoy bringing it to them.

AAJ: Let's move on to Project Them, your newest album with your old high school classmate, Bob Francheschini.

MS: As you know, Bob is one of the most consummate horn players on the scene. He's always been one of my favorite players, and we went to high school together. We used to listen to Coltrane on 11. Paint was peeling off the walls of his apartment when we listened to Coltrane when we were young. We're one and the same. We come from the same place and we were both chosen to play this music. I kind of feel like you're chosen in life for this.

We were young together and we always wanted to have a thing together. We had a thing together a long time ago when we were younger, but now that we're older we finally found a way to get it. So we started a band [with] Lenny White
Lenny White
Lenny White
b.1949
drums
—I had this manager in Europe and he wanted me to get very high profile drummer. I had a lot of records out with a quartet that I've had for many years with Allen Farnham
Allen Farnham
b.1961
, Dean Johnson, and Tim Horner
Tim Horner
Tim Horner

drums
. It's a beautiful quartet. we played some beautiful music, and recorded some great records. We've had Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
as a guest and Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
as a guest, but I guess they really wanted a high profile name drummer.

So I got Lenny White who I met on a record date with David Chesky
David Chesky
David Chesky
b.1956
piano
. We did this unique record of percussion with Lenny, Jamey Haddad, and me. The [music] was all improvised.

AAJ: Explorations in Time and Space (Chesky, 2011) right?

MS: Yeah, it's kind of an interesting out project that Dave put together. We did that and I got close with Lenny because we hung in the studio for two days. So I called [White] for Project Them and we went to Europe for a nice tour. We did about 10 days worth of gigs and it was great. When we got back, we had another tour and for logistical reasons we had to switch to Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
b.1955
drums
because Lenny wasn't available. Adam and I bonded really strongly. We come from Elvin and we come from the same place in many ways and it was just fun.

Coincidentally, we ended up recording at the end of nine concerts with that band with Adam and Martin Gjakonovski who was the bassist. We got Martin because we needed a European bassist [due] to the budget. Martin had played with Adam on some other situations and I decided [Gjakonovski] would be a good call. So we went with him and we did the tour—both with Lenny and Adam. He's an excellent bassist and he lives in Cologne, Germany.

[Gjakonovski] did the two tours and the end of the second tour we just recorded. We did another tour this year; we returned about a month and a half ago from Europe for about eight days in Switzerland. The record is doing okay.

AAJ: Congratulations on the new record again. Is there anything coming up in the near future for you?

MS: I'm waiting to find out if I'm going to have a record date to find out if I'm going to play with Kenny Barron. It's possible that we might do a CD. I'm hoping that will pan out and we have a few other gigs for other promoters. We'll see what happens; that would be fun.

I'm also touring this summer with Project Them and we're also touring somewhere else in the world—I don't know where—in November. We have some new agents that are working for us. I think we're also playing Blues Alley in May? I also have to finish out the school year. I have a lot of students coming to my house for private lessons.

AAJ: Are they mostly from Juilliard or are they students from outside the school as well?

MS: They're additional private students and I teach from Skype too. I have a lot in my studio plus I go to Juilliard to teach vibes. I also teach at Jersey City and at New York Jazz Workshop where I [teach] their combo on Monday nights for two hours. So it's a bunch of teaching and it keeps me busy when I'm in town. It's going well; I love teaching and I learn from it. I feel like I learn when I teach. I practice a lot... when I can.

Selected Discography
Tim Hegarty, Tribute (Miles High, 2014);
Project Them, Project Them (Miles High, 2013);
Mark Sherman, The L.A Sessions (Miles High, 2012);
Jerry Costanzo
Jerry Costanzo
Jerry Costanzo
b.1959
vocalist
, Can't We Be Friends (Daywood Drive, 2011)
Lenny White, Mark Sherman, Jamey Haddad, Explorations In Space And Time (Chesky, 2011;)
Mark Sherman, Good Rhythm Good Vibes (Miles High, 2010);
Mark Sherman, Family First (Miles High, 2007);
Lena Horne, Seasons of a Life(Blue Note, 2006);
Mark Sherman, One Step Closer (Miles High, 2005);
Mark Sherman, The Motive Series (Miles High, 2004);
Ronny Jordan
Ronny Jordan
Ronny Jordan
1962 - 2014
guitar
, After 8 (Blue Note, 2004);
Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann Hampton Callaway
Ann Hampton Callaway
b.1959
vocalist
, Slow (Schanachie, 2004);
Liza Minelli, Liza's Back (J Records, 2002);
Rodney Jones, Undiscovered Few (Blue Note, 1999);
Mark Sherman, Spiral Staircase (Miles High, 1999);
Mark Sherman, Spiral Staircase (Miles High, 1998);
Larry Coryell, Sketches of Coryell (Schanachie, 1996);
Larry Coryell, I'll Be Over You (CTI, 1994);
Ruth Brown, Songs Of My Life (Fantasy, 1993);
Peggy Lee, Love Held Slightly (Capitol, 1993);
Peggy Lee, Peggy Lee Songbook:There Will Never Be Another Spring (Musicmasters, 1990);
Peggy Lee, Miss Peggy Lee Sings The Blues (Musiscmasters, 1988);
Mark Sherman, A New Balance (Columbia, 1986);
Mark Sherman, Fulcrum Point (Unisphere, 1980).

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