Mark Soskin: Challenges Welcome
He adds, "It's a challenge to me. It's one part of my compositional practice to take a tune and make it my own. That was part of the idea on this. I have three compositions on there. I like writing for projects. So this thing gets me to do that. I do more writing when I have certain projects. Usually it's harder for me to just go to the piano and write. There has to be something that will get me out there."
Once he's out there, his compositions are always pleasing. Well-thought-out and creative, like all his projects that he handles with a broad experience base behind him. Soskin started playing piano as a child
Music was around in his house and jazz influences like Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Stanley Cowell, Bud Powell, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett and others took hold. At Colorado State University, Soskin started off as a language major, but switched to becoming a music major and transferred to Berklee School of Music. He left and moved to San Francisco, where the music scene was flourishing. He played with Joe Henderson and others and encountered Orrin Keepnews at Fantasy Records. Keepnews brought him to Sonny Rollins, and thus began one of Soskin's greatest musical experiences.
Since then, his career has been strong. He has been recording regularly and keeping himself busy in a variety of ways, including working with Vitro to interpret the music of Neman, a pop/folk/movie score writer and performer. "That's a small band with violin and some guitar. Steve Cardenas plays guitar on [the recording]. The violinist is a young woman named Sarah Caswell. Roseanna is doing the vocals. I also did a lot of writing for that. Rethinking that kind of idea. Randy Newman stuff. I re- worked a lot of that, definitely, in terms of feel and harmony. That's really a challenge, because a bunch of those songs are so simple. And a lot of the lyrics are talking. They're more spoken. So, it's tricky. But that's a challenge I also like."
His schedule includes concerts in Europe, as well as a gig at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania on September 8th, with Matt Wilson and Joel Frahm.
"I've been doing different kind of band formats. Some larger, some smaller. I love the diversity. The duo thing I really like. You have a lot of flexibility and you can go a lot of different places. And solo piano playingI've done a few records with solo piano. I like doing that stuff," he says.
Soskin also enjoys teaching, which he does at Manhattan School of Music. "The kids are inspiring. That's been nice for me. They're all playing at such a high level, it's astounding. I like being a part of that side of music, to give something back and tell my stories. Sometimes I'll come out of a day of teaching there, and my eyes will be open because they're playing such great stuff. I try to encourage them, inspire them and get them motivated. I'll provide the spark and give them different ideas and criticisms, try to steer them in the right direction and keep them open-minded, as well as trying to instill adaptability in them. [I] try to tell them that if they are adaptable to many kinds of situations, not only is it good for their musical side, it's also practical. It will help them work more if you can play in a lot of different situations."
So Soskin remains busy on the New York City music scene in spite of changes in the club scene and the music industry. "Everything has been really good. I can't complain," he notes. "The fact that I have a record contract is a good thing, too. In this day and age, that seems to happen less and less. I'm glad a record company has been behind me. It's great."
Most importantly, jazz music still enthralls the pianist. It makes him eager to take on the challenges of which he speaks. "As I said to Sonny when I last spoke to him, I'm more into now than I ever was. And I've always been very much into playing. I'm more into now than I ever was, even from the practicing element. I'm more into honing my craft than I ever was. And thankfully that's never going to end. Because you always want to keep searching and trying to improve the craft. It gets deeper."