A Fireside Chat With Mark Whitecage
All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.
Mark Whitecage: Well, my father was a pianist and he wanted his own band. So my older brother played trumpet and my sister sang, she came next and then I came after that. I wanted a trombone, but I couldn't reach what first position is and so they got me a little curved soprano sax and that got me started. I was six at that time. I couldn't reach anything else. I remember when I went into the Army when I was eighteen, I tried to give it up. I tried to stop playing. I remember writing my father a letter, I was up in Seattle, and I wrote him a letter to send me my tenor because I couldn't deal without it. It was the only time in my life, between the years eighteen and nineteen, I spent a year without it, but after that, I've always played. I use it for my salvation. It keeps me honest. There is no way you can fake it. The kind of music we're making is very honest stuff. There is no pretense to it, so as long as I play everyday, I am being true to everything that I believe in. Music is therapy too. I couldn't live without it. Ellington said, 'Music was my mistress.' It is my life.
MW: Well, I started off with Lee Konitz and Charlie Parker. This was in the Fifties. I was in high school. We always had, I remember, we had a record at home called Little Jazz. I was two or three and I think I recognized that record. It was Roy Eldridge. They used to call him Little Jazz. I knew I was little and I thought that that was cool. That probably got me listening to those guys, Ben Webster and Lester Young and all that. It was actually the golden age of what I consider the best time there was in jazz. There was so much incredible stuff happening that I used to hitchhike from Litchfield, Connecticut to the town Torrington, which had the only record shop. They had Jazz at the Philharmonic and the Kenton records. Stan Getz was going to Sweden and making those things with Lars Gullin (Stockhome Sessions '58) and all that stuff. That was right in the middle of all that stuff when I was in high school.
FJ: That flies in the face of critical convention, most of whom would cite Ornette as your primary influence.
MW: Well, I've gone all ways. I've learned everything I could. At one time, I was a very good lead alto player in a big band. I read the big band charts. We worked around Connecticut and New Hampshire and stuff doing the dances and things like that. I played both tenor and alto in the bands and I learned, I'm a very good reader, so I learned the basic working man. I didn't go to school and learn all the stuff that they guys are doing at Berklee now and study and analyze everything. I learned everything by doing it. I think I probably played everything but klezmer. I haven't got klezmer yet, but I added Latin jazz when I played with Patato a few years ago. In fact, we had them together with our band and it was incredible. But I play every kind of music there is, Fred.
FJ: Currently, what are your primary instruments?
MW: My main kit right now is the clarinet, soprano, and alto. I passed my alto clarinet. I can do that. I still play alto clarinet once in a while, but I'm not about it. I use a lot of pedals, a lot of electronics, especially with my clarinet. That is basically my kit right now.
FJ: Let's touch on two of your projects, Liquid Time and the Glass House Ensemble.