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Mark Sherman: Truth Of Who I Am

DanMichael Reyes By

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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 and the late Michael Brecker, Sherman the sideman has played alongside some of America's most iconic voices like Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, and Mel Torme. 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, Rufus Reid, Carl Allen, 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 and Charlie Parker through my friend's father. I eventually studied with Elvin Jones downtown and began attending The High School of Music and Art (now known as LaGuardia High) with Kenny Washington, Ray Chew, Omar Hakim, Bob Franceschini, and a whole slew of people. We had an incredible band in high school with Bobby Broom, Lenny Castro, and Marcus Miller on bass. We all grew up together at LaGuardia High School. I went to Manhattan Prep on Saturdays where I met Kenny Kirkland and Rodney Jones 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 and McCoy Tyner. 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 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? 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 was another close friend of mine who was my roommate in college. He's played with Wayne Shorter and Stan Getz. 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.
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