It's been more than a year now since Mark Sholtez's debut album Real Street
(Verve, 2006) was released. Exciting things have happened since, mainly in his home country of Australia. Real Street
celebrated ten weeks in a row at the number one position on the Jazz and Blues Album Charts
, and was also nominated for the Aria Awards
in the category of Best Jazz Album. To bring things somewhat full circle, Sholtez then proudly accepted the 2007 APRA Music Award
for Most Performed Jazz Work.
Sholtez is more than happy to look back on an exhilarating period of his life, in which his career got a well- deserved turbo boost. Let's face it, not every aspiring artist out there is given the opportunity to sign with Verve Records and record with some of the finest jazz musicians available in less than a week. Because that's what it took for a tape with rough mixes to end up on chairman Tommy LiPuma's desk, resulting in a long distance phone call to Brisbane, Australia.
"Before signing a record deal and recording Real Street, I had always looked at that as the ultimate goal," explains Sholtez. "When you're trying to make a living working the clubs and writing and recording in your spare time, to get it all to come together can seem like such an unlikely reality at times. For me, that's what made it hard to think too far beyond that.
"The biggest change for me, once Real Street was actually released, was the realization that I had, in fact, just arrived at the beginning of my music career. After more than ten years of working hard to get it together I was finally standing on the starting line.
"Now, as I get ready to go into the studio to record a new album, it's interesting to look back on the past year or so and think about all the cool things I've gotten to do. Like playing the Sydney Opera House opening for Diana Krall and touring with George Benson and Al Jarreau. And also, it was very cool meeting people that have made a genuine connection to the songs on Real Street. It's a treat when you're meeting people after a show and someone tells you that they recently got married and they used one of your songs as their bridal waltz; or they walked down the aisle to one of your songs or something like that. I had one guy tell me that he proposed to his girlfriend at one of my shows!
"I'm at the point now," Sholtez concludes, "where I'm closing the book on Real Street and focusing on the new songs and the new recording. To know the first album has a life of its own now and will continue to play a part in someone's life somewhere is exciting. It motivates me to want to make more music."
There's a huge difference in recording an album and performing live, that's why not all recording artists are comfortable onstage. Studio perfection can easily hide what can go wrong in a live performance; artistic and technical standards often aren't an issue in a studio environment, while the real-time situation onstage demands more from a musician than just to play an instrument and/or sing.
The skill of entertainment has become a discipline in its own right. Recorded music doesn't necessarily require a band to play their parts together. Onstage, musicians really need to be able to rely on their colleagues to deliver the goods as a collective, so the audience will be content. And this is just looking from the gloomy side. In Sholtez's case, it wasn't so much the pressure of living up to the quality recording of his debut album (a stellar cast of musicians, vibrant arrangements of original material) as it was to continue as a performer who happened to have been the first Australian artist to sign with the prestigious Verve label.
Does Sholtez work with a steady band, or different musicians? What are his ambitions and dreams in this direction, about playing his music live? What qualities should a musician have, to make a great live performance? And does Sholtez like to play his songs the way they were recorded, or is there room for improvisation?
"Whenever I go to see a band or an artist live," Sholtez says, "I'm always hoping to hear something new, that you won't be listening to the album or get to watch a music video. Different arrangements or stories about what inspired the songs, or even some quirky cover that sheds some light on what the artist is listening to themselves. When I perform, I try to stay true to that. I think it's really important to let the audience get to know you. Like how they get to see me on stage isn't too different from hanging out with me at home, for example.