Mark Soskin listened to a litany of great jazz pianists growing up in Brooklyn and attending Colorado State University, where he was pursing classical studies before the jazz influences ushered in a switch to Berklee College of Music in the 1970s. The various styles and approaches to music went into forming his musical personality, as did listening to saxophone players. The result, over the years, has been Soskin's presence as an outstanding pianist offering his skills and sensibilities to a wide array of settings with the likes of Joe Henderson, Randy Brecker, Billy Cobham, Buster Williams, Eddie Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Mann, John Abercrombie, Claudio Roditi, Sheila Jordan, Gato Barbieri, "Fathead" Newman, Mark Murphy, Slide Hampton, Bobby Watson and more.
But some of Soskin's most memorable listening experiences may have been those of Sonny Rollins. Soskin's most high-profile gig was the 14 years he spent with the saxophone colossus, so there were naturally many special moments. But more than that, he says, were countless moments of extemporaneous Rollins. Woodshed Rollins. Backstage. Behind the curtain. Before the gig. Fly on the wall. Those, too, made an impression.
"He was always practicing," Soskin says of Rollins. "We'd get to a venue and he'd be practicing up until the performance, practically. So often I'd here, from his dressing room, some great solo saxophone playing. It was just great to hear music being played on such a high levelone of the great jazz improvisers ever. Obviously, that crept into my playing. To this day it has. It strengthened a lot of aspects of my playing, which I really appreciated. There's nothing like being on the job, getting all this experience, and it happened to me at a pretty early age. I was very fortunate."
Soskin had moved to San Francisco after leaving Berklee and had already captured the ears of folks way out west, including those of producer Orrin Keepnews, with his impressive style and technique before hooking up with Rollins. Keepnews produced his first solo album, Rhythm Vision (Prestige) and eventually brought him to the attention of Rollins, who was recording for Fantasy. Since those days, Soskin has continued to grow as a player and as a composer. Back in the New York City for more than 25 years, he's been steadily recording and performing with superb musicians on the jazz scene.
But Soskin's playing and musicianship is somewhat under the radar, compared to a lot of the cats getting ink in the jazz media or getting widespread tour support. Be that as it may, a close listen reveals that Soskin is a player of touch, sensibility and imagination. He's in his prime and going strong, and evidence of that is his latest CD on Kind of Blue Records, One Hopeful Day, with some of the city'sand the idiom'sfinest musicians. The album of standards and Soskin originals shows not only his piano prowess, but writing and arranging skills. It's as solid a mainstream disk as was released in 2007.
"I'm always working on my stuff and creating new things," says Soskin. "Every chance I get, I'll practice and work on things." The night of this conversation, he was to play a club gig with the vibraphonist Dave Samuels. "That poses a challenge. I like that challenge too. Solo piano, that's another thing I continually work on." Different settings, Different musicians. It's all part of his experience.
Soskin has done ten albums as a leader and a few as co-leader over the years. He had a band with drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Chip Jackson, and had another co-led with Harvie S and Joe LaBarbera and Sheila Jordan. For the new disc, he brought in the prodigious talents of Chris Potter on sax, and rounded the rhythm section out with John Patitucci on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Guitarist John Abercrombie appears on some numbers.
"I had in mind already to do sort of a concept, which would be the music of various piano players. But over the course of time, that kind of morphed. Actually [the label] gave me quite a bit of freedom in choosing the repertoire, as well as the musicians. I had a bunch of different people in mind. As I saw the music coming together, I chose these people for their expertise," Soskin says. "To me, the drums are the most important pick first. If the drums aren't happening, the music will suffer. I definitely had in mind Bill Stewart. The other guys fell into place, really, like utilizing all the sound capabilities as I can."
"Also, my idea for this record was energy. To have a lot of the album have this energetic feel to it. That's what I wanted and it definitely came through on this."