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Meet Mark Weber

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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Maybe I'm like those early 20th-century country folk who would walk ten miles just to see some guy in a suit (Coleman Hawkins, let's say) play a shiny saxophone? There's a nobility to this music, and you just want to be wherever it is manifesting. —Mark Weber
Almost every aspect of Mark Weber's life ends up intersecting with jazz; he just might be the original Renaissance jazz fan. A former wedding photographer, he found himself photographing nearly every jazz musician to pass through Los Angeles and Albuquerque in the past several decades and, without planning to, ended up writing for CODA, deejaying a jazz radio show, and even performing his poetry with improvising musicians. Plus, he's got all the stories, and shares an awfully good one with us here.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and spent my first 32 years there—1953-1986. I'm at that age where friends are retiring and I'm still wondering what my job is supposed to be that I can "retire" from. I'm a career bohemian, I guess. Although, unlike my hero, Maynard G Krebs, I wasn't shy of work. I always say I've worked on land, sea, and air. As a kid I mowed lawns. I've built houses, worked shipping and receiving, worked on oil derricks in the Gulf of Mexico, been a wedding photographer and auto mechanic, and worked at the post office, and all the while I was a writer. When my hometown newspaper, The Daily Report, turned me down, I realized that was providential, as I would hate to turn something I love so much into drudgery. Sort of how I wound up writing the L.A. column for CODA for 18 years. I had no desire to be a jazz writer, but hanging out on the scene, I drew the short straw and was sent to infiltrate the magazine, mostly wanting to make myself useful—I was 22 at the time and even though I had swallowed jazz whole, I still had a lot to learn. But house painting is what I did here in Albuquerque. My wife, Janet, and I moved here in 1991, and I did that for 15 years or so, and loved it. It's relaxing. I painted a lot of houses. Walking along with Leroy Jenkins after he was a guest on my radio show, heading for my truck, I pointed out three houses I had painted, and he tried to talk me into painting his place in Brooklyn. I wish I had taken him up on that, he was serious.

What's your earliest memory of music?
This is sort of Freudian isn't it? My friend, the violinist Eileen Sullivan, told me that when she was pregnant she used to listen to this Mozart horn concerto she was studying, and after her son was born, one day she happened to be listening to the recording of that same horn concerto and her son, who had been playing with friends in the yard came inside and went to Eileen and hugged her and laid down in her lap.

How old were you when you got your first record?
Must have been early seventh grade. It was Paul Revere and the Raiders. I wish I could say Coltrane or Bartok, but that was a few years down the line. I grew up in the Top 40 AM transistor radio era. Much earlier in my life we had a 78 player in an antique console, but by the mid-60s there was no record player in our house, so with paper route earnings I bought a little $17 box 3-speed turntable. I actually had my first album (Mr. Revere) before I had a record player! Maybe I just liked looking at them dressed in revolutionary war uniforms on the cover?

But I was mostly a radio listener. AM radio for a few years: I'd sit on the edge of my bed and set the transistor radio next to me tuned to KHJ or KRLA and rock back and forth for hours. (I'm what psychologists call a rocker; we'd have to flip the mattress, as there was a depression where I wore out the springs. Nowadays, every once in a great while I'll spot a kid rocking in the back seat of his parents' car and wonder what in the Sam Hill is wrong with that weirdo.) By seventh grade my parents had bought one of those "contempo moderne" pieces of furniture that had a stereo in it, and late at night I'd listen to FM radio quietly—like listening to Radio Free America, right? It was a pure stroke of luck that I was within earshot of one of the early "underground radio" stations: KPPC out of Pasadena, California, where I was completely brought up to speed on the boho scene: The psychedelic '60s in full swing, this station focused mostly on folkies, blues, rock, and a smattering of jazz. I heard Bird for the first time on this station, and Lord Buckley, Ken Nordine, Lenny Bruce. In 1969 I bought my first stereo component system and headphones so I could listen, and one Christmas my parents bought me a Boston rocker, so I spent my high school years wearing out the carpet in my rocking chair with my headphones on.

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