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Take Five with Mark Wade

Mark Wade By

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Meet Mark Wade

Voted one of the top bassists of 2016, 2018, and 2019 in the prestigious Downbeat Magazine Reader's Poll, Mark Wade has been active in the NYC area for over 20 years. His debut album Event Horizon (2015) and follow up release Moving Day (2018) received international acclaim, and Moving Day was picked as the Album of the Year for 2018 by Something Else Reviews. Wade has received numerous features, reviews and interviews about his recordings and has written master class articles for Downbeat Magazine which appeared in the July 2015 and August 2018 issues. Wade will be releasing a solo bass album internationally on September 18, 2020 on AMP Music & Records (Norway) entitled Songs From Isolation. He has played with notable jazz artists such as James Spaulding, Jimmy Heath, Conrad Herwig, Harry Whitaker, Pete McGuinness, Peter Eldridge, Don Byron, and appeared on The Today Show with Stacey Kent. Mark Wade is a faculty member of the Lehigh University jazz program.

Instruments:

I play a four string acoustic bass made by Rudolf Fiedler 2007, a five string acoustic bass circa early 1900's maker unknown, and two custom electric basses made by John Calkin circa 1993.

Teachers and/or influences?

I started playing music on the electric bass when I was just starting high school. I did not have any teachers or formal music education at the time. For three years, I learned by listening to recordings, finding sheet music, and playing in bands. At the time, I was living in Long Valley, New Jersey and there were no bass teachers in the area for me to study with. I was very driven early on and I practiced for a few hours almost every day. About a year before I started college, I started studying with bassist Andrew Harkin. I was in a band at that time and all of us were under age. We had snuck into a bar that had an open mic session and Andrew was the bassist in the house band that night. It turned out that he had been on the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music and had played with several high level jazz and pop musicians like Ravi Shankar, Dave Liebman, and Peter Gabriel. Weekly lessons with Andrew lasted about three hours. It was an intense period of study, but in six months he had prepared me to successfully audition for the jazz program at New York University.

At NYU, I spent four years studying with bassist Mike Richmond. This was around the time that Mike was playing with Miles Davis. Mike has been a tremendous influence on me both on and off the bandstand. At his prompting I switched to studying the acoustic bass about halfway through my second year at school. He set a very high standard to strive for as a musician, whether it was developing your skill set on the instrument, being responsible and reliable as a sideman, or having a good attitude even when things weren't at their best. These were all crucial things that contributed to me having the career I have today.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

There was no single moment when I decided I was going to be a musician. It was a realization that came on slowly over time. I started coming to that realization very early on soon after I started playing the electric bass at the age of 14. By time I was 17, I knew I wanted to go to school for music and take my shot at making it my career.  

Your sound and approach to music.

My approach to music is to always strive to play it at the highest level that I can. I get called to play jazz gigs, classical gigs, and more commercial type gigs on electric bass on a regular basis. For me, the best gig is not predicated on a certain style of music, but how well the music is played and the intent behind it. I love jazz music, and it's not by accident that the music that I write and perform in my own trio is jazz music. Still, my requirement for music to be great is not whether or not I'm improvising over chord changes, but how much integrity and substance the music has. Having those high level experiences playing music is the single biggest thing that motivates me to play, regardless of the genre.  

Your teaching approach

I believe it's my responsibility as a teacher to do everything I can to make sure my students get the best education they can. That means more than just giving them information. Anyone can learn fingerings and scale patterns out of a book. A vital part of teaching is imparting a sense of excitement and enthusiasm to a student—excitement for the music and for the process of learning how to play it. Sharing your excitement about the music as a professional is one of the best gifts you can give your students. It's not the gift they are usually looking for when they come to you, but it's one that can help sustain them long after they leave your teaching studio.

No two students are alike, and no two students learn exactly the same way. To be an effective teacher, one must constantly have empathy for where that student is coming from and how they best respond to learning. Sometimes, it may mean taking a firmer tone to motivate a student to focus. Other times exactly the opposite thing is needed. Just as a doctor writes different prescriptions for different patients depending on their need, a good teacher has to have a flexible and varied approach to teaching.

Your dream band

I've been asked this question before, and I've yet to come up with a definitive line up. Certainly, it would be great to work with a legendary artists like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, etc. Throughout my career, I've always wanted to work with players who are on a higher level than I was at the time, because I found those to be some of the best learning experiences. So for me, any dream band would be made up of the best possible musicians.

Bands are funny things though. The best bands aren't simply a product of a collection of great musicians. Great bands have a certain chemistry that exist between the players that helps the band become greater than the sum of its parts. So if I were to put together a dream band, it wouldn't be as easy as listing a bunch of famous musicians. It's a question as to which players complement one another the best. Does a certain combination of players create that "it" factor? Does their musical personalities give the music a special flow and direction? For my own band, I know that our ability to effectively communicate comes from the specific combination of the three of us and our shared musical vision. It also helps that Tim Harrison (piano) and Scott Neumann (drums) have been with me now for over six years. There is some chemistry that can't be manufactured overnight.  

Road story: Your best or worst experience

About three years ago, I had my first gigs in Europe as a leader. I was scheduled to fly from New York to Luxembourg, connecting through Lisbon. My agent would pick me up in Luxembourg and drive me to the first concert that night at a cultural center in Belgium. To be on the safe side, I had scheduled a 3 1/2 hour layover in Lisbon before I flew onto Luxembourg in case there were any problems with the connection. If all went according to plan, I'd be able to meet the musicians I would be playing with that night for the first time a few hours before the concert and have a chance to go through the music before we hit the stage.

The flight from New York to Lisbon went off without any problems, but when I got to Lisbon there was an exceedingly long line at passport control. With a 3 1/2 hour layover, I wasn't too concerned at first. But as the clock started to tick down, I noticed that after an hour of waiting on the line it hadn't really moved. Apparently the customs officers had changed shift, but the replacement crew never showed up. Finally two officers showed up but the line at that point had at least 200 people in it. Another hour went by and I began to wonder if I was going to miss my connection flight. I was down to 10 minutes before my next flight by time I finally got through customs.

I ran to the gate for the next flight only to find the plane had just left. I then went to a very crowded re-booking desk where the party in front of me almost came to blows with the agents. When I got to the desk, the agents told me that there were no more flights to Luxembourg from Lisbon. They did rebook me on a flight to Porto where I could then connect onto Luxembourg.

I got to Luxembourg several hours late. It meant a speedy drive to the hotel in Belgium where I dropped my bag off and was further delayed as I tried to figure out how to work the shower in the hotel room. I thought it ironically funny that after years of practice, my career was going to be undone by a shower faucet. We then raced to the concert hall where I met the band, and ran through the music for about a half hour. We then left the stage for 20 minutes as the audience entered, before coming back to play the concert. Looking back, it's a miracle the concert ever happened. Fortunately, things have been easier since then!

Favorite venue

This question is simple. My favorite venue to perform in is Carnegie Hall. I played there for the first time about six years ago. The concert was a joint venture between a contemporary NYC music ensemble called the Orchestra of the SEM and the Janacek Philharmonic from the Czech Republic. It was an incredible group of musicians playing very contemporary classical music. The main piece on the concert was something by John Cage which lasted over an hour on its own. everything about the hall is so special. The stage itself has to have the best acoustics in the world. Standing on that stage, looking out at that room, and thinking of all of the amazing music played there over the years was definitely one of the highlights of my career. Some people don't realize that Carnegie Hall is a huge building with several floors and many backstage areas and the entire backstage area has been redone and modernized. Everything about it was very special for me.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

It's always hard to pick just one, but I would pick Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil. Wayne is probably the biggest influence on me as a composer. I've always admired his sense of melody. He has a wonderful way of communicating a strong musical idea without any extra notes. To me, that's the sign of a great composer. The opening track of this album "Witchhunt" is a prime example of that. Of course, the playing on the album is first rate too.  

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

The most important thing that I am contributing is the most important thing anyone can contribute musically—making music that is an honest and personal statement. Whether or not people enjoy my particular statement is up to them. The best thing I can do is make music that is truly a reflection of my personality and let others decide how that resonates with them.

Did you know...

An interesting trivia fact about me is that I've moved 15 times over the course of my life thus far. I was born in Livonia, Michigan and lived in South Bend, Indiana twice, Westlake, Ohio, and southern Tennessee all by the time I was seven years old. After that I moved to New Jersey, living in Long Valley and Morristown before moving to New York City for college. I then moved several places around the city and now reside in Long Island City in the New York City borough of Queens.  

The first jazz album I bought was:

The first album that I picked up was miles Davis's Miles Smiles. That's a pretty advanced album to start off with, and I'll confess I wasn't too sure what was happening when I first listened to it. Sill, there was something there that interested me and I did my best to take something from it. It's an album I always came back to as I moved forward with my jazz studies, so it's been one of my favorites and a major musical influence.  

Music you are listening to now:

Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Verve Music Group)
Dave Holland Quintet: Prime Directive (ECM)
Ari Hoenig: The Pauper and the Magician (Self Produced)

Desert Island picks:

Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil (Blue Note)
Miles Davis: Miles Smiles (Columbia)
Miles Davis: Sketches Of Spain (Columbia)
Bill Evans: Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside)
Led Zeppelin: Presence (Swan Song)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Right now the country is gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, so the immediate concern is when jazz performances will start again, and what will the landscape look like when they do return. It's no secret that even in the best of times the music business can be a challenging thing to maneuver. Exactly how things will be going forward is anyone's guess. The one thing that I believe will remain a constant is that music that comes from a uniquely personal place that is played at a high level will eventually rise to the top. That's something that was true before, is true now, and will be true regardless of how things pan out with the difficulties we face today.  

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

I think the key is to keep exposing this music to new audiences. I run a small nonprofit called New Music Horizons which promotes the music of emerging and mid-career jazz and classical composers. We present concerts that feature only new music. I am constantly surprised at how receptive audiences are to new jazz music if you just give them access to the concerts and offer a little explanation about what they're going to hear. I think it's a fallacy that people don't like jazz, particularly new jazz. I think that making an effort to meet audiences halfway goes a long way to building new fan bases and spreading the joy of this music.  

What is in the near future?

I will be releasing a new album on September 18, 2020 through AMP Music & Records entitled Songs From Isolation. The album features music performed solely on the acoustic and electric bass. This is a visual album that I filmed and recorded myself at home while on lockdown this spring. The videos will get a special public performance on August 12 online through the Center for Jazz and Popular Music in Durban, South Africa.  

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

I wouldn't say that I approach any performances with fear, but I would say I'm always eager to do my best whenever I play. I put in countless hours of practice to hone my craft and like any musician, I want the results of all that hard work to be evident during the performance.  

What song would you like played at your funeral?

One of the variations from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations would be my choice. That particular variation is entitled "Nimrod." It is both uplifting and melancholy at the same time and transverses a remarkable sonic range in a short period of time. Hiring a full orchestra for the funeral might be a little expensive, so I better start saving now.  

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I don't sing or whistle in general, but I do find that inspiration tends to strike me for new song ideas while I'm in the shower. I have no idea why that is.  

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Whenever someone asks me if they should go for a career in the music business, I tell them that if there is anything else they could possibly do and be happy with, they should consider it. The music business isn't for people who want to do it, it's for people who have to do it. There is nothing else I can possibly think of that I could do and be happy with besides being a musician.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I read history books in my spare time and am fascinated with a number of historical subjects. If the movies have taught us anything though, it's that speaking to someone in the past will ruin the present day, so I'm going to pass on this one.

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