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Take Five With Markus Schwartz


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Meet Markus Schwartz: Markus Schwartz is a percussionist specializing in traditional Haitian drum music. Markus has traveled extensively throughout Haiti in order to learn the music directly from the source. Markus is a first-call percussionist in the Haitian music community in NYC and has performed and recorded with Haitian artists such as Mozayik (Afro-Haitian jazz quintet), Emeline Michel, Beethova Obas, Azor, Foula, Dadi Beaubrun (Boukman Eksperyans) and Wyclef Jean, among many others. He currently resides in Brooklyn, NY.

Instrument(s): Haitian Drums (Rada, Petwo, Nago, Rara and others), congas, bongo, shekere, misc. percussion.

Teachers and/or influences? Some of my teachers thus far have included: Joe Platz, Raymond Graham, Johnny Scovel, Kendrick Freeman, Mario Jauregua (Conjunto Folklorico Nacional De Cuba) Jean Raymond Giglio, Bonga and Tiga Jean-Baptiste, Aboudja, master drummers of the Haitian countryside Lakou-s of Souvenance, Soukri, and Badjo, John Amira, Fanfan Damas Louis, Daniel Brevil and Chembo Corniel.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... Ever since I could remember. I was fortunate enough to be raised in a "jazz" household... my father brought me to jazz concerts from the time I was in diapers, and jazz music of all kinds was the constant soundtrack in our home. I have always played an instrument, beginning with recorder, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, and then I fell in love with percussion at about twenty years of age, which is when i began to get serious about learning.

Your sound and approach to music: Traditional drum music of any culture is a language. This is especially true of African-based drum music. I approach learning and playing in this way. Learning the "vocabulary" of the drums and rhythms is crucial to getting inside the music and being able to "speak" authentically.

I also continue to develop my technique/chops, polyrhythmic development, etc.— knowing that whatever advances I can make in my technique and conceptual understanding of rhythm and time will show up in my playing organically.

My main objective with my instrument and music is to find my own unique voice. I think this is the highest expression one can hope for.

Your teaching approach: Traditional drums carry the history, the culture, the language, the spirituality... the identity of the people. Respect for tradition and the culture from which the music comes from should be a part of the study. Learning this music, which is passed down in the form of oral tradition, is an apprenticeship, and teaching it is both an honor and an obligation.

It should also be fun! I try to be sensitive to the students' goals and capabilities, tailoring the study to fit the individual, yet still imparting a sense of respect for the subject matter along the way.

Your dream band: I am very fortunate to be a member of MOZAYIK. These guys are a dream to work with. They are all serious musicians, and the collective feeling in the band is one of unity and brotherhood. Eddy Bourjolly (guitar), Gashford Guillaume (drum set), Gene Torres (bass) and Welmyr Jn-Pierre (piano).

I recently got to work alongside one of my Haitian drum heroes: AZOR. He is perhaps the best-known drummer and singer in the Haitian roots/folklore world. It was a dream come true to sit next to him and play together. He's a great guy, as well as extremely talented.

Favorite venue: In the New York area—Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Mozayik has played two weeks of late sets there in the past two years, so I have played that room ten times so far. It's an amazing room to play in, the staff is extremely pleasant and the acoustics are excellent, and being in Lincoln Center is a privilege. I would also mention Carnegie Hall as a very memorable venue!

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? I would have to say that I am most proud of the Haitian Creole Jazz Project on ZOHO, but both Mozayik CDs are groundbreaking works. The band basically came up with our own original style of music, which is not an easy task!

I am also proud to have been included other Haitian artists' projects who I admire very much, such as Emeline Michel, Dadi Beaubrun and Wyclef Jean.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I would have to say that I am attempting to create my own unique style of playing Haitian drums and rhythms in a jazz context. I have worked very hard on my setup—using the traditional drums and combining them in a way that I don't think has been done before, as well as my approach to playing them. It's a work in progress, but the highest compliment I have been paid thus far came from a DJ in Haiti with a daily jazz show on the largest radio station in Haiti: Daniel Marcelin from Radio Metropole. The first time we met (after the first Mozayik CD came out) was at a Mozayik show here in NY. Daniel told me at he was able to recognize my drumming style and sound, and that it was unique. I think that's what jazz is supposed to be all about; taking the tradition and somehow adding your own voice to it, hopefully contributing a little tiny something back to the tradition along the way.

Did you know... I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. My birthday is September 23 (Equinox like John Coltrane!). My dog can climb trees.

How do you use the internet to help your career? I recently (finally!) set up a MySpace page which has helped me network with a lot of musicians and fans.

I maintain Mozayik's website and email list, which we constantly update with pictures, music clips and more.

I am working on getting some YouTube videos going next.

CDs you are listening to now: Angels in the Mirror (Ellipsis Arts); Mizik Tradisyonel d'Ayiti (series) (Crowing Rooster); Jacques Schwarz-Bart, Sone Ka La (Universal France); Gregorio "El Goyo" Hernandez, La Rumba es Cubana (Egrem); Coro Folklorico Cubano. En Un Solar Habanero (Egrem).

Desert Island picks: Hopefully i would get stranded with my iPod!

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Jazz ain't dead, but it sure smells funny (Frank Zappa).

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Music programs in public schools.

Make live jazz accessible to all (price-wise).

What is in the near future? 3rd Annual Haitian Jazz Festival is scheduled for November at Lincoln Center in NYC.

I'm currently working on a solo project and hope to also collaborate with many of the talented artists I have been fortunate enough to work with in the past years.

By Day: Print Graphic Design (currently freelancing at an ad agency). Also teaching private drum classes, along with the gigs and studio sessions.

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