Jazz interview with jazz bass guitarist Mark Egan. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Mark Egan: – I grew up in Brockton Massachusetts and started playing music in the 3rd grade at age 9. 1st I played guitar then switched to trumpet in the 4th grade. My father was a trumpet player in the Navy band.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the your musical instrument?
ME: – I studied trumpet starting in the 5th grade in Brockton Mass. and studied all thru junior high and high school. I also started to play bass when I was 16. I liked the music on the radio like Beatles, Cream, Hendrix. My trumpet teacher exposed me to Chet Baker and Maynard Fergusson. This was my first introduction to Jazz. I remember seeing Dizzy Gillespie and Clarke Terry on the Tonight show and really was interested in the way that they played. Also, during the early 1960’s, much of the pop music on the radio had horn players in the arrangements and I think that I was attracted to that. I played in R&B bands in horn sections during high school. I went to Miami University to studio jazz with Jerry Coker. I had many great teachers here and I also studied and played in bands with Jaco Pastorius.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
ME: – I am a huge fan of Miles Davis and always loved his sound. As a trumpet player I tried to emulate that sound. I also was influenced by Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker and many other jazz greats. I paid attention to the different styles and have always been curious about how different players have different sounds.
As far as developing my bass sound I carried a lot of the same sensibilities from being a trumpet player and applied it to my bass sound.
I was always experimenting with my bass sounds with different strings and amps and instruments. When I got my first fretless is when I really started to develop a particular sound. The fretless bass is similar to a cello in sound and with the correct technique can fulfill an upright bass sound and function. Of course there is no substitute for acoustic bass, especially in Jazz. I also play acoustic bass and studied at the University of Miami as well as with Dave Holland in New York when I moved to the city.
The sound that any musician creates from their instrument is inspired by their sensibilities and experiences. The more control that you have of the instrument in terms of technique and touch, the easier it is to shape the sound that you are hearing in your head. It really is similar to the way that we speak as humans. Usually we don’t think about how we are going to speak words, we just put thoughts together and speak. Our speaking voices have evolved from the language that we speak, the region that we grew up in and the accent that was in our household as we grew up. All of these conditions form our concept of the voice that we speak.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
ME: – I practice many different things. I usually am working on different projects that require that I learn the music that will be recorded or performed. I make exercises out of passages that are difficult to play. I also study classical music and like to play Bach Cello suites and violin sonatas and partitas. I also practice harmony and scales and have developed many exercises and studies from this exploration that I continue to study.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
ME: – I am exploring Melodic and harmonic minor scales and harmonies. I like to find patterns within the diatonic triads, seventh and ninth chords of each of those scales. I have written many songs inspired by these studies. I like to practice playing over scal modes (horizontally) and diatonic groupings of arpeggios (vertically).
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2017: <Dreaming Spirits>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. This year your fans like we can wait for a new album?
ME: – I’ve always wanted to record a project that used exotic percussion and was eastern sounding since I love Indian Music. I’ve been playing with Tabla player Arjun Bruggeman for ten years and we wanted to record a project that would feature bass and tabla. After we recorded the basic tracts in two days we decided to add guitar and Shane Theriot was the perfect player. This recording features the fretless bass as the orchestrations are very open. This allowed great dialog between the three musicians. Much of the initial recordings were improvisations based on ideas that Arjun and I brought to the session. Things like a particular groove that we wanted to play and different tempos and key centers. After the basic tracks were recorded I then orchestrated the tracks with arrangements using my various basses and effects. Much of the sounds that seem like organ or pads were played from my basses using special effects to create loops that we then played over. This is a very meditative record and gives plenty of sonic room for the listener to interpret the music in their own way.
I am also recording a duo project with drummer Danny Gottlieb. Danny and I have been playing together since 1973 and this new recording is just drums and bass and explores our dynamic as a rhythm section. The first CD will be released later this year and we have two additional releases scheduled shortly after that.
Another project that we are recording is with Karl Latham and Vic Juris. This will be a follow up to the Karl Latham record, Standards of Living which is a collection of modern standards ranging from the Beatles to the doors and Steve Winwood. This is a very fun band to play with and we often play around the Northest.
JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
ME: – John Mclaughlin and the 4th Dimension –Live at Ronnie Scott’s
Craig Tayborn- Daylight Ghosts
Thomas Stanko- December Avenue
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions that you’d like to share with us?
ME: – There are so many great memories from so many sessions and shows over the past fourty-three years. One favorite was playing in Perugia Italy in 1987 with Sting and Gil Evans. We played outdoors for 60,000 people and it was recorded live and released on an album called Sting-The Last Sessions. Another great tour was with Gil Evans and Miles Davis in 1983. We did two tours in Japan and Europe playing a double billing. It was such an honor opening for Miles Davis with Gil Evans. I also played on the same bill as Miles with singer Michael Franks. Another great tour was with the Gil Evans orchestra with Jaco in Japan. Two basses.
I have great memories of recording the first and second Pat Metheny Group records. The first was in Oslo Norway and we recorded the entire record in three days. The second recording was American Garage that we recorded in Massachusetts at Longview Farms studio. I have many great memories from playing with the Pat Metheny Group all over the world. One of the most inspired concerts was in Yugoslavia in 1978. We played in a large concert hall and the applause after our first song was so enthusiastic and spirited that it made me cry.
JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music buisness. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
ME: – Believe in yourself. I can only offer thoughts from my own experiences..I’ve always wanted to play creative, improvisational music. I always surrounded myself with people, players, teachers and friends that had the similar views about wanting to be involved with creative music. I studied music at the U of Miami and it was there that I was opened up and educated about the many facets of performing, arranging and composing jazz. I recommend that any aspiring player search to find a good teacher and really spend the time working to become a better player. With regards to the business, I moved to New York in 1976 and at that time there was a lot of music work with shows, tours and recordings. It’s different now but there is still a vibrant scene. You have to embrace it and make friends and network. If you really do your homework on your instrument and practice diligently to become a great player, you will be in demand.
It’s still difficult to earn a living playing Jazz. You have to be flexible and willing to play many different styles.
JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
ME: – Yes, there is still business with jazz today however the player has to be open and fluent in many styles of music in order to survive in the music scene. Most of Jazz “business “ today comes from performing more than selling records. It is very difficult, especially in New York for Jazz. If you play a jazz club gig you will probably get paid $50-$100. A taxi costs $15.00 and if you drive into New York and have to pay for parking, $45. You can see that you are playing for nothing. Again, you have to love to play and not expect to make a living from it unless you are very lucky to be playing with an established group that plays all over the world.
JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
ME: – Playing and recording with:
Gil Evans and Sting
Arjun Bruggeman and Shane Theriot
Pat Metheny Group
Karl Latham and Vic Juris
Arcadia-Simon Lebon-Nick Rhodes
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
ME: – Create new arrangements and orchestrations. Record songs that are the new standards that aren’t as old and expand the jazz songbook.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
ME: – Music is the expression of spirit to me. Music is the vibration that is within everything in the universe. I meditate through music. Music and sound moves through all of life and it is my goal to be a part of that vibration and express my soul through this vibration.
JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
ME: – I want to continue on my music journey and record and perform as much music as possible. . I want to be as healthy and positive as possible and spend quality time with my family and friends. The unrest and terrorism in the world creates anxiety. I don’t like to travel as much or be around airports or places with large populations. It’s ok for me to not travel as much as I have spent the last fourty two years traveling extensively all over the world performing music. I expect the future to be more of the same news from all over the world and within this chaos I will search to find peace and share love with my family and friends.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
ME: – I would like Less control of the music airwaves with regard to radio. I really liked radio formats in the 1960s where on any FM station you could hear music form John Coltrane, Ravi Shankar, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Alan watts all on the same program in order.
Now radio is so tightly formatted and categorized that there is less room for experimental music. It is from experimental music that new boundaries are expanded.
JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?
ME: – I will continue to compose, record and perform creative music. This is basically the same frontier that I have always been pursuing.
JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
ME: – Yes, all styles of music share the basic building blocks of harmony, melody and rhythm.
Much of jazz music has always been influenced by the popular music of the times that it was created in. Many jazz compositions make use of world rhythms and folk melodies.
I love the cross pollenation of all music styles and it’s important that people remain open to different styles of music.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
ME: – Lately I have been listening to my old vinyl record collection. I have a large selection of ECM recordings and I have been enjoying them as well as classics from Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Scott Lafaro and Bill Evans. I also have satellite radio in my car so when travelling I’ve been listening to many different styles of music. As of lately I have been focusing on the Beatles channel. I am fascinated by the Beatle’s composing and recording production process.
JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?
ME: – I play Pedulla 5 string fretless basses through Markbass amps. I use D’addario XL170 strings and record through Radial JDI Direct boxes. I have many different other basses such as a 1964 Fender Jazz bass that I play on recordings. I also have Pedulla 8 string fretless and fretted basses that I use to orchestrate my records.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
ME: – Tuscany Italy – I love the country-side, people, food and wine. I have toured in Tuscanny and have many friends there. I like to visit there every year.
Kauai Hawaii- It is paradise. The most beautiful place in the world and still in the USA. I love the beaches, water and have great friends there. I have been many mnay times on my way to tour in Japan and it’s a place that always calls me back.
Cap Cod – I love the northeast coast of the USA. I like the ocean and love to go fishing. I grew up in Massachusetts near the ocean and it continues to call me. I usually spend as much time as possible on the Connecticut coast as well.
Ontario Canada-I love to fish in the provincial parks and go on canoe trips.
JBN.S: – So far, I ask, please your question to me …
ME: – How long have you had this website and what are some of your most interesting interviews?
Thank you for taking the time to interview me.
JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. Celebrating jazz 24/7 since 2007. And most interesting interviews with Ahmad Jamal, Pat Martino, Enrico Rava, Bob Mintzer. Paolo Fresu, Marc Copland, Joey DeFrancesco, Fred Hersch, Allan Vache, Antonio Sanchez, Pablo Ziegler, Chuck Owen, Cesar Cardoso, Wolfgang Lackerschmid, Björn Meyer, Rez Abbasi, Bruce Arnold, Lena Prima, William Parker, Patricia Barber, Reggie Washington, Chris Biscoe, Gianluigi Trovesi, Scott Reeves, Jeff Berlin, Tigran Hamasyan, Seamus Blake, Miguel Zenon, Maurizio Giammarco, Ben Allison, Jeff Ballard, Joscho Stephan, Snorre Kirk, Matthew Shipp, Geoffrey Keezer, Brian Charette, Tord Gustavsen and your, etc.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan