May 23, 2024

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Interview with Mark Lomax: My goal is to grow into the cosmic balance of mind, body and spirit: Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz drummer Mark Lomax. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Mark Lomax: – Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!

I was born in Blacksburg, Virginia where my parents had jobs at Virginia Tech. My mother was over the gospel choir and my father was the chaplain. As the story goes, I was able to tap discernible rhythms on my mother while being fed and before I was a year old, I could match pitches during rehearsal. I started playing the drums at 2 and was assessed to have the skills of a 10-year-old at that point. However, my mother didn’t pursue formal training because she didn’t think I’d have any discipline that would justify the expense. I continued to play drums in the churches I grew up in and began to play for choirs when I was 6.

Because music has always been part of my life, I don’t remember when it became a passion, but I’ve always known how to play the drums. Things just made sense. I became a professional drummer when I was 12 and started touring with gospel groups when I was 14. I remember when I knew I could write music because I could hear it in my head while practicing to the point where I’d have to stop playing drums and figure out how to organize these sounds in my head. Mingus is the musician who helped me understand that, no matter how great you may become as an instrumentalist, legacy is defined by the music you leave behind as a composer. I was fortunate to be around several amazing Black composers of distinction who each let me sit in on rehearsals, participate in recording sessions as a copyist and support their music as a drummer.

I guess I’ve always been on the adventure!

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

ML: – As a younger kid (before the age of 12), I was really into drummers who played funk, gospel, R&B, and fusion. At 12, I met an older jazz drummer named James Elliott (Smooth). He introduced me to freedom! When I first heard Black Improvised Art Music, I was floored at how the drums functioned. Something clicked. I’d been hearing more than I could play within the musical world I existed in. Smooth introduced me to a new and beautiful community of musicians who welcomed me with open arms. The Elders taught me the meaning and essence of the music, gently and lovingly corrected my mistakes, and supported my precocious attempts to push myself and the music forward.

I was 16 when I met saxophonist, Edwin “Eddie” Bayard. More than anyone, he introduced me to improvisers based on our conversations that opened my imagination even further. He’s never judged. Eddie would listen to me dream about the music I wanted to play and compose and ask, “have you heard of this cat?” He’d let me borrow the record (CD) or encourage me to go find it. Eddie hipped me to Mingus, Andrew Hill, Ornette Coleman, David S. Ware, Sonny Rollins and so many others. I also became fond of John Coltrane and Max Roach. Like Mingus, their music was clearly linked to the Black church. Listening to drummers like Tony Williams, Max, Roy Haynes, Ed Blackwell, Elvin Jones, and Sam Woodyard with Ellington, expanded my pallet and put me on the path to finding my own sound.

All the while, my parents, especially my dad, were traveling to Afrika. They each brought recordings back with them that helped me understand the communicative and melodic power of the instrument. My influences spanned the Afrikan drumming world, to Black Improvised Art Music, Gospel, Blues, Funk, Reggae, Rock, R&B, Soul, and Hip Hop. By 16, I had the whole of the Black music world in my ears, my head, and my heart. This plus coming into a deeper understanding of the Jali who used music to help keep the communities they served in line with the Cosmos and passed the culture through musical storytelling, I began to hear the drums differently leading to a significant evolution in my sound by age 30.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

ML: – Mingus once said that once you’ve mastered an instrument, the rest is in your head. I’ve never had much time for practice on the instrument. I became a husband and father at age 22. I practiced 12 hours a day after graduating high school. At that time, I practiced everything from rudiments to Afro-Cuban rhythms and the piano. In the last 15 years, I’ve kept my skills by figuring out rudimental and independence exercises that I could do away from the drums while at work or helping my daughters with their homework. The music is always at the forefront of my mind.

With respect to harmony, I’m a classically trained composer. Melody and Harmony are second languages next to rhythm and they are not mutually exclusive, especially as it relates to my approach to the drums!

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

ML: – Evolution is the key! There are core elements of my sound that remain the same like a fingerprint. What has evolved is how I deploy those elements and in what contexts. If artists fail to grow and evolve their art and practice, they become irrelevant. Relevance is not about the genre or style of the music being performed, it’s about the function; the why of the music. My evolution continues to be informed and inspired by getting deeper into my own culture and the great history of Afrikans throughout the continent and the diaspora.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

ML: – Yoda said, “do or do not. There is no try.” That’s how I approach a recording. The spiritual and musical stamina are inspired by the content, the story being told, and the musicians brought together to create something of lasting import. When function and purpose are aligned, the Ancestors always bless the work.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Mark Lomax Trio – Plays Mingus, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

ML: – Mingus transitioned into the Ancestral realm just a couple weeks before I was born. I actually didn’t like his music when I first heard it. I knew the music was important but couldn’t process it. Recording this tribute to his genius allowed us to make a different kind of artistic statement than normal. The challenge here, was to play Mingus in the most authentic way we could without sounding like all of the other groups making tributes and his own brilliant ensembles.

Right now, we are working on other projects, generating COVID-proof content to be shared in the event of another shut down, and a couple larger projects that I am not ready to discuss publicly.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

ML: – Eddie, Dean, and I have been working together for the last 20 years. There are no better musicians and brothers in the world. Their selection wasn’t a choice, we crafted the record together. We talked through the selection of tunes, co-created the approaches, and played the way we play to create a personal statement within the context of Mingus’ music.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

ML: – When an artist has matured, that balance becomes self-evident. Often, the music swings too far in one direction or the other. There have been times in Black culture when the Spirit was prioritized above all else. While not bad, our ancient Ancestors believed in and understood Ma’at, cosmic balance. Much of the music today is hyper-cerebral and reflects intellect at the expense of the soul. My goal is to grow into the cosmic balance of mind, body and spirit. That is my holy trinity.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

ML: – Music without emotional content is just math. It’s a collection of frequencies without purpose. Delivering a performance where the frequencies are full of purpose and emotional energy is the ultimate goal of effective communication through music. Honestly, this is lacking in most music called “jazz” today and in many other genres that have become formulaic.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

ML: – Our recent performance of the Mingus music for the CD release was a powerful experience for the ensemble and the audience. Audience members approached each of us and used words like, “transformative,” “high energy,” and “unbelievable.” It is something special to be able to communicate your own truths through the words/music of others. I think we’ve accomplished that.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

ML: – First, we have to stop playing “jazz.” Not only has that word never meant anything, it doesn’t prompt interests from younger listeners. We don’t use that word at all. We play a lot of colleges and high schools and don’t have any issues with the younger audiences because we respect them. We engage them with the music and stories about what the music means, and we encourage them to think, feel, and share what the music means to them. That is how you keep young minds and hearts engaged in art music.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

ML: – I’ve touched upon this to some extent in previous questions. I will say directly that music is the aural essence of the spirit. It defines the meaning of life when created and performed within an Afrikan-centered cultural framework.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

ML: – I’d end the proliferation of corporate constructs and elevate artists in order to keep the culture elevated through authentic expression.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

ML: – I’m listening to the new records from Black Star and KRS-One.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

ML: – My primary message is that engaging our collective Humanity is the only path to save the planet but first, we must understand the past to have context for the present and work together to change the world.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

ML: – Too many places to name here. I’d like to see ancient Kemet, learn the drum languages of pre colonial Afrika, and warn Afrikans and First Nation peoples not to trust the Europeans.

JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

ML: – Who is your primary audience? What about our work interested you enough to conduct this interview? I really appreciate it!

JBN: – Our main audience is those who listen to jazz and blues music, more than 69,000 of our readers every day, who, according by Google Analytics, are mostly 40-60 years old. And I think I will write about your new album with pleasure in the near future a CD review.

JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

ML: – I’m always interested in expanding our audience and optimizing our collective vibration through the music we compose, perform, and record.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Composer, Dr. Mark Lomax II Provokes Holistic Perspective on Past, Present, and Future of Black America - Music Industry Weekly

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