Jazz Monthly: To those of you who know the work of our special guest Mark Isham, no words are necessary. To the handful of you who might not know his work, no words are quite sufficient. Mark Isham is a renowned trumpeter, film and television composer, arranger, and music producer. Mr. Isham’s stellar achievements have garnered him a Grammy, an Emmy, a Clio award, and multiple Academy Awards and Grammy nominations. His landmark record, “Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project,” was an ambitious and daring re-interpretation of Miles Davis’s Jazz-fusion Years, and was named “Best Jazz Album” in 1999 by the London Times.
Mark’s latest CD is titled “Bittersweet.” It’s Mark on trumpet and flugelhorn with dynamic award wining vocalist Kate Ceberano and an all star rhythm section.
”Bittersweet” is an exquisite marriage of talents. Mark and Kate present some of the most poignant love songs of the thirties, forties and fifties in a pure, honest, and remarkably passionate and soulful way. Each of these songs on “Bittersweet” is like a mini oil painting. It’s a great CD! Welcome Mark to JazzMonthly.com
MI: But all in all, I think it’s just a very provocative and inspiring experience for me.
Mark Isham: (MI) Well thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here!
Jazz Monthly: Our honor. Mark, I know with this new project “Bittersweet,” people might hear your incredible work in the electronic field and as a successful Film and TV composer, they might say, “Hey it’s great to have Mark back on the trumpet, playing Jazz again.” But you’ve never really left Jazz, right?
MI: That’s true. Well it has been, I dare say, my primary inspiration throughout my entire career – even though there has been a number of years that I haven’t been out on the road… I always come back to it eventually. It’s still the notion of improvisation in a band that improvises together and puts themselves out there on that “tight rope” in front of the audience, that is still to me one of the most exciting things I can do as a musician.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, I love the way you said that Mark, that “tight rope” because you really are exposed when you’re playing Jazz out there live.
MI: You are. That is part of the beauty of it to me. You put together a little group of guys and gals and trust them. You trust them with the their artistry and ability to stay with you and back you up. Depending on the type of music, you have some things that are agreed upon and some things that are left wide open. You go out there and you make it up in front of people. It’s invigorating and inspiring… and sometimes terrifying! (Both Laughing)
Jazz Monthly: Yes!
Jazz Monthly: Absolutely! You were born in New York City and your mom was a violinist and your dad taught music and history right here in Manhattan, right?
MI: Yeah, I was born right in Manhattan and I went to PS 75. My mom was a violinist in some of the orchestras around town and taught at the Dalcroze School; my dad was at Columbia. So I had a fairly sophisticated upbringing in that regard. There was lots of music around the house, and I got dragged to a lot of different types of rehearsals and concerts at a very young age.
Jazz Monthly: I’m laughing cause you said the word “dragged.” (Both laughing)
MI: Well, (laughing) sometimes to a five-year-old boy, it may not be considered the thing that you really want to do, but at the end of the day it was a big formative period for me. I was exposed to a lot of music that – of course very soon, I came to love and dedicate my life to.
Jazz Monthly: So you said that around five years old you really began studying classical piano and violin… trumpet, too, right? Or, did that come later?
MI: That came later. My mother did put me on the piano and the violin at a very young age up until …oh let’s see, eleven or twelve. By sixth grade I played both; I was in band and orchestra. Then, one year I played the Haydn Trumpet – the second movement of the Haydn Trumpet concerto. When I was twelve, my mom said, “OK, you’re good. You can stick with the trumpet. You don’t have to stick with the violin any more.”
Jazz Monthly:: Talk about chops huh?
MI: Yeah, I was pretty good, pretty fast as a kid. I think that’s part of what propelled me into Jazz. By the time I was in high school, it was the late sixties and there was a lot of very, very interesting music happening. I was living in San Francisco by that time, and so not only is Miles revolutionizing Jazz once again, and Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea… people were “coming on” to change the face of the seventies. Also Carlos Santana is up and running and all of the San Francisco horn bands: The Sons of Champlin, Cold Blood… Chicago had just hit. There was a tremendous amount of exciting influences for a young trumpet player to branch out into other worlds other than just the classical world.
Jazz Monthly: By the way, how old were you when you did move to the west coast, Mark?
MI: I was in high school. I think I was between my freshman and sophomore years –
Jazz Monthly: Something like that. So, I guess around that time we are talking your early twenties when you really branched out into the electronic music and electronic Jazz, right?
MI: Yes. You know at that time the Moog Synthesizer was just coming out into the world and those very influential Beatles records were being made. Morton Subotnick and Donald Bukalo were over at the Mills College, outside of San Francisco; they were experimenting. I heard some of those early records and quite frankly, that change from '68 to '74 was, I think, one of the most exciting evolutions in music – in a lot of genres. I was right there as this very young and excited young man, just drinking it all up… loving all of it.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, and that leads me to that great CD. You know Mark, I’ve had that album for about ten years now in my collection. The Miles Davis album is an affectionate homage to Miles. It’s called “Miles Remembered,” I am sure a lot of our readers know it. It’s called, “Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project.” That came out, I guess about ten years ago right?
MI: Boy is it? It could be. It could be that long ago. That was, as a Jazz player… that period of Miles… and then into Weather Report, probably the two most important influences on me. It really showed that genres really didn’t matter. As long as the spirit of music was clearly defined, you could pretty much try anything. If you could keep your “artist hat” on – and make it communicate well – boy the world was wide open. It’s still to this day as a film composer; it’s still a concept that I just live by. I think that as a film composer it’s something you have to believe to allow yourself to find fresh approaches when scoring new films.