Mark Wade, jazz bassist: Something Else! Interview

New York City-based Mark Wade, named one of jazz’s Top 10 bassists in the 2016 DownBeat readers poll, has just released a new album called Moving Day in the U.K. It’s due in North America on February 2, 2018. He joined Preston Frazier for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss the writing and recording of this latest Mark Wade Trio project. They also delved deeper into Wade’s musical journey so far …


PRESTON FRAZIER: Moving Day is your second album as band leader. How this a departure from your prior release, 2015’s Event Horizon.
MARK WADE: For this new album, I took as inspiration for my writing certain events in my life and certain mental pictures or images that helped to frame the mood of the music. The process yielded up some different directions that I found interesting as a writer.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Moving Day’s songs seemed centered around a common theme. How did the concept come to you?
MARK WADE: The concept of writing to a ‘picture’ was something that just happened naturally. After the first few tunes were written and I saw how interesting that process was for me, it was something I pursued through the course of writing music for the album. I started to write the music for this album even as I was finishing the mixing and mastering process for the first one. These tunes were written and worked with the band over the period of a couple years. That time frame really helped us to find creative directions to take the music, which think paid off in the recording.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell our readers a little about your background.
MARK WADE: I was born in Lavonia, Michigan. I moved around the upper Midwest a number of times while I was young. Eventually, I ended up moving to New Jersey. I went to college at New York University, and have been in the city ever since. I started playing the electric bass as I started high school. I was self-taught a year up until I went to college. I took lessons for a year with a bass player by the name of Andrew Harkin. At New York University, I studied with Mike Richmond. After about a year and a half of studying with Mike, I began studying acoustic bass. A few years later, I was lucky enough to be making a living at playing the acoustic bass after I graduated from school. I have been working in around New York City as a freelancer for over 20 years. During that time, I played variety of jazz, classical and pop gigs as a side man to make a living. Event Horizon went along way in raising my profile as an artist. I was fortunate enough to be voted one of the top 10 bassists of 2016 by DownBeatmagazine readers poll. I was also asked to join the jazz faculty at Lehigh University.


PRESTON FRAZIER: What has been the most significant area of growth for you as a composer?
MARK WADE: The process of writing this album has helped me to continue to define and expand my voice as a writer. I think the growth that I see between my first album and this one is a more mature writing style that reflects a willingness to take more chances with form and structure than I had in the past.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Your trio includes Tim Harrison on piano and Scott Neumann on drums. How is their involvement different on Moving Day compared with Event Horizon?
MARK WADE: Tim and Scott’s involvement is very similar to Event Horizon. I write my music with them in mind. I try to consider what we do well and what we might also do well that we haven’t yet tried. It’s fun to bring in music and challenge these guys. The music that they end up making is something that often influences my writing choices for future works. I have always encouraged this trio to be a three-way affair, with everybody getting an equal opportunity as a soloist, while also encouraging an identity as a cohesive unit.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Does Moving Day represent a change in your role as band leader and arranger?
MARK WADE: My role as a band leader for this album was very similar to the last one that I did. I am the writer for the group, but from a musical standpoint all three of us had input as to the direction of the music. It’s my hope that if someone were to listen to the record and didn’t look at the cover to see whose name is on the top, they would have a hard time figuring who is the leader of this group. Hopefully, all three of us are presented as equals.


PRESTON FRAZIER: Please tell our readers a little about the recording process for Moving Day. Where was the album recorded?
MARK WADE: We recorded this album at Systems Two recording studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. over the period of two days in early June 2017. On average, we recorded three takes of each song live in the studio. Like most people these days, we recorded straight to ProTools. Personally, I think that makes things much easier in the mixing and mastering process. I had recorded my last album there and really enjoyed the experience in the studio. They have an absolutely wonderful Steinway piano that really makes the recording shine. The mixing and mastering took place at Frank Fagnano’s studio in Ramsey, New Jersey. Frank mixed and mastered my last CD, and having him on board is like having not just an engineer but a co-producer for the record. He has great instincts for this kind of music, so it really helps maneuvering the process of finding just the right sound for the record. 

PRESTON FRAZIER: Is there a significant in the album song sequence?
MARK WADE: That’s a good question. While I wouldn’t say there is a grand master plan to the order of the songs, I have always found that my favorite albums resonated with me so strongly not just because of the individual tracks but how those tracks were presented to create an overall musical work. I realize these days a lot of people buy tracks individually and may not even hear the entire record, but I still think that presenting your music in a specific order to create an overall musical impression is a lost art. I spent a lot of time thinking about the order of these songs, so for those who will listen to the album in its entirety, I hope that I have helped create a certain musical impact with that selection.

PRESTON FRAZIER: “The Bells” is one of my favorite songs from this new project. It reminds me of my trip to Tuscany as few years back. Tell us more about it.
MARK WADE: I was fortunate enough to find myself in the French city of Nice a few years back. While walking through the old town, in the distance I heard two church bells ringing at a dissonant interval with one another. The bells were also ringing out of phase, so that the timing of the bells would get closer together and then farther apart as they rang. The sound was so striking to me that when I got home I wrote down a small musical sketch of what I remembered from that experience. To go with this theme, I wrote out a bit of music that is inspired from the French impressionists like Debussy and Ravel, and a third theme that is an adaptation of an English horn part from Debussy’s “La Mer.” The entire piece is meant to be a musical portrait of Nice. It’s one of the things that I have written that I’m most proud of.


PRESTON FRAZIER: You’ve included a stunning new version of “Autumn Leaves.” How did that song find a place on Moving Day?
MARK WADE: Ironically, it almost didn’t make the album. Funny story about this: I played a gig a few years ago with my trio where the festival producer complained after my performance that I hadn’t played enough standards. I took that as a challenge to go home and try to write an arrangement of a very well-known standard that I could stretch to make sound more like my original compositions. Over time, this arrangement grew on me and the other guys in the band so I decided I would record it. I think it’s a real challenge to take a well-worn song like this and try to come up with something that is even somewhat original, given considerable history that “Autumn Leaves” has. 

PRESTON FRAZIER: What bass did you use for the recording?
MARK WADE: I recorded this album on a double bass built in 2007 by Rudolph Fiedler from Prague. He isn’t particularly well known for his bases, as he didn’t make many of them, but enjoys a good reputation as a violin and cello luthier. I play Thomastik Superflexible strings, which I’ve always been a big fan of. 

PRESTON FRAZIER: Finally, please list for our readers you Top 5 favorite albums.
MARK WADE: This list changes for me all the time. Here’s one version – Miles Davis, Miles Smiles; Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain; John Coltrane, A Love Supreme; Charles Mingus, Ah Um; and Led Zeppelin, Presence.