Monday, December 13, 2010
Mark Lowrey: The Plastic Sax Person of the Year
While I futilely fret about the diminishing audience for jazz, Mark Lowrey is actively addressing the problem. His ongoing "musical evangelism" represents Kansas City's best hope for cultivating new jazz listeners. Lowrey didn't know that he was going to be named Plastic Sax's Person of the Year when he recently participated in the following email interview.
Plastic Sax: I suspect that you are Kansas City's most active working musician. Is that true?
Mark Lowrey: I can't say for sure. I love to play, and the instrument that chose me lends itself to playing in a wide variety of styles and as a solo artist.
PS: Which of your many gigs gives you the most satisfaction?
ML: Very difficult question- as you know, I have diverse interests. Playing straight-ahead jazz gives me very different emotional connections than, say, tango or folk/pop, etc. I guess I would have to say that the best I feel is in any group where I can be proud of a performance and at the same time it is apparent that the audience has been moved in some way.
PS: Are you able to make a living as a musician?
ML: Yes. I supplement my performance income with a very part-time position at Hallmark. My title is "Creative on-call multimedia sound composer." Among other things, I get to write music that goes in stuffed animals. I love it, but it's only once in a while.
PS: How much time do you spend conceptualizing, practicing and rehearsing special projects like the "Black Friday" show?
ML: Every show is different, but for things like Black Friday, the Radiohead Tribute, etc., let's just say that I'd rather not calculate the income next to the hours spent.
PS: A lot of the things you do probably aren't cost-effective. How do financial considerations effect your art? Have you ever declined to pursue an idea because it looked like a money-loser?
ML: I look at bigger "one-off" shows in two ways that validate them.
A) If we (musicians) were really in this for the money, there would be something fundamentally wrong with our brains. This stuff is FUN!
I suppose I could just play in jazz clubs and play "All of Me" every night and never need to rehearse, practice, or hustle the media for coverage. It would be enough to pay the bills, but I get bored. I'm not saying that I don't like straight-ahead jazz- Red Garland is in my CD player right now.
B) Some of these less financially sustaining shows in the short term I believe are doing good things for me in the long term. I think it's important to appreciate the money gigs for the fact that they feed you. However, the gigs you do for the love of music and the desire to share this love with other people can feed you in a much different way.
PS: Do the regular misspellings of your name bother you?
ML: Ha! It happens so often that I don't freak out about it. One thing that bothers me (and it happens more than you'd think) is when I have to correct a journalist, club owner, or promoter more than one time.
PS: You've seen several of your collaborators leave Kansas City for bigger scenes like New York. Are you ever tempted to test the waters elsewhere?
ML: Yes, but I haven't tapped this town out yet. There are so many great musicians here still and the scene is on a rise. Plus, with the low cost of living and my established relationships here in KC, it's easier to put new projects together with good hope for success.
PS: Which Kansas City musicians do you most respect?
ML: So many - not the full list - here's what I can come up with in 60 seconds in no particular order. Hermon Mehari, Doug Auwarter, Roger Wilder, Shay Estes, Les Izmore, Brandon Draper, Lonnie McFadden, Donovan Bailey, Barclay Martin, Wayne Hawkins, Matt Otto. This list could be really long.
PS: What did you hope to accomplish with your new solo piano album? Are you pleased with the result?
ML: I wanted it to sound like me, which I guess is all one can hope for. It sounds like me on a good day. So I accomplished what I set out to. Albeit I have a long way to go, and a solo recording has a profound humbling effect on me. My friends and colleagues have helped me to minimize the over-self-criticism.
PS: What are the best and worst aspects of Kansas City's music scene? How could it be improved?
ML: Creativity abounds and barriers are being broken down. We still need KC citizens to "own" the fact that we are a jazz town. We need KC to take pride in and support live music. We need you.
PS: Are projects like the Radiohead tributes, the jazz/hip hop collaborations and your work in the Barclay Martin Ensemble a deliberate attempt to bring new fans to jazz, or do you even worry about that sort of thing?
ML: That is close to exactly why I do many of these things. Hermon and I call it "Musical Evangelism."
PS: Do you anticipate that traditional/straight-ahead/mainstream jazz will be played in Kansas City clubs twenty years from now?
ML: I hope so, and I hope that the more conservative musicians/audiences understand that I have a profound love for traditional jazz. I just think there's room for both schools of thought.
PS: It seems like 2010 has been a huge year for you. Can you name a couple favorite moments? What can your fans look forward to in 2011?
ML: Thanks, Bill. 2010 has been SO fun! I liked when we did our first Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop show in January. I looked out into the packed-like-sardines crowd at Czar Bar on a night that it was ten below zero and noticed that it was the most ethnically and culturally diverse crowd I had ever played for. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and there were no hang-ups. That is unfortunately not as common as I'd like to see in Kansas City.
Another was playing at the Folly Theater for Barclay Martin Ensemble's release of Pools That Swell With The Rain. It is an album I am proud to play on, and the Folly theater felt a little symbolic of some kind of success to me.
2011? I am sure about doing more with local emcees. I'll book more Mark Lowrey with Drums gigs in rock venues, and, ok , I'll say it: the next tribute concert will be Paul Simon.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)