“When Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in New York earlier this year, he thought of doing something different as a bassist. A solo recording is something he had been wishing to do, but never had time for. South African jazz audiences were the first to see him performing songs from this project in August through a streaming concert at UKZN Centre for Jazz and Popular Music in August, before its worldwide release in September”
Just like most musicians around the globe, New York based bassist Mark Wade found himself in a state of self-isolation when lockdown was imposed as a way to reduce and manage cases of Covid-19 whose numbers were quite alarming. This meant he could not play with pianist Tim Harrison and drummer Scott Neumann who are part of the famous Mark Wade Trio which has released two albums “Event Horizon” in 2015 and “Moving Day” in 2018. The bassist is a three-time Downbeat Magazine Reader’s Poll finalist which speaks volumes about the confidence the jazz fraternity has on him.
Wade has spent nearly 25 years as a professional bassist and has performed in many of the great New York concert halls and clubs, including the Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Blue Note, Birdland, and many others. He has also played in Europe and the United Kingdom. In 2012 Wade performed with jazz great Jimmy Heath as part of his “Four Black Immortals” East Coast tour. He has played with other notable jazz artists such as James Spaulding, Eddie Palmieri, Conrad Herwig, Harry Whitaker, Pete McGuinness, Peter Eldridge, Don Byron, and he appeared on The Today Show with Stacey Kent. Wade is a faculty member of the jazz department at Lehigh University.
The pandemic brought an immediate halt to live performances, forcing musicians to seek other means of remaining relevant and most importantly earn a living. Most of the musicians took advantage of the modern technology to keep their creative juices and continued to perform. Livestream concerts have been one of the ways to reach audiences and are growing in popularity as an alternative to performing in front of real people at jazz clubs. Mark suddenly found himself with a lot more time on his hands than usual. “The period of lockdown here back in April and May was a tense and uncertain time. I think that tension pushed me in this new direction and the result was this album”, he told Jazz It Out.
Sitting at home and observing Covid-19 protocols imposed led to the recording of “Songs From Isolation”, a unique solo project from Mark. The recording is unique in many ways. Each of the 5 songs is accompanied by a music video making it an audio and visual album. Just because it’s a solo recording does not mean that one will hear a single instrument in the songs. The bassist plays both the electric and acoustic bass. When listening to the songs from the album, one may think it also features a percussion in addition to the two types of bass guitars. He adds the texture of percussion by hitting the body of the bass in different ways, creating a sound of a full ensemble by using the acoustic bass in its traditional role, playing melodies, grooves, and solos.
By his own admission, this project has been a great creative outlet for him when there wasn’t much happening. Mark’s approach on the electric guitar is also varied. He sometimes comps like a guitar player, plays the upper register harmonics, or solos with different delays and distortion applied to the sound. Through “Songs From Isolation”, Wade displays the versatility of the bass. “It can work in a role as accompaniment, as a solo voice, or as a percussion. There are lots of different dynamic sounds and timbres to explore”, he said. The album is a combination of his desire to explore these different bass textures and the necessity of having to produce on his own. Most importantly, the lack of outlets with other musicians during this health crisis helped push him in the direction of the solo project.
Advancing his video production and editing skills is something that Wade always had an interest in doing, and the lockdown gave him the opportunity to do that. But he acknowledges that jazz as a music genre does not rely much on music videos which he feels is a lost opportunity for many artists. “I thing using music videos to connect can be something a lot of jazz artists could use to further the reach of their music. Only concert video footage is very common in jazz”, he said. Mark firmly believes that while audiences are inherently interested in watching performances of this music, videos can add a little bit of creativity which could be used to garner even more interest for the music.
The opening tune from this solo project is “Hours Til Dawn”, which shifts between a straight-eight feel and swing feel in 3/4. The melody is played with the unusual pairing of unison acoustic and electric bass in the upper register while Mark’s bowing provides a signature cello at key moments. Watching its video gives an impression that he has done some film scoring in his career, but he assures Jazz It Out that he still prefers riding and playing music with his trio as a first choice. The tune makes the bassist think of the sensation of flying or floating through and the video this idea prominently displaying scenes of the sky, sometimes even superimposing a summer sky indoors through visual effects, making it look more like a scene from a movie than a music video.
“Intents and Purposes” is a collection of four musical vignettes, stitched together with common visual elements. In the opening vignette, electric bass harmonics and a poignant bowed bass solo create an ethereal mood. The video of this tune brilliantly compliments the sound coming from the bass. Visuals show a group of stairs and the camera further leads to what looks like a “dead end” which confuses the person watching it. In “A Conspiracy of Lemurs”, the video shows Wade taking a walk and sometimes sitting in his neighbourhood connected to the hearing pieces of his smartphone. He is also seen playing both the electric and acoustic bass with several images of him walking in opposite directions. Wade is poking fun at himself for being self-absorbed and overly focused on watching himself perform.
Perhaps the best tune that describe the mood of the early days of the lockdown is “Blues in Isolation”. The track was recorded early during the lockdown when the public situation was very dire and little was known about the virus at the time. Even its video reflects the heavy mood of that time with the scene being black-and-white and the various versions of Mark in the video with different colored shirts green, red and blue. “Just leaving the apartment was very scary”, he recalls. The colored shirts were supposed to show how he was trying to maintain a hopeful and positive spirit being surrounded by so much uncertainty and anxiety. He managed to artistically paint the mood of the early days of the lockdown through the video and sound. “Blues in Isolation” will be a video to watch as part of reflecting to this period of confusion in many years to come.
Blues in Isolation – Mark Wade
Even during the most difficult circumstances, there are some lighthearted moments. Mark brings that moment through the tune “Nothing Like You”. Unlike the other tunes in “Songs From Isolation”, this is not his own composition. He pays tribute to Bob Dorough, the bepop and cool jazz vocalist, pianist, composer, songwriter, arranger and producer who once worked with Miles Davis. Dorough passed away in 2018 at the age of 94. In this song Mark is joined by his wife, vocalist Teri Leggio Wade, who is the daughter of Carmen Leggio, a famous tenor sax player who played with jazz greats like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. The video of this song which was shot on the couple’s wedding anniversary reveals some rapid costume changes by Mark and Teri. “We are fortunate to face these times together”, expressing his appreciation for the love and support from his wife.
Wade first performed songs from his solo project in Music Unlocked Session, a streaming concert brought by UKZN Centre for Jazz and Popular Music in Durban, South Africa on the 12th of August. The album was released worldwide on the 18th of September. He was glad to debut the album at the venue popularly known as Jazz Centre. “Although I have never been to South Africa yet, I have tremendous respect for the music tradition that is part of the culture in that country”, he told Jazz It Out. “I hope one day I will visit South Africa in person and bring my music there and also experience the local music as well”, he added. One of the things he is grateful for is that he was able to do online teaching through Lehigh University taking into consideration that the pandemic has been a huge setback for all those in performing arts.
This solo project has displayed that Mark can still be a creative artist even when finding himself outside of his comfort zone. When an album is a solo piano all that is heard is a piano and the same can be heard if it is solo saxophone. In the case of “Songs From Isolation” he has stretched his level of creativity by playing both the electric and acoustic bass while showing that the latter instrument can produce so many different sounds and melodies besides what it is originally designed to offer to the listener. This makes the album a unique solo project as this bassist has managed to produce these different sounds misleading the listener to think it is a full ensemble taking part in the recording. Making a video for each song is another stroke of genius to let the music appreciator witness this incredible recording.
His next online performance will be next week Sunday 14 November through Flushing Town Hall in New York. 20th of December will see him returning to the same venue for another online performance. “While this current album has been a real positive for me personally, my heart goes out to all those in the performing arts that have been severely affected by the crisis. I am hoping that we can come out of this in one piece and continue our journey of making music”, he concluded. His Facebook account is Mark Wade while his Twitter handle is @markwadebass. Visit his website www.markwademusicny.com to learn more about what he is up to and watch his music videos. “Songs From Isolation” was released on AMP Music & Records in Norway www.ampmusicrecords.com and is available in all digital music platforms worldwide.