An Interview with Mark Whitfield

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Mark Whitfield Trio - SmallsLIVE

I’ve always wanted to play guitar. Sadly, I can’t. So instead, I listen and I write. Good enough. Anyway, I grew up a Rock guy, and got heavily into Jazz as I got older. As time wore on, I learned of the wonders of Jazz guitar, and an entire ecosystem of amazing musicians that I had overlooked. Virtuoso players, who made incredible music. For me, it brought new meaning to the instrument. The guitar wasn’t just a means to solo. No, it was a a true window to boundless composition. I still remember the first time I heard Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. John McLaughlin’s playing and technique on that record blew my mind and completely expanded my horizons.

Mark Whitfield is a fantastic Jazz guitarist who has been at it for over 30 years. He has collaborated with some of the finest musicians in the business across all genres to great success. His influence is undoubted during his era, and when it is all said and done, Mark will stand side by side all of the other greats of past, present and future. If you would like to learn more about the music of Mark Whitfield, feel free to head over to his website here. In the meantime, check out and enjoy this talk with him. Cheers.

Andrew:
Mark, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Mark:
It’s my pleasure to speak with you and I appreciate you reaching out. I spent the months of March, April & May like everyone else…wandering my place in my pajamas wondering when I would wake up from this horrible nightmare!! LOL. I’ve done my fair share of live stream performances, tons of outdoor concerts in places where they were really prepared for live music and at some local bars in NYC owned by friends of mine who desperately needed help to stay in business. In September, I began teaching online for the “Guitar Mastery Intensive” program based in San Francisco. I’ve also mastered several different cooking techniques and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for the last 15 years!! LOL!

Andrew:
You’re from Lindenhurst, New York. A fellow Long Islander! I’m originally from the same area (Babylon). What was the music scene like growing up for you? Long Island isn’t necessarily known for its Jazz.

Mark:
Remember, I was born in 1966 and at age 15 my family relocated to Seattle. Long Island had amazing public school music programs in the 70’s and I was featured on recordings with the All Suffolk County and All NY State Orchestras as 1st chair contrabassist in the 9th & 10th grades. I also played bass in the Lindenhurst High School Jazz Band and won a Berklee scholarship playing bass at the ’81 Berklee College High School Jazz Band Competition.” My parents were big Jazz fans and we regularly attended concerts at the Westbury Music Hall. I saw The Ellington Orchestra, The Count Basie Band, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and many more as a young teenager. Then when we moved to Seattle, I joined the Bellevue High Jazz band on guitar and never looked back!

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Mark:
I always loved music and my parents made sure I had the chance to experience lots of great music in person. I saw symphony performances, opera, Broadway shows, even saw the Jackson 5 at that concert hall in Westbury! I had started playing guitar when one of my older brothers gave me his for my 7th birthday. I played bass and alto saxophone in school but I studied guitar privately until I arrived in Seattle.

Mark Whitfield: Grace - Jazz da Gama

Andrew:
As an artist and guitarist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

Mark:
I was the only musician in my family but music was still all around me. I saw George Benson on PBS when I was 10 or 11 and I was sold! I knew that I wanted to be able to play like that. His band was featured in front of the Boston Pops playing the music from Breezin’ and I was knocked out! At the same time, my bass teacher had introduced me to some recordings of the great Ray Brown. I loved Ray, but the guitarist, Joe Pass, made the deepest impact on me. He and George have always been my two biggest influences.

Andrew:
You’ve had the opportunity to work with artists such as Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith and Chris Botti. What’s it been like being able to work with such legendary performers?

Mark:
Playing with the legendary Jazz greats like McDuff, Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Herbie Hancock, the Marsalis’ etc was about learning how to take my music school education and use it to create a sound and style of my own and add it to the great and timeless legacy of Jazz. Playing with contemporary artists like D’Angelo, Mary J Blige, Jill Scott, Sting, John Mayer, The Dave Matthews Band and Chris Botti was about adding my unique voice to their music. Also, it’s not often that a Jazz guitarist gets to play for 25K people!! That was amazing all by itself!

Andrew:
Your last solo efforts were Grace and Live & Uncut were released in 2017. When can we hope a new album from you?

Mark:
I’m finishing a duo album recorded here in my home this year with my son Davis playing piano.

Mark Whitfield

Andrew:
This year, you worked with Christian McBride on the album For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver. Tell us about that project. Where can we get it and what formats will it be on?

Mark:
The big band recording with Christian and Joey is on Mack Ave. Records and is available everywhere in all formats.

Andrew:
You’ve been at it a long time, and you’re still creating and performing. What’s changed for you compared to your early days? Are you a better player now than ever?

Mark:
I would say every story I tell when I pick up the guitar is full of the depth of soulful emotion that can only come from having years of life experiences behind me. What I love the most when I listen to my old recordings is the joyful optimism that abounds in every note. I believe my musical journey will only end if I somehow lose that spirit.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of music in general a bit. In your opinion, what’s the state of the music industry these days? What are some things that need to change?

Mark:
The industry has always been and will always be about commerce. This is not a bad thing. The challenge every artist faces is finding a balance between the music they want to create and the music the masses want to hear. How successful an artist can become is usually determined by their ability to share their gifts in a way that the general public can enjoy. I believe that having a music career is like being a small business owner and my comments and advice for the future are not about industry issues that need to change, but more about encouraging young artists to take ownership of their careers, and full responsibility for their choices from the beginning. This may seem daunting at first, but in the end we’re all best served when we learn from our mistakes and exist as the authors of our own success.

Mark Whitfield | TheAudioDB.com

Andrew:
In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by the never-ending barrage of social media. How has this affected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?

Mark:
The social media landscape is cluttered for sure but there are literally millions of people just dying to be entertained by good music. An emerging artist must put in the work to break through the noise that is the crowded social media landscape to reach the promised land which is the listening eagerly anticipating your arrival.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Mark:
Breezin’ by George Benson

Portraits of Duke by Joe Pass

Transition by John Coltrane

Live at the Plugged Nickel by Miles Davis

They are all deeply personal soulful statements of humanity, virtuosity and unique artistry.

Andrew:
Piggy backing onto my last question. In your opinion, who are some of the most underrated Jazz artists of all time?

Mark:
Grant Green, Herbie Nichols, Clark Terry, James Moody, Art Farmer, Billy Eckstine.

Marchione Guitars — Mark Whitfield on tour with his Marchione 16”...

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Mark:
The only thing that even comes close to my passion for music is my love of people and humanity. I study history in an effort to remain unbiased in the way I see the world and in my interactions with people.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Mark:
I still have all of the vinyl of my youth which includes tons of LP’s I “borrowed” from family along the way. I mostly listen to music on my phone (in the car) and on my computers in my home studio.

Andrew:
What’s next for you once COVID-19 calms down? New album? A tour?

Mark:
All of the above!!!!!!!!!!!!

Andrew:
Last question. In a world that’s been so confined by the constraints of big business and the alienation caused due to the internet age, how do artists find their footing these days? What advice would you have for younger artists?

Mark:
I don’t think it’s nearly as difficult as it seems as long as we are realistic in our goals and expectations. Financiers don’t judge their accomplishments compared to lottery winners and we shouldn’t expect our musical projects to go viral like whoever the latest YouTube sensation may be. Work hard on your craft, develop a program of music that represents the very best of what you have to offer, stay true to your sound and only make changes that represent true artistic growth and development; take every opportunity to present yourself and your music to the world. This includes playing with other artists even when their music doesn’t interest you. This is not meant to encourage people to be disingenuous but to help you recognize that you can only hear music for yourself. You never know who’s listening and what they may enjoy. Playing with other artists who have developed their own sound and audience is an opportunity to learn something new and reach new people. This is never something to miss out on!

mark whitfield photography: mark whitfield by mark whitfield

Interested in learned more about the music of Black Market Brass? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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