Worth The Wait
From an interview with Hansi Gottschalk
The September 22, 2010 Lionheart Music release of Worth the Wait features six of Mark Brandt’s compositions which the trio recorded in the Spring of 2010. This is pianist Brandt’s seventh recording as a leader, but it is his first with this particular group and his first ever trio recording of originals. The results are truly exciting.
"I find great joy in the “oneness” we share as musicians. That is why we record our music. That is why we do gigs. We want to share the joy we have found with as many people as we possibly can. It is really that simple. Music is all about love, and true love is always worth the wait.” Mark Christopher Brandt
For Jazz lovers, the luxury of a Jazz recording is being able to revisit what was, for the musicians, a first and only moment as many times as they like. Because of this, Mark feels an obligation to release the first takes of his songs with a minimal amount of editing. Editing for this group actually falls into the category of mastering a recording for the best listening experience. According to Mark, there is a place for note editing and adjusting in composed material, but by virtue of the fact that an improvised solo only exists in the moment that it occurs, it is not necessary or proper to change it for any reason. Too much “adjusting” of the overall performance actually takes away from the energy of the moment. On Worth the Wait, there was some written material for bassist, and newcomer to improvisation, Shaun Jurek. However, outside of the basic harmonic, rhythmic structure and the melody, everything played by the trio was completely spontaneous to the moment. All of the material was recorded in two sessions, and with the exception of the title track, there was only one take of each song.
The trio intentionally recorded three versions of the title track so that their listening audience could get a feel for what they are doing in their music. One way to convey their love for present moment creativity through improvisation is demonstrated in these three different versions of the same song recorded back-to- back. One version appears as track 1, and the other two alternate takes of Worth the Wait appear at the end. The trio hopes to inspire upcoming Jazz musicians to pursue the demands of improvisation rather than settle for the more popular and programmed music that technology provides. “There is room for everyone in the world of music,” offers Mark, “but we certainly need more musicians who have the courage to just lay it out there for better or worse. To improvise well, you not only have to know your instrument, but you also have to know yourself and be secure within yourself. For the artist, this does not mean arrogance or false bravado. It actually means the exact opposite; the willingness to be vulnerable.”
“Improvisation,” adds Mark, “is not as much about the skill involved as it is about the love. Love loses its potency when it is “processed” or “presented” too carefully. Don’t misunderstand me. In my personal life as an artist, I am all about discipline and practicing rigorously for perfection, but when it is time to play, it is time to play. The idea of striving to be ourselves with total freedom is the whole reason we fell in love with playing Jazz in the first place. We are not purists. We are not snobs. We do not see ourselves as icons or innovators. We do not fancy ourselves as better than any other musicians out there. We are improvisers. We are simply different, and we are comfortable to reside in our own skin with our own voice.”
For this CD, the trio paired up with Mark’s longtime friend, recording and mastering engineer Bill McElroy. A recording engineer for over 40 years, McElroy designed and built Bias Recording Studios in Springfield, Virginia where he also worked full-time as an engineer until 1994. In 1996, he opened Slipped Disc in Ashland, Virginia and he remains in residence there while teaching Introduction to Recording (Music 201) at nearby Randolph Macon College. Bill has been a recording and mastering engineer for local, national, and international recording artists as well as public television. He brings a vast and extensive knowledge to every project, and he has been the engineer on all of Mark’s projects since September of 1991. At this point, according to Mark, he is more a member of the band than an engineer.
“For me,” reflects Brandt, “recording an album is like thinking about how you are going to convey to someone that you are really in love with, just how much you truly love them. When you are alone, you can pace around and practice what you will say, and you can even have some working sentences to go with your thoughts and concepts. When it comes to the moment of expression, however, if you are reading a speech to that person, they are not going to trust you as much as if you speak directly from your heart. That is what Jazz is all about. The music is the message, so it must always come from the heart as honestly and as naturally as the artist is courageous enough to deliver it. Being with trustworthy band mates is essential for things to flow. Being in the studio with Bill McElroy brings an added freedom which comes not only in giving control of the recording process to a gifted engineer but also to a trusted friend.”
Jazz will always be about live performance, even when it is recorded. As the music occurs for the first time in a given moment, both musician and listener participate in a magical journey of sound. Neither musician nor listener knows where the path will take them, yet each person shares equally in the joy of the journey. Those who love Jazz are as unique as those who play it, and describing this simpatico is left to frustrated writers and critics. “At the end of the day,” says Brandt, “describing the world of Jazz is like trying to describe the ocean. It is in one sense immense and overwhelming, and at the same time, it is profoundly simple. For the artist, Jazz is not a style of music as much as it is a process of development. For the listener, Jazz is a magical, ascetic, even spiritual journey through the intangible places of the human heart. The musician must be secure with who he or she is as a person. The listener must be open to new experiences.”
Jazz musicians in the D.C. area know that Brandt is no newcomer to music. In 2000, at a time when his career options were at their highest, Mark chose to pull back so that he could remain close to his wife and their three small daughters. “I knew I could make it in jazz,” recalls Brandt, “but I also knew that making it on my terms would ultimately mean missing out on the largest portion of my children’s lives. Seeing my children every day and watching them grow up has been incredible. I could never get those years, months, and days back. My children know who I am, but equally important to me is the fact that I know who they are.” Now, ten years later, Brandt says he has no regrets and the “slow career” choices he made have ultimately made him a better and more giving artist.
“I have never stopped working on the craft of music or the discipline required to be an improvising musician, but I have also spent a lot of time loving my family, learning about people and especially learning about myself. As a result, I have more depth to offer in my music than I did all those years ago. I certainly have a lot more love to give, and I know without a doubt that being an artist is not about “making it” as much as it is about just “being it” and living securely within the knowledge of who I am. Now my heart and my hands are one, and the music is flowing like never before.”