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Mark Peterson

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Hear Mark Peterson's The Blue Room 
at the Global Bass Station.

                       Mark Peterson with Marty Straub

a guitar player friend of mine (yes, we all have some) sent me an email telling me he's sure I'll like this bass player from New York, and he included the URL from CD Baby for me to sample him.  Four of the eight tunes were available in 2-minute samples.  I started with the title track, "The Blue Room."  Right away you're hit with this 2-measure drum intro to a great guitar tone.  What?  A bass player's album and the guitarist is still out front?  As it turns out, it's symbolic of the generosity of this man, a natural bassist demonstrating the desire to support.  Mark Peterson, as you will read, is a very humble craftsman, and the guitarist is his brother, Anthony Michael Peterson.  But when you listen, it's not long before you discover that this bass album is one of those masterful strokes of composition so many great bassists in our history have given us.  {For a partial list, see the Dann Glenn article in this issue (it takes one to know one, and Dann is a master composer.)}

         "Horizon," the second tune, which, after the CD spent a month in my truck going back and forth with us to baseball practice, became my 13-year old son's favorite, starts out with a smooth arco bass paving the way for a sweet soprano sax.  Ah, man, that's a wonderful melody that makes you feel good even on a bad day, and it feels good to know Matt has good taste, too.  

          Of course the four samples were more than enough to give me that gotta-havit feeling.  The four tunes missing from the CD Baby page, which are available at the Global Bass Station, were worth the 2-day wait for snail mail.  Each song is different, and yet there is a beautiful harmony of content.  Just the way an "album" should be.

          It was tough to track Mark down for this interview.  Good talent is hard to find because it's always being put to good use.  At first, he was thrown into the role of bassist for the Miss Saigon Broadway show.  Before the curtain fell he was out the backstage door to tour with Joan Baez.  We emailed regularly, and spoke on the phone a few times, but we knew the best time to talk would be when he was relaxed at home in New York City.  I'm sure you'll enjoy reading what Mark had to say, but bear in mind the limitations in my ability to portray his talent with words.  The Blue Room does it better with sounds.

 

Let's start @ your beginnings. Like where and when you were born.

Mark:  I was born in St. Louis in 1966. 

Your brother, Anthony Michael Peterson, who plays on your album, is certainly a gifted guitarist. The first thought I had listening to the opening cut was "Man, this is what Hendrix & Jaco would be playing today." 

Mark:  Ben Butler plays guitar on the title track.  Anthony's a ferocious guitarist. He's one of my biggest influences. When we were in high school he was also studying at the classical conservatory at night.

You come from a big musical family then?

Mark:  Several of my male cousins have played a musical instrument at some time.  None of our parents play. 

You felt the music in you at an early age though?

Mark:  I was brought up listening to a variety of musical styles -- rock and roll ( Lynard Skynard, Cream, Hendrix), jazz (MIles, Lambert, Hendrix & Ross) and  funk (Parliament Funkadelics, Rufus, Jimmy Castor)... I was playing all that stuff. I was totally into Bootsy Collins and jammin' in garage bands, dreaming about playing on a big stage. 

So you started on bass.

Mark:  Actually I played drums for 6 years prior to playing bass. 

Jaco played drums first too.

Mark:  Yeah, I know. And I have double jointed thumbs like him too. 
          But, like I said, Parliament Funkadelic and the like really influenced me. At the time my brother was really getting into the fusion thing. so he turned me on to Mahavisnu Orchestra with Ralphey Armstrong playing bass. Then it was Stanley Clarke.  And I'll never forget the time when I had to choose between buying a Stanley Clarke record and going to see this band called Weather Report. I opted for the album because I didn't know who Weather Report was at the time. My brother came back in a daze. 


Yeah, he knew. And you figured, "Well, I can see them anytime" right?

Mark:  I never did get to see them ~ well, not in that configuration.  I wore out two of Jaco's album learning "Portrait Of Tracy" and "Donna Lee." 

So from there where did you go? 

Mark:  Let's see. I started getting into classical, and was fortunate enough to study with a teacher named Henry Loew, the principal bassist with the St. Louis Symphony. I got the chance to start lessons with him when I was younger. Although I don't think I was a good student at the time because I was into funk and fusion. But to this day I remember what he taught me. He was a great teacher, and I just had to come to it on my own. St Louis was a great town to hone your musical skills.  The older cats would take you under their wing and teach you!  You don't see that much anymore.
          I played with Johnnie Johnson, you know, Chuck Berry's piano player. He really taught me the blues, the honky tonk style of playing, and just laying down a bass line.

I understand he was a heavy influence on Chuck's playing too.

Mark:  Yeah, a lot of those licks were Johnnie Johnson licks. He is now joke. Someday I'd love to see him again. I missed him the last time he came through New York.

So when and why did you make the move from St. Louis to New York?

Mark:  It was for the music. In '89. It's funny. I couldn't decide whether to move to LA or New York. I was traveling back and forth to both cities at the time, and couldn't afford that. So I put a bid in for an apartment in each town. The New York apartment came through first, about a month before the LA one. The funny thing is that 3 times since then I was moving to LA when something came up to keep me in New York. It's a great town. There's such a variety of musical styles, and fine musicians to play with. 

You get to play a lot of styles with some talented players.

Mark:  Yeah, and I love that.  You really need to stay on top of your game in New York.  You never know what you'll get called for.

So tell us a little bit about that Miss Saigon gig on Broadway. 

Mark:  The bassist doing that gig is John Arbow, a great bass player and a very good friend of mine. He put me on the sub-list for that show. (pause) HARD AS HELL. That's all I can say is Hard As Hell. A substitute is required to come in to the "pit" ready to "sound" like the guy he's subbing for.  Very seldom is there room for error.   It's a doubling show -- electric and upright. It's a very physical gig. There's music going on all the time. The bass player is required to switch from upright to electric 24 different times. 

Do they at least give you a page turner?

Mark:  No, it's such a tight space. Oh, a funny thing the very first night I subbed. I had to switch from the electric to the upright so I fling the strap over my head and get one of my bass tuning pegs stuck in the protective netting overhead. (Laughter ~ and lots of it.) At this point I'm thinking "Okay, I'll just leave right now..." But I spin around and grab the upright just in time for the (he sings) da-dum. The conductor cracks a big smile, and looks at me like, "Okay, Rookie." 

Mark, one of the things that most impressed me about The Blue Room is your writing skills. Where have you studied music composition?

Mark:  Well, thanks, Marty. To be honest with you I only have a minor in music composition. I am virtually self-taught. I give credit to my brother. He went to Berklee on a scholarship, and he's an incredibly gifted writer and arranger. So basically what I would do on my spring breaks is go hang out with him at Berklee. I'd end up playing with people like Smitty Smith, and I'd see all these guys and hear these great charts and I said "Man, I gotta learn how to write like this. So when his semester was over I would take his papers home and study them, and I still do. I have all the big band assignments with notes, and, you know, all the stuff they were teaching at Berklee and learned from that.

Each song on your album is a different style. You play upright and electric depending on what the song needs. I'm sure to you each one is your own baby.

Mark:  Yeah, you're right. I appreciate you listening to it like that, man. Thank you. When I first started writing the material for the album, I had one goal in mind: to write material that I always wanted to play in other bands. The days of looking for that "big gig" are over.  I believe you have to create your own musical path. 

Yeah, that's the love of your craft. There's work, and there's the love of your work. The best stuff for you AND your audience is love stuff.

Mark:  And I'm thankful to have a core of musicians/friends/fans that are very supportive and encouaging.  Too often, the editing process takes over and you never finish the musical piece.  The guys I play with are wonderful musicians who bring out the best in me. 

The Blue Room is all instrumental, but do you sing?

Mark:  Actually I'm a first tenor. The gig with Joan Baez is geared more towards singing than bass playing. I play electric fretless and acoustic-electric upright.  The challenge is to maintain a role that is totally supportive of the music, yet still make it interesting to myself.  I've totally rewritten the bass parts and have adopted a much more lyrical "answering" approach that works very well with her. 

What's the instrumentation in her band?

Mark:  I play an acoustic-electric bass. John Carruthers made it for me. There's an acoustic guitar player, a multi-instrumentalist who plays sax, violin and mandolin, and there's percussion. Joan plays the guitar as well. It's a wonderfully intimate instrumentation. It captures her voice wonderfully. 

So who were some of the other notables you've played with besides Johhnie Johnson & Joan Baez?

Mark:  Cassandra Wilson. I got a chance to record on her New Moon Daughter CD. My brother Anthony has his own CD out called The Book Of Days which is on Gazelle. Jean-Paul Bourielly on DIW. James "Blood" Ulmer, to name a few. I still play with James "Blood" a lot. It's so much fun playing with him. 

One thing you mentioned on your website was The Johnny Carson Show.

Mark:  Yeah, I did it twice. I was playing with a singer named Francesca Beghe . She had a CD out that was doing rather well. We ended up being the opening act for Michael Bolton on his US Tour. We were playing in all the huge stadium venues, and Johnny AND Jay Leno took a liking to her music and had us on. We were on Johnny's last week on the air. 

Another thing I'd like to hear more about is the actual blue room that gave you the name for the CD.

Mark:  Yeah, actually that's like a mini home studio.  It's a very warm room.  It's very quiet, to the back of the house.  It's on top of our 3-story building, and you can see the lights from Manhattan from my back window.  It's kinda cool, you know.  Kinda just puts me in another world.  That's one way I look at it.  The other is that the feeling goes to my roots.  You know, being in St. Louis.  It's a very bluesy town.  I played the blues a lot.  So choosing The Blue Room as the title cut was saying 'This is where I come from*, then and now.'  Then, with the other tunes I wanted to say 'This is where I'm taking it.'  We get it cooking in the middle, then close it down with "Missouri River Bottom Ho-Down," which is my tribute to Aaron Copeland, James "Blood" Ulmer, and Ornette Coleman.

Man!  What a combination for the same tune.

Mark:  I had a chance to play with Ornette one summer, one project of his.  It was just... unreal.  I can't explain how unreal it was.  Wild.  It was just one project, and we never even recorded it.  Just rehearsed this material he was writing for this singer.

Sometimes the best stuff never gets recorded.  

Mark:  Yeah, that's the truth.

So I'm sure you got more of your best stuff workin' out.  Are you planning another CD?

Mark:  Actually yeah, there's a lot of material we didn't record.  There's a lot of it that we do live.  Now I'm trying to work more on the coloring of music.  I'm really influenced by composers who can write a 3-part horn section that really speaks to you.  So I'm trying to write more interplay.  I'm very much into the World Music scene.  With the singing I want to bring in the voice as an instrument.  One song we didn't record that we'll be doing live is called "The Greeting Song," and I'm looking forward to recording that one.  It's just bass, voice and percussion.

What is MEPPCO?  I'm guessing your name, your initials.

Mark:  Yes, that's Mark Eric Peterson Production COmpany.  We started shopping the CD, and some of the companies were saying, "We love it!  We love it.  Can you resubmit it in June?" or something weird like that.  So what were they going to do between then and June?  Loose the CD?  So I began to realize that I can't be waiting on the fickleness of these guys.  Now with the Internet you can find a market.  The distribution numbers won't be as high, but the satisfaction of knowing there are people out there really enjoying your music might even be higher.  

So what are your plans for the future?  

Mark:  Continue pushing this disc, and working on my writing skills and the new CD.  Trying to keep my band together before one of them gets that big dream gig.  I'm continuing the study of my classical chops with a wonderful bass player by the name of Tony Falunga, who plays with the Philharmonic here.  He & I are talking about doing some things together.  You know, duet pieces, and I'm working on arrangements for a bass quartet.  Continuing is the key word.

 

 

You can reach Mark Peterson's website at markepeterson.com/  


*to hear the actual album that Orin Isaacs called Where I'm From, visit the Global Bass Station

 

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