In-demand bassist shares his insights on Jaco, the Metheney gig, his collection of exotic basses and lots more!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
August 31, 2009
Mark Egan is considered to be one of the most respected and in-demand electric bassists on the music scene today. His unique fretless bass sound and style are both distinctive and versatile and his musical contributions incomparable.
With three platinum & three gold albums to his credit, Mark has recorded with the Pat Metheny Group, Sting, Arcadia, Roger Daltry and Joan Osborne and has performed with the Gil Evans Orchestra, Marianne Faithful, David Sanborn, John McLaughlin, Sophie B. Hawkins and many others. His bass work has also been heard on many movies and television shows, including Aladdin, The Color Of Money, A Chorus Line, NBC Sports, ABC’s All My Children, CNN/Headline News and numerous award-winning television commercials. Mark is co-founder of the group Elements, along with Metheny drummer Danny Gottlieb. To date the band has recorded eight full-length albums and toured over twenty-seven countries. In 1992, Mark founded Wavetone Records, an independent contemporary record company.
FBPO: I’ve always thought of you as somewhat of an exotic bass player with lots of unusual instruments and out-of-the-ordinary sounds (like, say, oh… 10-string basses!). In fact, photos of you with a double-neck electric bass over your shoulder almost seem like your trademark. Am I right?
ME: Yes Jon, your impressions of my style as an exotic bassist are a big part of my overall expression in music. I have experimented and recorded my solo projects utilizing a wide array of bass sounds, using various 4-, 5-, 8- and 10-string basses, as well as several double-neck instruments with a combination of a 4-string fretless and 8-string fretted necks. I have also experimented extensively with various effects such as chorus, flange, digital delays and various multi-effect units, as well as making use of multitrack recording techniques with basses. My compositional inspirations come from artists such as Gil Evans, Joe Zawinul, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ravel, Stravinsky, Bartok, Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, Bach and many other masters.
Even though I have experimented with all of the above instruments and effects on my own recordings, my roots and experience as a rhythm section player lie very deep in the functional tradition of the bass with respect to R&B, jazz, rock and latin music.
Before I did my first recording in 1982 with the group Elements, which is a band that I co-lead with drummer Danny Gottlieb, featuring Bill Evans on sax and Clifford Carter on keyboards, I was very involved in the New York recording session scene. In 1976 I moved from Florida to New York with the Phyllis Hyman group, featuring Hiram Bullock on guitar, Clifford Carter on keyboards and Bill Bowker on drums. It was mostly a cover band with a few originals and it was all about laying down the groove. This band led the way for me to play with Eumir Deodato, then with the David Sanborn Band.
The real starting point for developing an individual sound (which I continue to work on) was my experience with the Pat Metheny Group, which we formed in 1977. Pat and the band were very aware of creating a group sound and not sounding like everyone else at the time. It was in this group that I really focused on the fretless sound that was originally inspired by my earlier experiences with Jaco Pastorius while in Miami from 1969-1976.
FBPO: I had the privilege of getting to know Jaco a little bit when I was living in Florida. Tell us about your experience with him. Is there a part of you today that you attribute to his influence?
ME: I met Jaco while I was studying music in Miami. We first met when we played in a band together called Bakers Dozen, which was led by the great jazz multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan and pianist Vince Lawrence DiMaggio. I had been hearing about Jaco through the grapevine, since he was in Ft. Lauderdale and I was in Miami. Ira Sullivan had spoken of Jaco and the first time we met was at a Bakers Dozen rehearsal. We split the bass book along with a very fine acoustic bassist named Don Mast. Jaco brought a reel-to-reel tape machine with headphones and played a recording of Wayne Cochran and the CC Riders.
That was it for me…it was revolutionary and I knew that I was standing next to an innovator. At that time, I was listening to Stanley Clarke with Return to Forever, Doug Rauch with Santana, Dave Holland and Michael Henderson with Miles Davis, Paul Jackson with Herbie Hancock, Bootsy Collins and Bernard Odum with James Brown, the Duck Dunn Stax recordings, John McLaughlin and the lineage of jazz bassists from Jimmy Blanton, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Scot Lafarro, Eddie Gomez, Miroslav Vitous, etc.
Jaco had a completely different sound and approach that came from R&B, jazz and funk that was riveting, fresh and new. We would see him play in a quartet with Ira Sullivan at a club called the Lions Share, with pianist Alex Starky and drummer Bobby Economo. We later were on the road with the Gil Evans Orchestra, as well as co-billing concerts with the Pat Metheny Group and Weather Report.
The things about Jaco that impressed me were his sound, sense of time and original compositions. He had virtuoso technique along with the funkiest and strongest senses of rhythm that I have ever experienced. He was incredibly gifted and talented with a type A personality that backed it all up.
The part of my playing that I attribute to Jaco, aside from the obvious influence of his fretless sound, is his sense of intensity and commitment to the groove. I took a few formal lessons with Jaco and what impressed me the most was his drive and energy. The intensity that I left with kept me going for weeks by practicing his various diatonic (note groupings in the same key) arpeggio studies in major and minor and Charlie Parker heads and solos. We miss Jaco!
FBPO: There’s just something about the “magic” between a bass player and a drummer when they really understand each other and each one knows what the other is thinking. You’ve worked so much with Danny Gottlieb that you must know that feeling.
ME: Yes, I do know that feeling of really connecting with a drummer and it is magical and special. My first experience with really hooking up with a drummer was with Billy Bowker. We played together in the University of Miami jazz band, a group with Marc Colby and Ron Miller and a trio with guitarist Stan Samole. We had many all-night cosmic jam sessions as well as gigs at clubs in the Miami area. Billy has an incredibly flexible feel and is deeply rooted in jazz, funk R&B and latin music. We listen and played so much together that we anticipate the direction to take for the soloists.
After moving to New York and playing many years with Danny Gottlieb in the Pat Metheny Group, Gil Evans, our group Elements, as well as many other groups, we also developed that special magic. Danny is a master drummer and so flexible and complementary that it is a very special experience playing with him. We instantly go to the same places and are always deeply listening to the total sound of the ensemble and aware of developing the music.
FBPO: What are the chances of you and Pat Metheny working together again in the future?
ME: I’d love to play again with Pat. He is an incredible musician and I’m always open to joining forces again. The Pat Metheny Group years were very special for me and a huge part of my evolution.
FBPO: Your career has encompassed movies, TV and an immeasurable amount of live performances, from one end of the musical spectrum to the other. At the same time, it’s obvious that you also love to spend time working in your recording studio developing your own music. Which scenario do you find most fulfilling?
ME: I find much of it very fulfilling. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoy being a team rhythm section player and love to play a groove with players that have a commitment to a deep groove. I find the rhythm section aspect most fulfilling when players are versatile, flexible, creative and compositionally aware. I was fortunate to have been a member of the Gil Evans Orchestra for many years. That experience was highly creative and experimental in the context of amazing improvisers.
I also find composing, recording and producing my solo projects very challenging and fulfilling. I enjoy creating compositional backdrops that leave room for the players to express themselves within the mood. I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with many rock and pop projects and I find them very fulfilling as well.
FBPO: What’s keeping you busy these days? Are you working on anything that’s got you particularly excited?
ME: I have been touring and recording with the incredibly talented saxophonist Bill Evans with his Soul Grass group in Europe and North America. His music is cutting edge and the band is very strong. It is an interesting combination of instruments, including Ryan Cavanaugh on banjo, Chris Howes, violin and Joel Rosenblatt, drums, in addition to Dennis Chambers, Dave Weckl and Josh Dion. We just finished a tour of the Northwest with special guest Robben Ford that was a great addition to Soul Grass. I have also been a member of the Larry Coryell trio for seven years, featuring Paul Wertico on drums.
There are two other trios that I really enjoy playing with. One is called Unit One with Karl Latham on drums and John Hart on guitar. The other I co-lead with guitarist Jeff Ciampa and drummer Danny Gottlieb. We have a studio recording under Jeff’s name called “House of Mirrors” on my Wavetone label.
This summer I was on a special tour with the CTI All-Star band, featuring: Hubert Laws on flute, Bill Evans on sax, Randy Brecker on trumpet, Airto Moreira on percussion, Flora Purim on vocals, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums and Niels Lan Doky on piano. We recorded a live DVD/CD in Montreux, Switzerland.
What I’m really excited about is my new recording that I am in the process of mixing. It is a quartet of original music featuring an all-star lineup, with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Mitch Forman on keyboards and Bill Evans on sax. We recorded it in New York at Avatar studios June 15,16 and 17. I feel that it’s my most powerful recording and everyone totally complemented the compositions and, at the same time, really stretched the boundaries. I will be releasing it on my Wavetone label in January of 2010 and it will be titled “Mark Egan: Truth Be Told”.
FBPO: What do you like to do that’s not necessarily musically oriented?
ME: I enjoy fishing and being around the water, snow skiing, traveling with my wife, sports cars, dinners with friends and the outdoors.