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Mark Rapp

On the first day of school, parents often tell their children to just be themselves, and Mark Rapp must have taken that sage advice to heart because he has followed it steadfastly right into adulthood. Rapp began playing the trumpet seriously in high school and reveals that he always had the intention of composing his own material. His debut album, Token Tales not only showcases his talents as a trumpet player but also as a bandleader and a prolific composer. Rapp discloses how he found his calling to become a jazz composer and trumpet player, the organic chemistry which he has with his band, and the making of his debut release, Token Tales which explains why in 2007, Downbeat Magazine named Rapp one of the "Top Emerging Jazz Trumpeters."

JazzReview: Who are some trumpeters that you have looked up to over the years? What have you learned from them?

Rapp: Current trumpeters I look up to are: Terence Blanchard, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton and Roy Hargrove; trumpeters of the past are: Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. There's so much to learn from each artist, but briefly from Terence, I love his desire and willingness to go for something new on the bandstand, in the moment and not relying on practiced material. He is authentic in every aspect of his performance. He reaches and sometimes misses, shares his frustration in a grimace, re-sets himself and goes for it again. His tone, attack and all around trumpet playing is brilliant. I love his compositions as well as his business acumen. Marcus Printup is one of the most soulful trumpeters out there today. I'd much, much, much rather hear a few notes of melody and passion than someone blazing on a thousand notes at lightning speed. Wynton's stage presence and communication with the audience is fantastic, and his thirst for knowledge and ability to present complex thoughts with ease is a wonderful quality. I love Nicholas' command and authority on the trumpet and Roy's fire. Roy has an awesome spark to his playing. From Miles, the level of patience he had in his phrases. Chet, his relaxed playing and very melodic improvisations. Lee Morgan and Freddie, the attack on the notes, the harmonic knowledge and flexibility on the trumpet. All of them share those qualities and I'm doing what I can to absorb and integrate them.

JazzReview: When did you start playing the trumpet? Did you always know that you wanted to be a professional musician, or was playing music something that you did for fun in the beginning?

Rapp: I started trumpet in the 6th grade after a couple of failed attempts at other instruments. Shortly after, I quit the trumpet a couple of times in the 7th and 8th grades and started back in high school, mainly because I was too little to make it as a quarterback on the high school football team. The Coach took one look at me and well, that was that. Playing music has always been fun. Playing in the marching band and being a part of some game’s half-time music that made the cheerleaders dance was a great experience. It wasn't until after high school and during my first year at a local college that a friend of mine introduced me to jazz, specifically to Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I was hooked. That was when I knew I wanted to be a professional working musician. I picked up the horn and never looked back.

JazzReview: What made you start playing the didgeridoo? What do you like about this instrument, and how do you work it into your compositions?

Rapp: When I lived in New Orleans, a funk band called the New World Funk Ensemble introduced me to the instrument. They had a couple of compositions written for it, and I had to learn it. I immediately loved the uniqueness of it, the sound is so enthralling. I work the didgeridoo into my compositions very organically as an additional color, an additional vibe. In live shows, it sets up an open, soulful world in which the band is free to express themselves in a myriad of ways from groove, to modern jazz, to minor sounds, to major qualities. You never know what we'll get into and audiences love the adventure.

JazzReview: What were your early musical experiences like? Were you always a solo artist, or did you start playing music professionally while you were a member of another band or a studio musician or in some other capacity?

Rapp: I didn't start out running my own group and being a solo artist. I did occasionally book my own gigs here or there while I was studying at college, but I came up being a part of a multitude of music groups mostly during my time in New Orleans, from R&B bands on Bourbon Street to Swing Bands to funk bands to wedding bands to modern jazz groups and so on. It was all of those musicians and experiences that gave me any kind of foundation as a band leader and trumpeter, especially my time with Quintology, a modern jazz outfit in New Orleans. We wrote our own material and did tours and made a record and so on. Those guys: Brent Rose, Charlie Dennard, Brady Kish, Mark DiFlorio, taught me so much about music and life the good and the bad. I owe them greatly.

Jazzreview: When did you start writing your own compositions? What inspired you to write your own material?

Rapp: I started writing from the very beginning, just after high school when I discovered jazz. I found myself wanting to communicate "me" through music. I wanted to capture what I was hearing in my head and share it. All the greats write their own material: Duke Ellington, Monk, Miles, Strayhorn, Quincy, Terence Blanchard, Bob Dylan, Bjork, Radiohead, Rolling Stones, Sting and so on. I wanted to express myself through composition similarly, and hopefully contribute to the library of great songs to play.

JazzReview: How did you meet the musicians who performed on your album, Token Tales - Jamie Reynolds, Gavin Fallow, and Kyle Struve? What made you choose these musicians for the recording?

Rapp: I met Kyle by randomly stopping in at a jazz gig at some New York City bar. I started to hire him on my gigs, and he in turn, introduced me to a brilliant organ player named Joe Kaplowitz. Joe then introduced me to Gavin and Gavin eventually introduced me to Jamie. It's much like any business or friends - this person knows that person and so on. At the time of the recording, this was my working band and the vibe was good. The band knew each other well and the material too, and besides, they're amazing, amazing musicians. It was a fantastic session and they killed it!

JazzReview: What is the meaning behind the title of the album, Token Tales? How does this title reflect the music on the album?

Rapp: Token Tales means a story offered as a gift, like a token of appreciation, or a memorable and enjoyable narrative. And that is what this debut album is, a story. Every song is a unique tale offered for your pleasure. For example, "1st Minute, 1st Round" represents Muhammad Ali's bravado and power in the famous picture of him standing over a knocked out Sonny Liston, but it also reveals the courage and conviction needed to release a debut record. "Thank You" is a song of gratitude and love. "Token Tales" is inspired by a story [told to me by] actor, Laurence Fishbone [who] laid on me at Wynton's apartment after the grand opening of J@LC in which he describes the essence of what it means to treat a woman with respect, passion and mutual intimacy.

JazzReview: What was the songwriting process like for Token Tales? Was it a collaborative effort with your band or did you do all of the arrangements yourself? Were you working on these compositions for a long time, or are these arrangements all new and put together specifically for this album?

Rapp: All the compositions and the 2 arrangements are mine, but they matured through the help and dedication of the band. Every performance massaged each tune to the point where you hear it on the record today. Were they put together specifically for the album? For the most part, yes. I consciously started to write tunes and build a repertoire with the end goal of making my debut record. But this was only after years of soul searching and being able to stay true to my sound and not try to be anyone else. I wasn't interested in proving trumpet techniques on standards, but approached this as a singer/songwriter like Bob Dylan, "This is me folks... my original songs and voice. I really hope you like it, because I want to share a lot more with you for a long, long time."

JazzReview: What inspired the song "Sweet Serene"? What characteristics about your playing did you want to bring out in this track?

Rapp: Ron Miles' compositions inspired "Sweet Serene." I love his writing and had been listening to a bunch of his music. One late night, usually when the melodies begin to sing in my ear, I was experiencing a warm, calming peace and wanted to capture the essence of those all to rare moments. I laid my fingers on the piano and found the opening theme. From there, I just went with it and not long after, the tune was written. Either a tune will quickly reveal itself or it takes months, fortunately this one song revealed herself right away. When it came time to record, and as the song developed in performances, it became much more about highlighting the composition, as well as, becoming a conducive platform for Jamie to display his beautiful playing.

JazzReview: Is there a certain standard or threshold test that you put your compositions through before you cut them for the record? Are you concerned about making your songs sound innovative, progressive or acceptable to traditional bop artists? Do you compare your playing to other jazz musicians before a track is ready to record?

Rapp: My concern and standard is if the tune feels great all over. I do not set out to intentionally write innovative, progressive, modern, classic, or traditional music, nor do I care if it is acceptable to any rules, theories, biases, presuppositions or what have you. It seems my music is currently enjoying the fertile middle ground between contemporary and modern jazz which is a great place to be. You see, I only set out to write music that speaks to the listener. As for comparing my playing to others, I think we all do that, because that is how you may learn something new about yourself and your own playing. However, in the end, you must forget about every other incredible musician out there. Use the inspiration from them, but never go into a recording session or performance trying to sound like them. You go out there and be the best "you" you can be.

JazzReview: How has being in New York City affected your style of playing and performance? What makes you identify with the jazz artists who burrow themselves in the clubs of New York City?

Rapp: I'm not so sure I completely identify with the burrowed jazz artists. I've always just done my own thing and kind of stayed on the outskirts of the scene. What I do identify with in the great jazz artists of New York is the love and passion for improvised music, for the freedom to express yourself through melody and the thrill and excitement of a band charging forth in agreement of the groove. Not to mention, the drive, dedication and discipline of studying your instrument. New York teaches you to be tough, determined and how to deal with business concerns. It's positively affected my playing because the best of the best are all around you, so you better practice. In terms of performance, it teaches you there is more to a performing art form than the aural aspects. The visual plays a large part in a successful gig.

JazzReview: How do you prepare before a live show? What is a typical rehearsal session like with your band?

Rapp: Musical preparations are usually accomplished with a 2-hour band rehearsal especially if we're introducing some new material or we have a substitute musician to work in. The guys in the band are so darned accomplished that in general, a quick one time down [on] a tune and we're ready. But again, as I mentioned before, it's only after a number of performances that a new piece matures and we explore and accentuate all the nuances. There are many other facets of performance preparation other than the music though. You must address promoting the show and work hard to secure advertising, maybe radio interviews, placing online ads and being very active on the social networks like Facebook, MySpace and so on.

JazzReview: Do you have tour dates scheduled to support Token Tales? Where will people be able to see you play live this year?

Rapp: After the record release show, AMI (www.theamiagency.com) signed me to their artist roster. Eric Addeo and his team of booking agents are working to set up performances throughout the States. Last year, our debut performance at the Newport Jazz Festival was received beautifully ending in a standing ovation and featured on the Travel Channel and our Blue Note shows sold out. Although it is a challenge to introduce a brand new name to the greater industry-at-large, we are receiving rave reviews from music critics and the radio stations have been brilliant! It's so cool to see radio stations from Toronto to Miami to California to Texas playing Token Tales multiple times a week. We debuted at #20 on the Jazz Week Jazz Charts after NPR used some of my tracks. It's awesome. Will you see me play live this year? Absolutely! This year, we're involved in the Sonoma Jazz Festival and the Euphoria Festival in South Carolina where Branford Marsalis joined us as special guest 2 years ago. The tour dates will be posted on my web site www.markrapp.com

JazzReview: What are your aspirations for Token Tales? How would you like this album to set you up in the jazz community?

Rapp: I'm very proud of Token Tales. It's a beautiful record packed with memorable melodies and great songs - 10 originals and 2 original arrangements. One of the arrangements is of a quirky 60's tune by Strawberry Alarm Clock. We'll soon be offering the sheet music for all the tunes; they're fantastic platforms for improvisations and expressing your own voice and musical thoughts. Also, the packaging contains original artwork by Ray Masters out of Maui, which is inspired by the record. I can't tell you how cool it is to have a celebrated artist create an original painting just for you. Amazing!! I would love for the jazz community to dig the musicianship, compositions, originality and support our efforts to uphold the ideals of improvised music. I hope people with embrace the music, my band and me as an original voice in jazz today - a musician not trying to be anyone else but himself and enjoy what we're presenting.

JazzReview: If you could do a duet with any other solo artist, who would it be and why?

Rapp:  There are so many artists with which I desire to do a duet, but without a doubt, Branford Marsalis. I have a short video clip on my web site (www.markrapp.com) of him playing soprano sax on my tune "Thank You". His tone on the soprano is the best out there. For me, it's more about the sound and vibe, not necessarily because he can play every key, meter, tempo, style, etc, but because he is so tasteful, melodic and sensitive to the music-at-hand. Besides, we both love, love, love playing golf, so I would imagine any recording session with him would involve a round or two at a nearby course. Thom Yorke of Radiohead would be another artist with which I'd like to do a duet. The vibe and grooves my band gets into compliment so much of what he does - a killer band laying down a driving, moody vibe with a melody line floating on top building into a musical feeding frenzy. Recently, I did have the honor of collaborating with an array of brilliant solo artists: Gerald Clayton on piano, Don Braden on sax and flute and vocalist Sachal Vasandani. We just recorded a record celebrating the music of Billy Strayhorn utilizing our arranging prowess on some familiar and unfamiliar gems. I'm telling you, these are the most interesting, hip arrangements of Strayhorn tunes you'll hear, but it won't be out until late Fall [2009], so now, dig into Token Tales!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mark Rapp
  • Subtitle: Spotlight on an Emerging Artist: Part One
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