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New JGT Interview: Jazz Guitarist Mark Mosley



JGT’s Wayne Goins interviews accomplished jazz guitarist Mark Mosley – who made his mark on the East Coast scene before his permanent exit for Thailand.

He quickly established himself as a mainstay there, raising the bar for jazz standards, while still staying connected to the guitar scene here in the US.  This well-traveled military serviceman has an impressive story to tell, and JGT has it all here.

JGT: You were born in Arkansas as an “army brat,” your dad being in the military—how did that influence your upbringing?  

MM: Drastically since we traveled and lived abroad. Unknowingly at age six, I was experiencing and developing a global perspective.

JGT: You then had your own military career that allowed you to continue honing your guitar skills? 

MM: Yes, as an Army Bandsmen, trombonist, electric bassist, bass drummer, cymbal expert…![laughs.]

JGT: You’re currently living in Thailand–how did that come about?  

MM: I performed weekly for over ten years as a bandleader of the trio for the Sala Thai Restaurant location on 1301 U Street in the northwest D.C. area…it was across the street from the Twins Jazz club at 1344 U Street.

JGT: What’s the musical atmosphere like there? Are there many opportunities for gigs, recordings, tours? 

MM: Sporadic gig offers followed shortly after arrival including the Chiang Mai International Jazz Festival. I’ve found that we guitarists have to make things happen! We have a few possibilities looming for regular performances.

JGT: You were fortunate enough to play at the Montreux Jazz festival as a teenager—how did that come about?

MM: My high school band under the Direction of Jim Murdza—who studied with Hank Levy of Towson University—made that happen due to his own arrangements and compositions. I rarely heard straight-ahead music in 4/4 then; instead, he had written odd-metered compositions. This directly transferred to my sight-reading ability.

JGT: Discuss your first solo album—how and where did it come together?

MM: My first was titled, Mark’s Mood. It was basically a demo recording to get gigs. It featured James King, Nasar Abadey, and Eric Kennedy who volunteered their time to make it happen. I remain thankful to them, and Ron who recorded us.

JGT: What’s your approach to arranging classic jazz standards on guitar?

MM: Basically I simply feel the urge to create something first, then either play melody based on my own “changes.” Sometimes I play a melody first, then figure out what the melody is trying to imply harmonically. Next, I either write it down or record it on my main recording equipment.

JGT: What’s your approach to composing original tunes? 

MM: Inspirations are the main reasons. To me the best melodies are simple; the harder ones are for musicians or folks with developed musical awareness. If one wants to have a weekly gig, I’d suggest they play for non-musicians who maybe don’t like more advanced forms. Once they’re hooked, I play on a tune or two and watch how they react. Basically, all of what I do is driven by my innate feel and exposure to a myriad of genres. I still go back home…to blues and funk!

JGT: Your second album, TLC, focused on some classic jazz standards—discuss. 

MM: Well the conception was to simply present my conceptions of our musics, which include Smooth, Straight-ahead, Latin, Funk, African Percussionist awareness and Church. All of these styles were experienced by myself as a listener and participant. Bear in mind, I also enjoy listening to Ravel, Stravinsky, and many others. I previously sat as 1st or 2nd trombonist in large ensemble settings. 

JGT: You’ve encountered some absolute legends in the music business—discuss how you met and played with Lou Donaldson. 

MM: Well, I slept on a couch of Melvin Sparks (RIP), we jammed all day upon waking up. Two weeks later Lou called me for a 17-day tour of Spain with him, Lonnie, and Fukushi. Man, I still can’t believe the call I got that night—it was right before the blizzard in ‘96 while on semester break..I. thought it was no way I could get from Baltimore to meet the cats at LaGuardia Airport!

JGT: Discuss the impact of the recently departed legend Lonnie Smith. 

MM: I now enjoy eating swordfish sandwiches due to him introducing them to me. Lonnie was comical! He and Lou told me some things that shocked me about one of my then-guitar heroes. Their favorite guitarist was, by far, Grant Green! “Be ‘you’” is the main lesson they taught me,  and I learn enough to do exactly that by doing similar things as they did. Life experiences do matter! Lou never took drugs that I know of—he helped invent “fusion” not con-fusion! [laughs.]

JGT: Do you have a current band you perform with regularly (duo, trio, quartet, etc.?) 

MM: I already got some of the best on standby if something happens for a regular gig. In fact, money is not my concern, but I’ll help make sure the cats are happy [laughs.]

JGT: Do you do any teaching while living in Thailand? 

MM: Not currently—and that’s by choice. Most here use slow-down apps and don’t need someone to teach the mechanics. The soul and feel required to play guitar is not found in any book. Since I’ve been living, knowing black culture is paramount to this music!

JGT: Any future recording projects on the horizon? 

MM: Possibly later—after what’s going on globally with this pandemic is over.

JGT: Wolf Marshall once gave you a great compliment on your “thumb playing;” any thoughts about that? 

MM: Well, Wes [Montgomery] was the cat…he had what I liked: soul, tone and not repeating himself while swinging! Anyone who digs Wes would like others who do it [use the thumb]!

JGT: Let’s talk equipment—what guitars, amps, or other products are you endorsing these days? 

MM: Well, Eastman cut many of us. I was on their roster for years. Godin was another…not sure if I am still listed. Basically, I sold 14 guitars before moving here. I’ve found current technologies enable cheap guitars to become “money makers” quick! [laughs.] I have had artist discount offers from Benedetto, Marchione, and others.. I’ve received actually two guitars totally free. One was from the former D’Angelico owners—that’s the one I kept.  It needs restoration, I will eventually get around to doing it. My current ones are an Eastman JP 380, Ibanez PM35, and another Ibanez Plus one solid body. My amps are a Vox and a Laney.

JGT: How often do you come stateside? How do you manage to keep up with the jazz guitar scene here? 

MM: YouTube affords me to hear anyone who posts. I’ve heard obscure players who are often as great as those who are known. I listen for heart, soul, the ability to ‘tell a story,’ a skill which seems fleeting now more than ever. 

JGT: Who are your current influences? 

MM: Musically, no one, really…all my favorite influences have already gone on to the next reality—RIP!

JGT: Any thoughts or advice to the young generation aspiring to be jazz guitarists? 

MM: Learn to be you. Jazz and blues were invented and innovated by blacks mainly. So, research the African-derived cultures from a global perspective—one that remains documented, but remains largely unreported by surprisingly many who are directly connected to our culture. 

JGT: Thanks so much for sharing your time with our readers!

MM: Thank you Wayne…I hope to stay in touch. I see you are doing a great job–keep it going!

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