MARK DUNN
Melodic Voyage
(Music For The New Age Records)

 

America must be blessed to be the home of so many excellent pianists and one name you can add to that roster of musical talent is Mark Dunn. Mark’s 2018 CD, entitled Melodic Voyage is sure to perk up the ears of piano music mavens. The twelve-track CD highlights compositions by Mark and the melodic and harmonious nature of the music on hand provides a splendid feeling of musical déjà vu. Mark Dunn’s easy on the ears style of piano music mixes in New Age meditation music, light piano-centric classical, Celtic, and even the upbeat jazz in the style of Vince Guaraldi. Commenting on his being called a modern day neoclassical New Age composer, Mark tells mwe3.com, "I don't mind those titles, but I just think of myself as a composer. It's not that I was exposed to New Age music, and it influenced my writing. I have a thing for traditional folk melodies, the kind that are passed down over generations before ever being written down, and I think you can hear that in my music, even more than any neoclassical or New Age notes. Still, I understand that my music fits nicely into those genres, and I don't mind if people refer to me as a neoclassical or New Age artist." These time-honored musical styles featured on various tracks makes Melodic Voyage an album that is never at a loss for creative sonic solutions. Mark is also a well-known world traveler and he brings that world-wise confidence to the sound of his latest album. Mark explains, “I enjoy being versatile and trying new sounds and ideas musically. Part of that comes from traveling so extensively, meeting musicians from all over the world and from hearing all kinds of exciting music everywhere I went.” Start to finish, Melodic Voyage is a piano instrumental music trip well worth taking the time out to appreciate. www.markdunnmusic.net

 





mwe3.com presents an interview with
MARK DUNN


mwe3
: Can you tell the readers where you live now and where you're from originally? You say that you’ve traveled quite a lot in your life, so how has your travels impacted your music?

Mark Dunn: I'm originally from Philadelphia. I live in Naples, Florida now. I've been back to Philly a few times, and have visited my old neighborhood. It was a wonderful place to grow up. We all knew each other, and interacted with one another. We were a community. Now I live on a street where none of us even know our neighbors. And Philadelphia's suburbs are beautiful. Lovely old historic homes and churches and manicured lawns… I took that place for granted as a kid.

My music has been immensely impacted by my travels. It comes out of my life. The people I meet. The experiences I have. The music comes out of all that I am feeling at that moment. I've felt sadness, joy, excitement, loneliness, fallen in love and out of love, all while traveling and living abroad, and it's all in my music.

mwe3: You’ve recorded several different albums over your career. So where does Melodic Voyage fit into your repertoire of music? When did you start releasing music, how many albums have you done and what is your label name?

Mark Dunn: I released my first album in 1999. It was a self-entitled jazz quintet album recorded in Philadelphia. My second album, Return To Peace was a Celtic/New Age album. I composed those melodies on a penny whistle while traveling in Central America, later transferred them to the piano, then finally recorded them with some of Costa Rica's finest musicians, including Tapao of the Group Editus, and Peter Nitche, violinist for the national symphony.

I wrote and recorded some music several years ago, in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and finally put that out on my third album O Principe do Jazz Bossa Nova, released last year.

I had a couple of singles prior to this latest album as well; "It's You", a ballad I recorded with saxophonist Lalo Rojas, and "Ewedeshalo", a song I wrote for the group Ethiopian Lover.

Melodic Voyage, released on my label Music for The New Age Records, is my latest release, and is my fourth album. It's the first solo piano album I've put out. Some of the melodies on Melodic Voyage appeared on my album Return To Peace, where the arrangements and instrumentation gave them a Celtic sound. The ninth track "Gafieira", appeared on my album O Principe do Jazz Bossa Nova as a biao, which is a rhythm from northeast Brazil.

But before these pieces were ever recorded, they were just melodies. I played them as melodies on the piano, long before I arranged and recorded them in these other settings. The fifth track "Children's Waltz", is arranged for jazz quintet and ready to be recorded later this year, but it began, like all of my compositions, as raw emotion inside of me, and then was born on the piano.

I felt the desire to present these melodies in the simple way I had played them on the piano, back when they were first conceived, before any arranging or other instrumentation had been added. I wanted the listener to experience the emotion these songs came out of. To take a journey through my heart… that's Melodic Voyage.

mwe3: What was the recording process like for the Melodic Voyage album? How long did it take to write and record and what was the post production like mixing, mastering and was the album recorded in your studio?

Mark Dunn: The album spans most of my life. I don't sit down and write generally. I've tried, but most of the time that stuff ends up sounding contrived, at least to me. My compositions usually just come to me, all at once, when I've been moved by something big like a breakup. I wrote track three "Dunn's Dream" after the passing of my father. So a year might yield only a few compositions, and at that rate it takes a long time to accumulate material. Track five "Children's Waltz", is a recent composition, but track eight "Sitting", was written when I was fourteen years old.

The album was recorded in my home studio, and took about three days to record. Recording was fairly straight forward, as was the mixing and mastering, because there were no other instruments involved. Editing, however, was challenging. Because there were no other instruments playing with me, the piano was totally exposed, and I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. Combine that with a pair of really good studio monitors, that reveal even the slightest imperfections, and you've got trouble. You hear one tiny imperfection, so you fix it, but when you do so, two more reveal themselves. And so on, and so on… I had to learn a lot about editing, but most of all, I had to learn when to stop editing and let things be, or else you drive yourself crazy.

mwe3: What are some of your favorite pianos and which pianos did you record the Melodic Voyage album with?

Mark Dunn: I'm partial to the American and European made pianos. They have a warmer tone compared to the asian made pianos, which are brighter. Yamaha makes a great piano, but I prefer the tone of a Steinway. Who doesn't love a Steinway? But my all time favorite piano is Mason and Hamlin.

We had a Mason and Hamlin concert grand in the auditorium at my high school, and it was magical. The depth and warmth of the tone was incomparable to anything else I've played. The action was amazing. They sent it away to have it refurbished during my junior year, and when it came back a few months later, it was even more magical.

We had our talent show at the end of my senior year, and I had just written "Return To Peace" (track 4 on Melodic Voyage) for a Korean virtuoso violinist from my school, and myself. I had played at all the previous talent shows, and they were fantastic experiences, but I was unhappy about this year's talent show. The director had decided that our show had to have a theme, and that the theme would be an 'Italian Restaurant’. Another pianist from my school was going to play that Billy Joel song on a different piano up on the stage, surrounded by props and some student actors, who were supposed to be on a date in an Italian restaurant.

We were to go up and perform my song, on that same piano, a few skits later. But that piano was a clunky junker, and I wanted to play the Mason and Hamlin which was on the floor, in front of the stage. I tried several times, in the weeks preceding the show, to talk to the director, but I just couldn't bend him. He insisted that I play the junker piano on the stage. During the show, I made a defiant decision. I went up to the lighting booth and talked to the guy operating the spotlight, and told him what we were going to do. When our moment in the show came, we walked down to the Mason and Hamlin in front of the stage, and our new friend in the lighting booth followed us with the spotlight. We performed "Return To Peace". The Mason and Hamlin was amazing, my violinist was amazing, and I guess I was okay too. We got a standing ovation, and to this day, nothing has topped that for me. Mason and Hamlin pianos hold a special place in my heart.

mwe3
: What I liked most about Melodic Voyage was the diversity of music and how it wasn’t just New Age music in scope but also jazzy and also soundtrack influenced. Was the idea on Melodic Voyage to blend in as many styles as possible to get the most diverse results? Do you mind being called a neoclassical or New Age artist?

Mark Dunn: I don't mind those titles, but I just think of myself as a composer. It's not that I was exposed to New Age music, and it influenced my writing. I had already written a few pieces when I discovered George Winston, and Windham Hill Records, and I thought, "Wow, my stuff sounds allot like that stuff, and I like it." I have a thing for traditional folk melodies, the kind that are past down over generations before ever being written down, and I think you can hear that in my music, even more than any neoclassical or New Age notes. Still, I understand that my music fits nicely into those genres, and I don't mind if people refer to me as a neoclassical or New Age artist.

mwe3: Your music sounds very influenced by some of the great piano icons in music history. For example, I feel that “Children’s Waltz” kind of has a lighthearted kind of Vince Guaraldi influence to it. Who influenced you most musically and were you influenced by a range of musical styles as well as a range of musicians?

Mark Dunn: Vince Guaraldi was indeed a great influence. His Christmas album is one of my all time favorites. Jazz pianists Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly, Sonny Clarke, Horace Silver and others, were also very influential.

Many composers have had great influence on me as well. Bacharach, Mancini, John Williams, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, French composer Michelle Legrand, and Brazilian composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ivan Lins and Dorival Caymmi.

Caymmi's sons and daughters are composers and singers as well. For his 90th birthday, they released an album, a tribute to their father and his music, while I was living in Rio de Janeiro. That's when I was exposed to his music. He wrote songs in the 1920s and ‘30s, but when you hear them, you'd swear they had just been written. Most of today's music is more style than substance. When you strip it of it's style, there's not much left to it. Caymmi's music was all substance. Beautiful melodies and lyrics that transcend the time at which he wrote them.

One of my favorite composers is a guy you've never heard of because he's not famous. He's my friend Ralph Pritikin, an amazing guitarist and composer from Portland. Ralph's music is some of the most profoundly beautiful yet simple music that I've ever heard.

mwe3: How did your Irish heritage affect your music in some ways? Is there a kind of Celtic influence in your music or would you say you’re more influenced by other musical cultures and especially the music of Brazil and Latin America? I like your quote of how “the less modernized a place was, the more I was drawn to it.”

Mark Dunn: As I said earlier, I have a thing for traditional folk melodies. My father's side of the family was from Ireland, and my grandfather was an accomplished musician. He had passed away long before I was born, so I didn't get to meet him, but my uncle was also an accomplished musician. He played the pipes, Irish flute and penny whistle, and had an Irish radio show in Philadelphia. The truth is, while he was alive, I just didn't get that music. I wasn't turned on by it at all. I was a dense kid that way. But a few years after he passed, I heard a radio program called "The Thistle and Shamrock", and I was hooked. Those melodies are so beautiful and haunting. I picked up an O'neil's book of jigs, reels and hornpipes, and haven't let that music get away from me since then. I learned allot about traditional Irish music from a group called The Chieftains.

As you already know, Brazil and the music of Brazil had great influence on me. That place is special and so is their music. They love their country and their culture, and their songs constantly make reference to that love. The people are warm and so is the music. The 1960's was a really special moment for music in Brazil. A few brilliant composers, including Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Joao Gilberto, a beloved poet named Vinicio Moraes and some American jazz musicians including bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Stan Getz all contributed to what is now known as Bossa Nova.

I love traditional Cuban music as well, and I'd like to record one of my compositions, "Bolero Azul" in Havana one day, I have a great idea for a video for that song. I'm influenced by cultures and music equally. You can't separate one from the other. The music is a product of the culture.

I traveled to Africa a few years ago, and inspiration was everywhere. I wrote the song "Ewedeshalo" after some time in Ethiopia. And I heard some music in Kenya that blew me away. We were driving around the plains of Masai Mara, our jaws permanently dropped with the sights we were seeing... giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, zebras as far as the eye can see, and our driver was playing this incredible stuff. I had him put it on a flash drive for me, and I still listen to it. I can't pronounce any of the artist's names or song titles, so forget about it, but I'm sure that stuff will express itself in my music eventually. I guess I am still more attracted to less developed places.

mwe3: Is that all still true today with all the emphasis on hi-tech and the rise of the global internet? What do you make of the internet and it’s effect on your music and the whole music world?

Mark Dunn: The internet and social media have really opened up a lot of avenues for all of us in the creative fields. I have to be honest. I'm old school. I resisted all this stuff for the longest time, but I finally gave in, and now I'm working hard to learn about all of it, and how I can use it to get my music out there. Young musicians today, can simply go on you tube and find anything they can think of... Chick Corea explaining some line he played, or someone explaining an Art Tatum run, note for note. Anything you want to know is right there, and I think that's awesome. When I was coming up as a musician, you had to work harder for everything. You learned from your teacher and by shadowing other musicians, or transcribing stuff other musicians had recorded. You had to want the knowledge more, because getting it was harder, and took more effort.

Downloads and streaming have been good and bad. Things have just changed that's all. We only make a fraction of a cent on a song now, but we can easily sell to millions of people without the help of the big record companies. Social media's potential as a tool for promoting your music is infinite. I'm working on all this stuff, but I've still got a long way to go.

mwe3: Have you done any concerts for the Melodic Voyage album and what other plans do you have for 2018 and beyond in an effort to bring Melodic Voyage to a wider audience?

Mark Dunn: I've performed some of this music, in different settings, with other musicians, but not all of it alone at the piano. I'm working on putting together some dates at venues here in the United States, and I'm also trying to organize some performances in China this year. Why China? Most of the tracks on Melodic Voyage are original compositions, but track 10, "The Moon Represents My Heart" is a traditional Chinese melody made famous by a deceased singer named Teresa Teng.

I noticed right after I released the album, that track ten was leading the way in streams, so I checked out some more of her music. The melodies are beautiful and soothing and work well as solo piano pieces, so I recorded an entire solo piano album of her music. I got busy with the release of Melodic Voyage, so I haven't finished the editing yet, but I'll get to it in a few weeks. Also, my seventeen year old son Mark Jr. is currently studying at a school in Shanghai, and I promised him I would try to make this happen before he graduates. Thanks so much for this opportunity Robert. I hope I wasn't too chatty…




 

 
   
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