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Mark Hollingsworth Interview
On his current CD Chasing the Sun, smooth jazz artist and producer Mark Hollingsworth blew it in a big way. The popular saxophonist and flautist could have gone in a more traditional direction with his music, to ensure the album's success, but he defied conventional wisdom and blew it. We are of course referring to the fact that Hollingworth simply used a lot of wind to play four different saxophone voices (soprano, tenor, alto, and baritone), a vast array of flutes, clarinets and penny whistles, for his daring and imaginative arrangements.
"I set out to create an album that might be difficult to categorize. If we had referred to it as eclectic, people would not have known what that meant. I am not sure quite what I want to call it. When I started to conceive this album, I felt like the direction of smooth jazz in recent years had been getting narrower and narrower, as it became more exclusive rather than inclusive. The guys that I work with can do all this, and more. I wanted to go outside the box to say that there are a lot more possibilities out there. I wanted to make this album as fun as we could make it, and take advantage of the things that we can do, to see if people liked it," said Hollingsworth in commenting on the vision that he had, as he set out to create the upbeat, tracks, with the lively grooves, that we hear on his CD.
Chasing the Sun represents an evolution in Hollingsworth's music that first began with his debut solo CD On the Mark, released in 2005. "With that album, I wanted to make a CD that had good energy. I was not trying to be aggressive, but I wanted it to be alive. There are a lot of tunes that were on the moderately up-tempo side. With this album, I expanded upon that, taking advantage of the synergy that the band has when we are playing live. (To do so), I recorded the rhythm section all at once, whereas with the first album we were tracking individually," said Hollingsworth.
You can feel the energy flowing, with every one of Hollingsworth's phrases, as well as the musicians that accompany him on Chasing the Sun. This sense of vibrancy is most noticeable on the third track, "Tropical Breeze," with Chris Brengle serving up some sparkling piano chops, while Sinclair Lott delivers effusive, but lighter drumming. They are accompanied by James Wirrick's fabulous acoustic guitar licks, Bart Samolis' splendid grooves on the upright bass, and Hollingsworth's emotive playing on the tenor saxophone, flutes and clarinet. The energy spills over into the following track, the appropriately named "Spice of Life."
"The first album On the Mark is more within the box, more the way you are supposed to make an album. It is something that you can put on, and it feels like you are in the same kind of theme or world. On the first album, I didn't want it to become background music. When one tune ended, I wanted the listener to be wondering what was going to be coming next, and at the end of the next tune, to have the same experience," said Hollingsworth. One can easily argue that Chasing the Sun evokes the same sense of enthusiasm in the listener, as Hollingworth not only drew upon his vast instrumental talents, but from several different styles of music.
"It (Chasing the Sun) contains a lot of sounds that people don't (necessarily) associate with smooth jazz. There is a gospel tune, and a New Orleans style tune. The songs have a lot of energy behind them, and I think people identify with the energy," he said.
Hollingsworth continued, "Part of what inspired this album was a TV show that I did, called the Celebration of Gospel. I was playing with all these great gospel artists, who were top-notch people in their field. It was so powerful, that people were just shaking with the energy. I think that you could have put anybody in there, and they would have been moving, and into it, because the energy was just so great. (On Chasing the Sun), I included some music that pulls from the gospel field, such as "A Higher Plane."
(At first), I was hoping that this album would appeal more to musicians than the average person. Even though I have accused radio of underestimating the average listener, I think that I may have too. I didn't have high expectations about people getting excited about it (the album), but so far the response has been really, really good," he said.
He described how he tossed conventionalism completely out the window when it came time to record one of the songs on Chasing the Sun, "On the tune called "Stowaway," I kind of went crazy. It is based on an improvisation of "Darwin's Voyage," and I play penny whistles, bansuri flutes, alto flutes, and clarinets. I pulled a lot of instruments out of the closet." Despite Hollingsworth's penchant for experimentation, a distinct smooth jazz rhythm is ever present in his music.
In the midst of Cajun flavored tunes like "Crawfish Pie," and Latin influenced pieces such as "Sambarosa," one finds the song, "Doing My Own Thing." Hollingsworth said, "Originally, "Doing My Own Thing," was not supposed to be on there. It has an a cappella back group, and I think of it as a group of Doo Wop singers, standing on the corner, doing their own thing, without a rhythm section. I wasn't going to put it on the album, but the engineer that I worked with encouraged me to include it. When I played it for people, they really liked it, so I put it on the album."
It is not surprising that Mark Hollingworth is changing people's paradigms concerning smooth jazz music, because many of the personal paradigms that he held earlier in his career have also been altered. "I grew up in a very different paradigm, than a lot of the artists that I work with. I grew up in a home where I listened to a lot of classical music, so my idea of what (constituted) a musician was someone who showed up in a tuxedo at symphony hall, and was kind of an academic artisan. I (therefore) had this opinion of rock and roll guitarists as being uneducated, drug users, and all those sorts of things. Over the years, I ventured into several different styles. When I first started my career I thought that people fell into two different camps, they were either, highly schooled and trained, or they were the ones who did everything by ear and faked it. Because the people I have worked with have spanned a wide spectrum, including Quincy Jones, Tom Petty, and Trooper my perception has changed. Quincy comes from a background that is academic and where he was well trained. He spent years in the trenches, and he knows what he is doing. The thing that surprises me, when I worked with artists who aren't like that, such as Tom Petty who comes from a very different background, is how impressed I am that they are also masters of what they are doing. They may be directing you to break a conventional rule, and you may scratch your head, saying, 'Are you sure that you want this?' Inevitably, they keep going for what they want, know what they want in their heads, and they get it. I have always been impressed by that," he said.
To that end, after having listened to Chasing the Sun, we commend you Mr. Hollingsworth, because you have learned your lessons well, and left your own preconceptions far behind. As music fans approach Chasing the Sun with an open mind, we are equally confident they, too, shall soon leave their paradigms behind and consider smooth jazz in a new light, pushing their personal boundaries a little further out, and perhaps demanding more creativity from today's smooth jazz artists, no longer content to accept the status quo.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs,
www.rivetingriffs.com . His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his
late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright
and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.