A Podcast Conversation With ... Mark Kelso
The veteran Toronto drummer is one of those rarities between the bar lines of the music industry. A prolific artist, passionate and always focused on the moment. The big picture for Mark is an evolving canvas of artists who inhabit far-reaching disparities. It seems no gig is beyond his capabilities.
By Bill King
Drummer Mark Kelso is one of those rarities between the bar lines of the music industry. A prolific artist, passionate and always focused on the moment. I was thinking about Mark during the recent Taylor Hawkins tribute. It’s always about the impact certain players make on the overall big picture. That picture for Mark is an evolving canvas of artists who inhabit far-reaching disparities. It seems no gig is beyond his capabilities.
Mark has worked/recorded with a wide array of artists such as Pat Metheny, Donny McCaslin, Laila Biali, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Michael Bublé, Changuito, David Clayton-Thomas, Holly Cole, Larry Coryell, Eliana Cuevas, Paquito D’Riveria, Hilario Duran, David Foster, Dave Grusin, Herbie Hancock, Olivia Newton-John, Molly Johnson, Chaka Khan, Pat LaBarbera, Donnell Leahy, Natalie MacMaster, Bob Mintzer, Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), Donny Osmond, Danilo Perez, Chris Potter, Jovino Santos Neto, NOJO, Bonnie Raitt, Maria Schneider, John Scofield, Ron Sexsmith, Mike Stern, Soul Stew, James Taylor, Susan Tedeschi, Ian Tyson, Gino Vannelli, Carol Welsman … even me on occasions.
The new recording is called The Dragon’s Tail. This is where our conversation begins on today’s FYI Music News.Ca podcast.
Word: A new release by Canadian premiere jazz-fusion quintet, The Jazz Exiles. Helmed by 2-time Juno nominee, Mark Kelso, this group’s new recording explores the limitless harmonic and rhythmic capabilities of these 5 top-notch musicians.
The current line-up has been together for 5 years now, so their unified sound is even tighter, punchier and more cohesive than the previous 2 recordings. As usual, the Exiles are led by Irish-born Mark Kelso on drums, compositions & production. The group also features the all-star talents of Canadian bass virtuoso Rich Brown, Cuban-born alto sax player Luis Deniz, guitar whiz Elmer Ferrer and local lad, Jeremy Ledbetter on piano & keyboards. These players have brought Mark’s compositions to a whole new level!
Kelso: “With the disruption to our lives over the past 2 years, I’ve thought a lot about what the legacy of a musician’s career is, especially when there weren’t any live performances. With that in mind, I wanted this project to be a truer representation of my musical life than any of the projects I’ve done before. Maybe I’m just getting older, but I feel the growing importance of leaving something behind.”
Creative concept: “With this 3rd album, I wanted to demonstrate that drummers can write memorable music. I want to further prove that drummers can and should see themselves as creative contributors to the musical environment, and most importantly, be an example to students and younger players so that they can more easily see themselves in this sort of band leadership role too and follow suit as they embark on their own careers. So often younger players have doubts about their capabilities as composers. I want to use this album as a tool to help make young drummers less afraid to compose and to put themselves out into the world as creative leaders. “
Influence: “Throughout my development as a musician, Bruce Lee has been incredibly influential on my drumming via his ethos in self-improvement in martial arts. Timing, mental clarity, focus, speed, flawless technique, emotional control - all of those can be applied to drumming too.
In his film The Way of the Dragon, he talks about the dragon’s tail, which in a fight is a particular martial art move. However, in folklore, people worry about the dragon’s teeth and flames but ignore the tail, which can deal a devastating blow. The Dragon’s Tail is therefore a metaphor for the importance of looking for the unseen. In going deeper, one should be careful about only taking things at face value, and in doing so avoid being caught by ‘the tail.’ The album’s title track is dedicated to Bruce Lee as an homage to how he’s inspired me in my life-long musical growth.”