Interview with BRIC JazzFest Performer Mark de Clive-Lowe
Growing up in a musical family in New Zealand, Mark de Clive-Lowe has enjoyed jazz music—as both a listener and performer—around the world. His international voice and unique style comes to BRIC JazzFest Marathon this year, as he’ll be performing for on Thursday, October 18.
“It’s always an absolute treat to be in NYC, especially to be playing in Brooklyn,” he said. “Food is always high on my agenda, but aside from that I’m really looking forward to catching Christian Scott, Stefon Harris, and Melanie Charles, along with plenty more of unexpected surprises I’m sure!”
In this Q&A, Mark talks about his mentors and inspiration, his unique style of music, and what the audience can expect during his JazzFest set!
Growing up in New Zealand, how did you first get into music and performing?
My dad decided that all his kids would learn instruments, so I was put on the piano super young and never really knew any different. In high school I fell in love with ‘90s hip hop and beats and sampled music in general, and I bought myself a drum machine and keyboard, along with an ever-growing record collection.
With the seeds planted from Dad’s record collection growing up, jazz took over soon after, and I consumed as much as I could get my hands on. I finished high school in my motherland, Japan, and got exposed to so much music then—both recorded and live. Seeing Elvin Jones perform A Love Supreme with Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Roberts, and Reginald Veal was a life changer. In the end, that whole experience in Japan really cemented my decision about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Who were some of your inspirations and mentors as you were growing up and coming up in the industry?
Most of my inspirations growing up in New Zealand were from recordings—Ahmad Jamal’s The Awakening, Branford Marsalis’ Crazy People Music, and Miles Davis’ My Funny Valentine were three records I heard early that I really felt a real connection to. At the same time A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Digital Underground, and Guy were on heavy rotation. New Zealand-born saxophonist Nathan Haines was always a supportive mentor to me, both in New Zealand and then when I went to the UK where I would do studio sessions with him for Goldie Metalheadz drum’n’bass label, house music producer Phil Asher, and others.
From that experience, I went head first into London’s underground music scene doing keyboard sessions and collaborating with some of the world’s most innovative electronic music producers. I ended up living there for 10 very formative years before I relocated to my current home, which is Los Angeles.
What is the jazz scene like in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles has an amazing scene. It reminds me a bit of how London was when I arrived there as far as the DJ/producer scene and how people were so free in breaking out of their boxes and people’s expectations of what they would or should do. The likes of Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, and Terrace Martin have really put LA on the map for what’s going on now, and there’s so many other artists doing it too. It’s a melting pot where everyone is coming from different perspectives. Everyone loves to hear each other’s unique perspectives and concepts; it’s about being free to explore new ideas. LA seems to be attracting and inspiring right now.
How would you describe your style of music?
I came up loving such a range of music: jazz, ‘90s hip hop, new jack swing, jungle and drum’n’bass, soul, and Afro-Cuban, and then later house music, techno, and more avant garde experimental music. To me, they’re all just colors and flavors and I look at it like, “why would I only want to eat one kind of food for the rest of my life or paint every picture in just one color?” My journey has brought me into deep contact with all those styles through formative listening, collaborations, and life experiences, so what I create now is an amalgam of all of that. If I’m doing a more jazz-centric show with the band, then those elements of sampling, remixing, and beat culture are still going to be there. But if I’m doing a solo live set for a dance party alongside DJs, the elements of jazz and improvisation are still going to be there too.
What can the audience expect from your BRIC JazzFest performance?
I’m going to be performing with my quartet at BRIC JazzFest and we’ll be playing material from my albums CHURCH and Live at the Blue Whale, as well as previewing a couple of tunes from my forthcoming project Heritage, which pays homage to my Japanese roots. Being half-Japanese, half-New Zealander, both of those places have become more and more important to me as the years go by.
As for the show, I love to live sample the band as we’re playing and spontaneously remix moments in real time, blending live beat programming with the live drummer, and using that as a springboard to get to the next moment.