Mark Turner: Transcriptions & Essays

Available May 26, 2018
It's no secret that I'm a devoted admirer of Mark Turner's saxophone playing and musical-spiritual vision, so I was pleased when saxophonist and fellow Turner-ite Jeff McGregor reached out to me last June about writing a foreword for a collection of Turner solo transcriptions.

Jeff's collection, Mark Turner: Transcriptions & Essays, is a massive undertaking: 35 solo transcriptions that span major bands (Kurt Rosenwinkel, Fly, Billy Hart Quartet) and two decades of Mark's playing. When I saw an early version of the transcriptions in November, there was already over +120 pages of notated music, which has likely only expanded since then. 
I haven't yet seen the final version, and I'm looking forward to reading the additional commentary from Jeff and Mark himself, who was interviewed at length and provided valuable input during the process of assembling this collection. To be clear, I do profit from sales of this book, but I think if you're a fan of Mark Turner, you'll likely find this well worth the sticker price of $35. 

A brief excerpt from my foreword follows (it's much longer), and you can order your copy directly from Jeff's website.

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Excerpt from Foreword to Mark Turner: Transcriptions & Essays

In assessing his immediate scene, Turner demonstrates both keen historical self-awareness and simple pragmatism when he notes how “You can’t have the kind of apprenticeship that existed 20 years ago—how many bands are there? So a lot of us end up setting up sessions.”

By comparison, more opportunities for direct apprenticeship existed for the promising, young musicians even just a decade earlier. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis played together in Art Blakey’s band in the early 1980s, and when played one of their recordings in a blindfold test, Turner heard in their music something he had sought for himself: a style belonging to a particular generation:

It’s incredible playing, understanding of swing rhythm and all those things – just the obvious things. But not only a great understanding of the swing tradition, but it’s their own language they’ve created. I’ve been influenced by it. Many people have … It seems like they have so much control, especially over this, that it sounds like they’re playing really free … This was right before I went to college, so everybody was listening. Not everybody, but those that wanted to play mainstream jazz were into that, and so was I.

As with the Marsalis brothers and their group of frequent collaborators, Turner’s musical approach became inseparable from the musicians he played with during his formative years—most notably in Kurt Rosenwinkel’s band, which included bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Ballard. Turner credits playing with this group as foundational to his development.

“We were in town a lot—we didn’t have a whole lot of gigs, but we had enough to live,” he says in an interview with Jeff McGregor from late 2017. “We were playing at Smalls, around ’94, ’95, ’96, maybe into ’97, and we would play there every week. I think we had Tuesdays, three to six months at a time. We would go to Kurt’s place—at that time, Kurt and Ben were roommates—and we’d go there and rehearse.”

At first they played both standards and original music by Rosenwinkel, and as the band matured, they began playing more and more of his compositions. This entailed navigating odd-meter, irregular forms that were strewn with harmonic challenges—precisely defined, unfamiliar chord voicings in unfamiliar sequences—which necessitated a new vocabulary.

“What I’d learned—Joe Henderson and Warne Marsh and Sonny Rollins—it just wasn’t working,” Turner says. “To be more specific and give that music what it needed, it wasn’t working well enough, so a lot of that time was working that out.”