Marijn, Inge, Mark
Mark Harper w/Tower of Power - November 20th 2009, Gronau (D)

During the European tour of Tower of Power we spoke with Mark Harper, guitarplayer of the band. While very comfortable sitting in the luxury tourbus of the band, we talked about Mark's exciting upcoming cd "The Mark Harper Project", Wayman Tisdale, mutual friends and plastic covered furniture!

Mark Harper w/Tower of Power

SJEU: Mark, could you please introduce yourself to SmoothJazz Europe?
Mark: Sure, the Mark Harper you know right now is the guitarist of Tower of Power. But before that I was a guitarplayer with many people over the years, Smooth Jazz, Jazz, R&B.
SJEU: Can you give us some names?
Mark: My first big break was a contract with MCA Records in 1987, as a founding member of the band called The Mac Band. We had one of the first number one hits of Babyface, Roses are Red. After 1,5 years I departed and continued my musical aspirations in a different direction. That is when I started playing with some Smooth Jazz artists, like my good friend Tom Braxton.
SJEU: He is a friend of ours!
Mark: Great! I started playing with him, and Ronnie Laws, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright. I also started doing other stuff like BeBe Winans, Kirk Franklin and so on, as a freelance musician.
SJEU: Do you still do that, next to Tower of Power?
Mark: Yes I still do that. It's very necessary to continue doing those types of things.
SJEU: How would you describe yourself as a guitarplayer?
Mark: As a guitarist I played with a lot of different people because I was versatile and be able to assimilate what they needed. People always ask me who are my influences. I say that it is hard to say because when I can't tell you everyone it is unfair to say who they are, but is so many!
SJEU: You play now with Tower of Power. How would you describe your role inside that band?
Mark: My role is just to play my part, it is not really a big role for me. Everyone who plays in that position has to play the same. I just fit in and do my part.
SJEU: And how did they find you?
Mark: Larry Braggs, the leadsinger, and I have know each other for about 20 to 25 years. He had asked me several times.

SJEU: How did you meet Wayman Tisdale?
Mark: In the late 90s I met Wayman Tisdale through Tom Braxton. We knew each other but weren't working together. And in 2000 Wayman asked Tom, "Hey you've got guys you play with all the time! We just use your guys!". So in 2000 Wayman played with the guys from Tom and I joined in 2002. From the first rehearsal it was magic between the two of us! It was awesome! I stayed with Wayman from 2002 until I got with Tower of Power in 2007. He was my best dearest friend!
SJEU: It's nice, the story about Wayman!
Mark: People don't realize that he is not just the talented musician or basketball player, he is the overall talented person in many areas! He can act, he can do character, voices and imitating people, he is just amazing!
SJEU: We've seen him twice on the Smooth Jazz Cruises. The last one (2009) was such an emotional coming back after his illness and surgery.
Mark: That's why I am excited about my record as well because that whas one of the last things he recorded!
SJEU: We heard that you, as well as Wayman, like the old days?
Mark: Wayman and I were big fans of Old Skool, always some Old Skool R&B. And others have taken notice of Wayman doing that, and now Dave Koz sneaks some in, Richard Elliot does some. But Wayman and I were the first in Smooth Jazz doing it, we had a whole segment doing Old Skool songs.
SJEU: We remember one moment that Wayman told a great story, being such an entertainer, saying "Do you remember: plastic on the furniture?"
Mark: Yes! Plastic on the furniture! Black lights!
SJEU: My parents had plastic on the furniture! So it is international, global!
Mark: Is it global? Wow! O my goodness! In The Netherlands you had it! Black lights with posters?
SJEU: It's so funny that Old Skool is not only about music!

SJEU: More about the Mark Harper Project itself. When did you think "I have to do this!"?
Mark: It took me a long time to do my own project. I was always a support musician. Not that I never had the desires, it wasn't a priority. But then things started to happen, I started to write a little bit, had some songs here and there and meeting Wayman playing with him for seven years, things just happened. And my co-producer, Tony Blaine, keyboardplayer in my band, he and I went to Wayman's ranch for four days and we just started to put it all together. Wayman told me that I already had a solid record. And that the songs he had for me just augmented the songs I already had. And that my songs sounded "seasoned" already! So that was a great compliment to me!
SJEU: And a motivation for you!
Mark: It was motivation! Because if I could do this and he thinks that... He is the man!
SJEU: It makes you drive!
Mark: It does!
SJEU: We heard that there was some hidden recording or something?
Mark: Well, on one of the tracks, At Sunset (I named the song and Wayman wrote it) we never found this track in ProTools before. But at sudden there were two tracks Wayman had played, we never heard these tracks before! It was like...Wow! But what I am going to do with that song, I will have a bonus track sold only online. And on that bonus Wayman and I will both play. On the cd, you just!
SJEU: That's a great story! And when is it for sale?
Mark: It's not for sale yet, it should be right as the first of the year. I sent out the song Dedication, did I send it to you?
SJEU: No, you haven't! But we'll keep in contact anyway!
Mark: Right, but I sent out the single to radio stations, the strategic places. And once the cd is ready I'll send to Alan Kepler and hopefully things will start to happen from there.
SJEU: How many tracks are there on the record?
Mark: There are 13 tracks with two remakes. The record is not as typical Smooth Jazz. It is a little bit more involved than other more traditionally records. It has a lot of different types of sounding guitars: Spanish nylon guitar, Jazzy hollow body sound guitar, and it has the steel string as well. I used a variety of guitars for the record.
SJEU: And which ones are the remakes?
Mark: I did Christopher Cross' Sailing, a beautiful arrangement, totally different. And I did a Burt Bacharach song called One Less Bell To Answer, which was recorded by Fifth Dimension.
SJEU: Talking about names now!
Mark: I am excited about these two songs, but also very excited about this whole record.

SJEU: When the cd comes out, are you going to perform it live?
Mark: Yes I am!
SJEU: And is that with a fixed line up band then?
Mark: I already have a fixed line up band for several years. Some of them played on the record. But we have played together a lot. With drummer Jason JT Thomas and bassplayer Bralon Lacy, I played in Wayman's band for a long time. With Tony Blaine I played in other bands like Yarbrough and Peoples, and I also played with James King, also keyboardplayer and vocalist, for many years. And there is another vocalist and percussionplayer who sang on the Roses are Red hitsong ! So everyone in the band sings! And I am the worst singer!
SJEU: That's interesting, because Smooth Jazz most of the time is instrumental and a vocal brings up variety. So it should sounds nice!
Mark: It gives such a special dimensions to the band. We've done some of the songs before we recorded them and the people like them!
SJEU: You also have an acoustic band?
Mark: Yes in The Mark Harper Acoustic Band we all use acoustic instruments, playing latin jazz. And I will do that records later on in 2010.
SJEU: And how many musicians in that band?
Mark: Also six people, so six in both!
SJEU: Are you planning a tour with the band inside the US when the record is released?
Mark: I do not have any structured plans right now but I am taking anything which will come my way, whether it is from the the UK, Europe, US, South America, I am ready to go! I am trying to get everyone scheduled because the guys in my band they all do different things. But I have two lineups, like an A-team and a A1-team, so I am ready to go whenever. And hopefully the record can get a push!
SJEU: Are you also interested to perform over here, let's say in The Netherlands?
Mark: Tomorrow, I'll be there, oh I can't, I have to be in London! But after that, I'll be happy to be there!

SJEU: To end this interview, do you have a suggestion for us and smooth jazz in Europe?
Mark: Never give up and keep pushing! Keep a positive attitude and keep pushing the music forward. And musicians need people like you and you need the musicians. Just make sure that you don't give up!
SJEU: We do our best.
Mark: I am hoping that as SmoothJazz Europe increases and starts to bloom I hope that I can be part of the explosion and bring this music that seems not dying in the US but changing.
SJEU: Thank you so much for this interview
Mark: No problem, but did you bring me two t-shirts?

all pictures by Marijn Eland