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Brian McConnell talks with Mark White
 
Godin LGX-SA
 
 
 

In spite of his impressive credentials and diverse musical resume, Mark White is one of those guys that you have probably never heard of. Mark is an Associate Professor of guitar at Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is where we first met him almost a decade ago. Mark is also very active as a player and the performance side of his resume contains many notables including: the Boston Pops, the New England Ragtime Ensemble, George Russell, Gil Evans, and Anthony Braxton to name a few. Mark has performed at virtually all of the major jazz festivals around the world, and has toured extensively as a clinician for Berklee as well.

Mark co-founded the group (Last Trip) with Scott deOgburn, Greg Badolato, and Winston Maccow. Mark writes 50% of the material, the other half is written by Scott deOgburn (the Keyboardist). The band has just released their debut CD on Grescotmar entitled “up with ‘da funk”. We’re not in the CD reviewing business here but let’s sum it up this way…these guys can play! This is a great CD the compositions and the performances are of the calibre that encourages us to keep a firm grip on our day jobs. Check out www.lasttrip.com for more information on the CD. The CD is also a real showcase for the Godin LGX-SA, Mark got on to one of the first LGX’s and has been with us ever since. Mark has also been a guitar synth enthusiast for many years and recently we had the opportunity to talk to him about it.

 

 
 
 

Brian: What got you interested in guitar playing and were you drawn to jazz from the beginning?
Mark:
I was exposed to jazz early on. My grandfather was a jazz enthusiast and I first heard recordings of Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Tony Mattola, Oscar Peterson, and many others with him. I didn’t start playing at that time though. In fact like most other kids in the late 60’s I was listening to Hendrix, Allman Bros., Beatles, Eric Clapton and Led Zepplin among other stuff. I started playing’ around with the guitar around 1970 trying to imitate Bluesy stuff. But in ‘73 I took a lesson with a guitarist around Pittsburgh named Mark Pattack and got re-introduced to Wes Montgomery. Totally mesmerized by Wes Montgomery, I started taking lessons, and began practicing a minimum of 6 hours a day. I was lucky enough to take some lessons with a great Pittsburgh guitarist named Joe Negri and he arranged for me to meet Joe Pass. After a couple years of occasional lessons with Pass I moved to Boston to attend the New England Conservatory.

Brian: What was your first synth guitar set-up?
Mark:
My first synth was a killer! A friend named Sully Chelimli here in Boston bankrolled me and in ‘87 I got the works- Roland GM70, Roland S550, GK-1 pickup, mixer-the whole tamale. All the junk, including sound processors (no onboard signal processing back then), took 14 rack spaces to crate. The stuff was state of the art, but there were still a lot of problems related to synth. I remember dragging’ that stuff all around Russia on tour there in ‘89. The Russian guys thought I’d flown in from outer space with all the blinking lights and knobs.

Brian: Is the LGX-SA your main guitar?
Mark: The LGX SA is my main solid body guitar-has been for a couple of years. I always take it on the road. You hear it exclusively on my latest recording Last Trip “Up with ‘da Funk” I also use a ‘42 D’Angelico for straight jazz stuff and an old Gibson 335 on occasion, but the Godin is center ground for me.

Brian: What is your synth set-up?
Mark: My current synth set-up is the LGX played with a Roland GR9 played with an old analog delay. I take the synth and delay onboard with me, it’s very compact. I occasionally use an old Roland Gr300 module and that’s it for guitar synth, though my studio has several keyboard and synth engines which I use for recording non-guitar synth stuff.

Brian: A few years ago I read an interview with Pat Metheny and when asked why he seemed to stick to a particular synth sound for soloing he replied that it had taken a long time to learn how to play that sound. Which suggests that each new sound needs to be approached almost like learning a new instrument.
Mark: I agree totally with Metheny regarding the sound influencing the way you play. First of all too many sounds to me gets gimmicky-its like some guy in a hotel trying to do synthesized record covers. Not that I’m putting that down, it’s just not my cup of tea. The synth allows me to breathe with woodwind and brass players and opens up phrasing possibilities not possible with standard guitar. The sound I use is a Flugel Horn kind of timbre. And it definitely takes a lot of time to learn how to control the sound as well as learning its’ musical possibilities.

Brian: Do you program original sounds, or is it more a question of creating new sounds by experimenting with new combinations of electric guitar/acoustic guitar/and various synth sounds?
Mark:
I don’t spend much time programming the synth, but I do look for new blending combinations with traditional timbres. I tweaked the GR9 as far as playability, touch, etc, but basically mine is not a complicated set-up-I’m trying to improve my pitch language and grow musically so I’m not so involved with the technological side of things.

Brian: Jazztimes recently ran an article that was called something like “Why Jazz Guitar Sound Sucks” or something close to that. Do you find that your jazz-minded students are going for that classic no-definition-mattress-in-front-of-the-amp sound? Why is this?
Mark: As far as the Jazztimes thing goes. Tone on jazz guitars is a real tough issue. I love the traditional sound of a guy like Wes or Jim Hall and when I’m playing that type of music I gravitate to that kind of sound. It helps the music feel right to me. On the other hand I’m kind of turned off by the “clone” thing. It’s complicated because young guitarists invariably imitate their guitar heroes and it takes a lot of playing experience to learn how to play in adverse acoustic settings. There’s also the issue of “the tradition” in jazz guitar. The combination of those factors alone takes a long time to resolve. I find my students at Berklee widely varying in their tone quality and advise them to experiment with instruments, amp, strings, pick but also phrasing concepts, location and fingerings of ideas. These have as much to do with tone quality as the instrument itself. The combination of experience and experimentation will ultimately yield a personal sound. Hopefully the sound will be unique like a Scofield, Goodrick, or a Henderson because a trademark sound is gold.

Brian: Do you get calls for gigs that specifically ask for guitar synth?
Mark:
I have on occasion been asked to bring synth to a recording session or a gig, but I’ve also been asked not to bring it! More “traditional” type of players have trouble with the concept-some associate synth with putting live musicians out of work (and I can relate) so they dislike it from that perspective. Other guys find the sound so powerful that they feel overwhelmed by it. Still others want a traditional guitar sound if they call you for guitar. People who listen to the music for the music and are adventurous in their playing tend to dig it, those who have a narrower perspective don’t.

Brian: You recently got your hands on our ‘Multiac Jazz’ prototype what was your first impression?
Mark:
I really liked the Multiac Jazz. I was particularly impressed with it’s sound and feel. Because of the straight string pitch at the headstock it allows me to use detunings without the string flop factor, a real big plus. The neck is bigger and chunkier like a vintage jazzer, that’s important for those of us that play different guitars constantly. It doesn’t take so long to adjust. For me it could be the best of all worlds. With it I have a good “box” sound, the feel of an acoustic guitar, and synth access. It’s also smaller than a regular jazz box, and for traveling that’s really a concern, and a big bonus.

Brian: We’re thrilled that you have offered to provide us with some lessons for our web site. What kind of stuff can we expect to see?
Mark: Basslines for guitarists (a great tool for playing with others in a duo setting and a great way to learn tunes by root progression among other useful aspects). Harmonic construction and implementation on guitar. Improvisational language concepts. Composition to develop a personal guitar voice and bad jokes and personal war stories.

Brian: What’s coming up?
Mark: I’m preparing now for a week of clinics and a performance at the Heinekin San Juan Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico, and more clinic/performances at The Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy in July. I’m involved with two different recording projects that will happen this summer, My record/publishing company has several projects going including support of our group’s new CD Last Trip-”Up with da Funk” (check out our website: www.lasttrip.com) new guitar ensemble arrangement series written by yours truly featuring compositions by Bob Mintzer, The Yellowjackets, and Latin composer/vibraphonist Victor Mendoza, and the realization of a new Performance Ear-Training book/CD by master saxophonist/teacher Greg Badolato. In addition to local gigs- (look for me with The Kenny Hadley Big Band here in Boston in July and August) I’m going to enjoy some great cigars and libations of varying type and origins!

*Brian McConnell is the former Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Godin Guitars.

 

 

 
         

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