Mark Mosley Interview with Jazz Guitar Life

Figuring out blues licks then trying Jazz licks and then buying transcribed solos to rip off licks. Something was still missing! I later learned that learning tunes is more important in terms of Harmonic lessons and playing them in a chord melody style to hear and see relationships.

Mark Mosley

Mark Mosley is a working jazz guitarist out of Baltimore who shares with us his experiences from the early days to what he is doing presently to ensure his jazz guitar status keeps on. An enjoyable read!

This interview – from the JGL Archives – was conducted via email November, 2004. Check out Mark’s website at

JGL: How old are you?

MM: Old enough to know that cloning is not cool as being a jazz musician.

JGL: What geographical area do you live in?

MM: Baltimore County, MD.

JGL: At what age did you first get into guitar playing and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz?

MM: At age 11, other musical interests included learning how to play a convincing blues by copying B.B. King and listening to cats like Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and others through my dad.

JGL: What was the motivating experience to get you involved in this particular music and instrument?

MM: A trip in high school as a stage band member to the Montreux Jazz Festival exposed me to real cats like Oscar Peterson, Roland Kirk, David Fathead Newman, Les McCann, and others. Most of the school cats would rather talk about Maynard Ferguson,Bill Chase,and Don Ellis.

JGL: What kind, if any, formal training do you have (ie: lessons, schooling, that sort of thing). And how did these experiences help you get where you are today?

MM: As a one year music major at Towson University I had to take the normal ear training, Harmony, etc. Then I left to join the Army Band Field, more of the same formal training ensued. However, I would go on leave to NYC to go hear cats like Woody Shaw and Joe Farrell. I was smitten enough to shed for up to 10 or more hours a day, and not necessarily in an efficient manner, on a weekend around Army duties and they didn’t warn me about like CQ duties. Just holding the guitar I believed helped to connect my soul with it too! I’m sure all this helped make me a determined artist to be.

JGL: What was your first guitar?

MM: A Kay acoustic followed by my first electric bought by me packing groceries in a military commissary in Edgewood Arsenal MD.

JGL: What are you playing now?

MM: A Gibson L-5.

JGL: Who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning?

MM: Kenny Burrell, John M. of Mahavishnu, George Benson, Pat Martino, Eric Gale, and Wes.

JGL: Have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years? Who are you listening to these days (guitarists or non-guitarists)?

MM: Man, to include a few others is an understatement, now I love Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Billy Bean, Hank Garland, Allan Holdsworth, Eric Gale, Melvin Sparks, Jim Hall, Albert King, Albert Collins, BB, Hendrix (that live album with machine gun..oh my God!) I’ll stop here. Everyone else who plays artistically, no technicians! Paco de Lucia! What a sound and fire! Peter Bernstein is nice — I replaced him for a while with Lou Donaldson. He is a natural cat who doesn’t get technical. I remember showing him the tune “More”… he stumbled like I would have, we don’t have perfect pitch!

JGL: Did you know early on that music was something you wanted to do as a career choice and if so, what were some of the things you did to make this choice work for you?

MM: Yes I did, after getting paid $30.00 and not knowing more than 5 chords for a gig as a kid. I would practice licks and try to listen to other kids who played better than me!

JGL: When you were younger what was your band experiences like?

MM: Frightening, yet fun!

JGL: Did you have friends who were involved in music as well or did you have to search for people to play with.

MM: Both! I had a cousin who played guitar and from that point I had to get a guitar. He later went to Vietnam and had both legs blown off!

JGL: I’m sorry to hear that. Were your parent(s) and family members supportive of your musical career choice?

MM: Yes, my father managed my teenage Soul band at one point. They attended every High school Jazz Festival in the area that involved us.

JGL: What was your practice routine like when you were beginning and what is it like now?

MM: Figuring out blues licks then trying Jazz licks and then buying transcribed solos to rip off licks. Something was still missing! I later learned that learning tunes is more important in terms of Harmonic lessons and playing them in a chord melody style to hear and see relationships.

JGL: Are there specific areas that you work on or do you just play through tunes?

MM: Both…depending on the requirements. I view music simply as possible and realized I had the chops a long time ago to execute most human things. It’s a matter of hearing an idea to express it! Since I’ve been singing standards again after several years laying off,I have more confidence musically speaking.

JGL: How difficult do you find it making a living as a jazz guitar player? Or have you found it to be relatively easy?

MM: It depends on the person and the location. It wasn’t hard in Germany after I left the Service in 1992! I played Jazz only and would average about $250 per gig as the leader! I averaged about 8 gigs per month for over two years!

JGL: How do you go about searching for gigs? And what have you found in your experience that makes looking for gigs easier?

MM: Having a CD/promo materials/resume.

JGL: What type of musical situation do you enjoy the most and why (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.)?

MM: Quartet is my forte …I’m not a glory hound and love sharing the limelight with other bad cats. My original music sounds better with a pianist!

JGL: What type of guitar/amp sound do you prefer, or does it change from one situation to the next?

MM: Tube amps sound different than a solid state amp. I wish I could play acoustically and get the same effects sonic wise. Cats play too loud many times. I know the different schools of thought. One of my original Ballads named: “Michelle”(named after my wonderful wife) seems to shut people up. I had others tell me that!

JGL: Where would you like to see jazz guitar go in the coming years?

MM: In a less formulaic and technical way. Scarcity of gigs has influenced many to be musically dishonest in terms of technique and showboating at the expense of the the art form called Jazz.

JGL: You did a 17 day tour of Spain with legendary alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson’s band which included Dr.Lonnie Smith on organ. Could you talk about a bit about that experience and how did you hook up with Lou?

MM: After sleeping in Melvin Sparks (guitarist) basement and jamming with him, I got a call from Lou. Man, I almost passed out. I’d heard him on records with Clifford Brown and Jimmy Smith. His telephone message was: “This is Sweet Lou I need you to go on tour of Spain,”etc.

JGL: What was it like playing alongside the great Dr. Lonnie Smith who has in the past played and recorded with such wonderful guitarists like George Benson and John Abercrombie? Did you feel like you had some big shoes to fill?

MM: Man, of course! However, being the Jazz spirit I am, I knew that wasn’t the main concern. My question was what tunes is he going to play that I don’t now know.

JGL: You have also worked with jazz heavy-weights Gary Bartz (saxophone) and Keter Betts (bass). How did these associations come about and what have you learned from these masters that you didn’t know before?

MM: Well, Gary called me based on a tape I’d sent him containing some originals by me. He is a nice cat. He moved to N.J. right after I played with him. Keter heard me somewhere and called me to work with him a few times. I later hired him too! I really was not ready harmonically during those times. I would say that these cats are masters of Harmony which taught me I better get busy learning all I can about Harmony. This is an ongoing thing, but now I’ve learned enough to play with the info that I’ve gleaned over the years.

JGL: Which do you prefer: working as a side man, or working as a leader? And if you could comment on the pros and cons of both.

MM: Both, depending on the situation. Fortunately, I’ve grown to the point that I don’t shirk responsibility as a leader or sideman. My ego is under control thankfully. Most of the greats are gifted and are gifts from “God” so I’m humbled to sometimes be put in the same category whether as a leader or sideman. The experience with the right people is more important then the pay with me often now. I seemed to get compensated fairly — I can’t complain. It’s much better then working for minimum wage!

JGL: How many CD’s have you released as a leader?

MM: One.

JGL: What was the motivation to release your own CD?

MM: Time is waiting for no one!

JGL: What was your experience as such getting that first CD out (from the initial idea to the final product)?

MM: It was unbelievable to me to have great cats like James King on Bass, Nasar Abadey, Charlie Etzel, Ron Johnson (the engineer)- donate their time/resources to help me (God will provide a way).

JGL: Do you have any plans for future projects and if so, will there be more original compositions on it or do you prefer playing standards?

MM: I’m hoping to get a resume so built up with things that my CD is properly marketed after I hopefully get a record contract and am viewed as a financial possibility enough to support in terms of distribution etc. I plan to stick with originals and live up to being the best ‘me’ as possible. It’s time for me to grow up artistically!

JGL: In your bio it mentions that you had enlisted in the US Army and that you played in the US Army Band Field. Could you talk a bit about this experience and how has it affected your musical journey?

MM: Man, I’ve been lucky to have had experiences living in Asia, Europe, around the U.S because of the Army. I think my global perspective has affected my Jazz music to the point. I have something for every one’s level of awareness. I only work as a leader with some of the best who share philosophical similarities. They possess that elusive quality, common sense!

JGL: After leaving the Army you pursued your Jazz career in Germany as the leader of your own trio. How did you find living and working in Germany and what, if any, differences did you experience working in Germany as compared to working as a jazz guitarist in the United States?

MM: There appears to be a greater appreciation for musicians in Europe.

JGL: You recently debuted The Mark Mosley Quartet at the famous Blues Alley in Washington DC. How did the show go and was it would you expected? Do you have any more live shows planned?

MM: Blues Alley wants me back in either March/April 2005. I have four dates at Pebbles Pub Restaurant in WoodLawn MD.(this is a continuing situation for the Mark Mosley Quartet, next date is on Jan. 28 2005. The Belvedere Hotel in the City plans on bringing the trio back in Jan/Feb/Mar 2005, and the Marriot Hotel plans to hire us early next year. I just sent a package to Jazz at the Lincoln Center and to the Montpellier Arts Center in MD. I’d prefer quality vs. quantity gigs. This is unfortunately, a part time gig now!

JGL: I know that you now teach in the Baltimore City School system and that you have dedicated a lot of your time to working with inner-city youth. That’s a wonderful use of your time and I applaud you for your efforts. Keep up the great work.

MM: Thank you!

JGL: How do you handle working as a teacher while trying to develop and maintain an independent jazz career?

MM: Getting up at 4:00 am to exercise, not eating lunch, practicing till bedtime on a regular basis.

JGL: What are the struggles, if any, inherent in such an endeavor?

MM: My commitment to our youth, as well as playing jazz to my fullest potential is often a balancing act.

JGL: Given the choice, what would you be happier doing or are both careers equally fulfilling?

MM: I find that both careers are equally fulfilling and am thankful to have the opportunity to do both.

JGL: Do you teach privately and how can interested students get a hold of you for private study?

MM: Yes, I can be e-mailed at

JGL: From the little I know about you, you seem to be very disciplined and driven in your quest for becoming a professional Jazz Guitarist. In fact, in a local newspaper article about you, you are quoted as saying: “Time is valuable and should not be wasted. After you have identified your dream, you must walk in the direction of your dream every minute of the day. You must keep your mind and body physically fit. You cannot allow things that conflict with your goal, get in your way.” Could you expand on this philosophy of action?

MM: Yes, goodness is manifested all around us, conversely so is evil! We must stay prepared to fight, run away, run to, speak up when not popular but when necessary, and be prepared to make changes in regards to our individual welfare and the welfare of our youth!

JGL: And speaking of…any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar?

MM: Keep it fun!

JGL: Have you found the pursuit of becoming a Jazz guitarist what you originally thought it would be or have there been surprises along the way?

MM: Just like I’d Imagined. It mirrors life: full of joys and disappointments.

JGL: Thank you Mark for participating in It is most appreciated. I look forward to hearing you in a live setting one day.

MM: Lyle, thank you. I hope to hear you also.

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About Lyle Robinson 347 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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