INTERVIEW: Mark Cherrie (new album Joining The Dots)

Mark Cherrie
Photo Credit: Helen Jones
When you think jazz, you probably do not think of the subtropical sounds of a steel pan. And yet this is the instrument of choice for Mark Cherrie, an accomplished musician who is sure to make waves in the London jazz scene. It is his sound and story which make his latest album, Joining the Dots, a success. Brianna McClean, on behalf of London Jazz News, asked Mark a few questions about his career and the recent record.

LondonJazz News: : Congratulations on the release of your new album, Joining the Dots. What can listeners expect from this record?

Mark Cherrie: There is a diverse selection of tunes, including some jazz standards, ‘pop’ tunes and some original compositions too. All with a steel pan-led jazz quartet. Joining The Dots meant several things to me. It described how I was able to make a connection, between music straight out of the jazz canon and non-jazz music – interpreting all of it with a jazz sensibility. It also described how the album physically came about. The very kind offer of some free studio time led to recording all the material, as well as shooting a video and taking a set of photographs, in one day!

I hope that listeners will be taken on a musical journey through various of my own personal musical landmarks and come away thinking that the steel pan can be a valid jazz instrument.

LJN: How did you get to this point? What has the journey to this record been?

MC: I guess my previous work is a bit of a mixed bag really. I have done a lot of work as a steel pan player, working in mostly Caribbean musical settings. I also spent a long time writing for TV & film – the experience that I gained from having done such varied work has helped me to develop my own voice in a jazz setting. My philosophy is really to be as open as possible as a human being and to allow these influences, both musical and otherwise, to inform my playing.

LJN: The steel pan is a bit of an unusual instrument in the contemporary jazz scene. What has your experience been of specialising in this instrument?

MC: To my mind, the steel pan can function perfectly well, much like the role of a vibraphone, in a quartet. The problem comes with how other people view it. From non-musicians, I still have to field questions like, “Are they still made from dustbin lids?” (That was from a gig I did last week!). I believe that I have a unique voice on the steel pan, particularly in a jazz setting. Very few people seem to have managed to pull it off.

LJN: Does this album have an overall story or shape to it?

MC: I wouldn’t say that there was a narrative threading throughout the album but there is definitely a musical sensibility – there’s a lot of improvisation throughout and not just with the melodic instruments.

LJN: Tell me a bit about the other artists featured on the album? What is your dynamic as a group like?

MC: John Donaldson is an amazing piano player, easily one of this country’s finest. Eric Ford is a drummer that came into my orbit a few years ago but instantly I loved the guy’s playing. He is one of a few drummers in my experience that really listens to what everyone is playing and contributes sympathetically. Mick Hutton is a first-call double bass player on the jazz circuit and I have known him for many years now. Again, his experience of playing at the top level is almost unsurpassed. Then the guests too have an impressive pedigree. Dominic Grant has a unique voice on the nylon string guitar, a beautiful player. Dave O’Higgins is a saxophonist whose career I have followed over the years – I remember buying his debut album way before I was playing any jazz music myself. Nigel Price is an unbelievable guitar player, I was pleased that he was available to record with me. Finally, Sumudu was actually a recommendation of Dominic’s and she was absolutely masterful in the studio.

Mark Cherrie is a rising name in the London Jazz scene and given the breadth of his experience, someone to keep an eye on.

Joining the Dots was released earlier this month and is available *here*

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