“Know the Music, Be Prepared”
Five Questions with Jazz Guitar Great Mark Whitfield
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Immediate Past Chair
The modern jazz scene has many bright spots with players who pay homage to the past but create in the present day. Mark Whitfield is known not just as just a jazz guitarist but also a complete jazz musician with a who’s who of appearances, either live or on recording with legends such as Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, Joe Zawinul, and Mary J. Blige. The Berklee College of Music graduate also has solo releases on Warner Brothers and the Verve labels.
On behalf of the National Association for Music Education, I would like to thank Mr. Whitfield for sharing his thoughts with the membership.
Mentorship can come in a variety of ways—from a guiding instructor to a legendary performer. What was a memorable moment from your early days at Berklee College of Music that brought you to a breakthrough moment?
I met Kevin Eubanks a few weeks into my first semester at Berklee. He was there to give a masterclass, and I had just started listening to his debut album “Guitarist.” He was very generous with his time and advice, and his guidance and support really helped me through some tough moments.
Mark Whitfield: Guitar Players United as One
What advice would you give to a high school jazz band director who has a guitar student just starting with their Freddie Green skills to help them along the way?
It’s really important to understand how Freddie Green felt to the rest of the band and the audience. I saw the Basie Band in the early ’70s with Freddie Green, and I can still remember how “present” his sound and feel were in the music even though he played unamplified.
In prepping for a gig that involves long distance travel, do you have a running to-do checklist or advice before your departure that can help an aspiring artist?
Traveling light is a skill that we must all develop over time. I’ve always been a creature of habit, so packing is easy. I basically bring enough of whatever I normally use at home to last me for however many days I’ll be away.
On that theme, could you talk about the importance of professionalism, whether inquiring about an opportunity, on an audition, or ever landing the gig?
I’ve made some pretty cool sideman appearances, but that has never really been my thing. I always approached working for someone else with the attitude I would appreciate from a musician I would hire . . . know the music, be prepared to handle last minute changes in repertoire and schedule, never make the gig about the money, and always give the leader room to lead without feeling challenged or judged for their decisions—musical or otherwise.
Mark Whitfield Live from the Django in New York City
Is there a bucket list of any future instrumental combos you care to explore, or players with whom you wish to collaborate and have your jazz guitar stylings be a part of their work?
No, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited for the possibilities that the future holds. I’m just happy with what I’ve done, what I’m doing, and with the possibility that the future, however mysterious, will be even better.
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About the author:
Thomas Amoriello Jr. is the Immediate Past Chair of the NAfME Council for Guitar Education and is also the former Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association. Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, New Jersey, since 2005 and also teaches at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. He has earned a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Rowan University. He is the author of the children’s picture books A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo and Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand. He recently has made two heavy metal LP and EP recordings with a stellar roster of musicians including former members of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Megadeth, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Dio that were released on H42 Records in Germany and Sliptrick Records in Latvia. He is also a music journalist for Boston Rock Radio and contributes to Jazz Guitar Today. Visit thomasamoriello.com for more information.
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January 5, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)