[full]Jazz Inside: Could you discuss your new recording Art Of The Song, Vol. 1 with which you collaborated with Derek Lee Bronston – and how the initial germ of an idea and compositions – which include originals and covers ranging from Rodgers and Hart to Radiohead – evolved into the completed artwork for release?

Mark Rapp: While both of us are very steeped in the jazz tradition, we also have a wide palette in terms of our tastes and repertoire. This has come to define our musical relationship over the years as we often play songs from other genres and styles at our jazz gigs with great response from our audience.

Derek Lee Bronston: For me as singer/songwriter, leader and co-leader, also of rock bands, playing tunes from a variety of genres is very much just a natural extension of who I am artistically. I like to think of what I play as ‘Creative Americana,’ which to me incorporates jazz and ranges from John Coltrane to Johnny Cash. The important thing is to find my vision in what I’m playing and always try to just maintain my personality on any song – so approaching Cole Porter is not really different to Radiohead, other than the tune itself.” As far as Art Of The Song goes, we tried to pick a set of songs, both original and covers, that could (1) give us an arc to the CD and (2) feel like a cohesive experience. We have a very defined sound and whether approaching a jazz standard or a rock anthem, we deliver a mood, sound and feel that is very much about us as a group rather than two jazz musicians trying to be eclectic.

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JI: This Volume 1 of Art of the Song, is noteworthy because it is created as an industry first “applum” as you’ve named it. Could you discuss how this app is unique?

MR: It was the first of its kind in its model of music distribution and presentation. This is an entire multimedia experience presented and distributed solely as an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch application – not individual mp3s through the iTunes store.

DLB: “The Applum” is meant to hearken back to the days of vinyl when music was experienced more as a whole album, unlike today’s digital – “singles driven” music. It is intentionally simple, functionally. We tried to keep it focused on the music and the accompanying art as opposed to a laundry list of functionality that technically could be included in an iPad app. We worked together with a designer and photographer named Sean Mosher-Smith, who has done album covers and photography for everyone from Lenny Kravitz and Steve Coleman to Iggy Pop. And we also worked with the Brooklyn design + tech company, theConspiracy, a company made up of musicians that work with many artists on application development and design. “The Applum” is meant to be played in its entirety and is accompanied by liner notes, personal notes from both Mark and myself on each song, and the ability to share it via Facebook, Twitter and Email.

TSP Interview in Jazz Inside NY

MR: Derek Lee programmed the entire app himself. He’s a guru app developer – an advantageous skill to have in this day and age.

DLB: And Mark is a highly-skilled web developer as well, which has also been a great asset for us.

JI: What challenges have you experienced in developing this app?

MR / DLB: The 2 biggest challenges were to keep it simple and to get it out there.

JI: How are you promoting this app for use by others?

MR: We mainly have relied on social media, as we didn’t have any budget for PR or marketing at the time of release, unfortunately. It’s funny that a year after we created “The Applum”, Bjork started releasing her music in a very similar, if not the same way, and she was being lauded as the first to release music in this fashion. I’ve since tried to contact the writers of the various music and tech magazines to make them aware of what two jazz guys did an entire year earlier. But I’m not surprised they’re not responding or acknowledging this fact, since we didn’t have the money to pay them, as Bjork and her label did. But with that being said, we’ve still had around 5,000 downloads of “The Applum”, just from our meager efforts, so we’re happy and consider it a very successful model that we’ll continue to innovate and improve.

JI: What kinds of intellectual property protection have you set up to ensure that you are properly compensated with royalties involving licensing?

DLB: We used a service called Limelight by Rights Flow [songclearance.com]. They actually sponsored us in this regard and took care of all the filing and maintenance.

MR: They’ve been very supportive of our endeavors and we’re always doing social media posts with them. As far as compensation on our end, so far it’s been from the monies made from the App Store.

JI: How did your association with Derek Lee Bronston develop – in both the area of music and development of software and digital ideas?

MR: Musically, I’ve always enjoyed Derek’s playing. His approach is unique and reflects my vision and ideals of improvisation. We both believe in expressing the song, presenting the emotion and creating a visceral vibe and atmosphere first and foremost. This is our primary goal and agenda. We’re not interested in a “blow
fest” and overly technical or flamboyant playing. Sure, sometimes a song or emotion needs a burst of pyrotechnics, and we practice so we can execute those needs of a given moment. However, individualistic masturbation, playing licks and patterns is not our focus. We strive for a group sound with depth, soul, and understated intellectualism steeped in raw human emotion. As for our efforts in the tech sector, when I first moved to NY, I was looking for a way to make good money while giving myself the freedom to hustle for gigs and practice. Derek Lee was making great money, coding web sites from home and practicing and gigging. As long as the web site was built by the deadline, you can code whenever you want – night and day. He inspired me to learn about HTML, CSS, Javascript, databases, etc. It is an infinitely valuable skill for a musician to have – to design, build and maintain your own web site and create unique, fun web apps without having to pay or depend on someone else to do it. For example, this year for Christmas, we built a web app that allowed users to create their own holiday slideshow accompanied by our version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with snowflakes falling down your computer screen. If we had to pay someone to build this, it would have cost a few thousand bucks.

DLB: Tech is something that has always interested me and, on a certain level, I like to think of myself as a structuralist. Music has structure, software has structure, language has structure, life has structure. In a moment of creativity, an inspired thought or a beautiful melody line comes out. The language that informs that thought or line makes it work within the structure you’re dealing with. So, although the experience of code and music are really very different experiences, the process of utilizing them has parallels. I get inspired by ideas – some are tech, some are musical. On a practical level, we can put both together by making apps and websites, but on a creative level, I find they both help the other in subtle ways.

JI: Talk about your association with Derek Lee Bronston and the development of the Song Project.

MR: Derek and I met circa ‘98 in New Orleans, and we’ve been playing off and on since he moved to NYC in the early 2000’s. WWOZ and the great “NO” clubs were so great to each of us and actually Derek hired my Quintology rhythm there. I moved to NYC in early 2000 and Derek kind of took me by the hand .

DLB: In 2007 I did an Americana country record called “Empty River” which charted in the top 10 Americana charts, while Mark went off and toured with his organ trio band. Then, Mark invited me back into The Mark Rapp Group for the tour of his Token Tails CD, where we sold out Joe’s Pub, The Blue Note twice, and were then invited to play Newport Jazz Fest by Jason Olaine, who continues to be a great friend, fan and part of our musical family. Then Mark moved to Geneva, Switzerland in 2009 for a few years and during that time we started to collaborate and develop a duo concept via Email/Skype/ Twitter. It began as a recording project where we would post a new song each month and develop an online following.

TSP Interview in Jazz Inside NY

MR: But then in the spring of 2010, we did a handful of shows in NYC which were very well received, and broke open more musically defined
concepts for us. While both of us compose in a variety of genres, we are improvisors at heart and those few shows really defined the
sound, direction and possibilities of this project. Later that summer, we did a short European stint and unexpectedly, after a chance encounter with a producer in Geneva, ended up recording our first CD on that tour.

DLB: The recording is essentially derived from a 6 hour live session with minimal overdubs. For example, we laid down trumpet harmonies or a second guitar accompaniment. That was the start of a snowball effect that has led us to sold out shows at the Blue Note in NYC, playing the Blue Note Jazz festival, Carnegie Hall and a number of very well received short US Tours.

JI: Talk about the sounds and communication which you two are striving for.

DLB: With this project we are really trying to explore the art of the song, both on an improvised and arrangement level. One of things that have attracted Mark and me to each other’s playing is that both of us really care about composition and space. As improvisors we’re both always striving for fluidity. For myself, what makes a great improvisor is the ability to deliver memorable melodies and musical ideas on any tune or musical structure.

MR: We’re first and foremost interested in telling a story and presenting authentic and impassioned emotional statements. We’re not trying to be overly technical, ultra-modern or ostentatious in our performances or recordings. We’re trying to get to the crux of the moment, the juice of the song, the essence of the feeling and do it with a
group sound – a singular voice made up of multiple instruments – like an orchestra or big band, but within the context of an intimate duo, trio or quartet format. We strive to paint an aural picture with depth of meaning and intimacy, so that no matter what, listeners know that they are experiencing something real and authentic.

JI: Could you provide a glimpse into how you discovered your passion for jazz and the people and or opportunities that opened the door for your immersion and development in the music?

DLB: For me it was John Coltrane’s “First Mediations,” which I discovered when I was 19, that led me to really explore jazz fully. I had been exposed to fusion and a certain amount of jazz, but stumping on to Coltrane took me into a 10 year feeding frenzy of listening, practicing and developing on the guitar.

MR: I was introduced to jazz via the recordings of Miles Davis and Chet Baker. From there, it was a slow progression to fully realizing what it was I was hearing. What I did immediately hear was a trumpet doing some very cool things and being a vehicle for “in-the-moment” expression. I then discovered and latched on to everything Wynton Marsalis recorded, I snuck backstage at his concerts, met him and his band and through those interactions, was led to study at the University of New Orleans where Ellis Marsalis was chair of the music department.

JI: What kinds of challenges and benefits to your artistic endeavors did you experience in the academic environment in New Orleans?

MR: Living in New Orleans was invaluable. That city has soul – period. Players there play from their gut. They play with fire and intensity. I was surrounded by everyone from Kermit Ruffins, Marlon Jordan, Nicholas Payton, Clyde Kerr, Jr, Irvin Mayfield, Ellis, Jeremy Davenport, Brice Winston, to the brass bands and so, so many others. Couple all that music in the streets and clubs & managers who continue to be so supportive, like Jason Patterson at Snug Harbor, with amazing, down home food, Abita beer, crawfish boils, etc. with the amazing teachers at UNO like Ed Petersen, Harold Batiste, Steve Masakowski, etc. – wow – words cannot describe it. It was such a fertile time. The city and its people were so open to all kinds of music from klezmer to trad-jazz to rock-n-roll to country… all of it. It was all going on and being wellsupported. And that is the thing about New Orleans
and studying in New Orleans, you get a severe balance of intellectualism and soul. Cats from New Orleans play with soul and heart and can back it up with knowledge of theory and harmony.

DLB: I studied Anthropology at the University of Michigan and really didn’t interact with the Music Department till I was just leaving Ann
Arbor. That last year in Ann Arbor really had an influence on me musically. In my immediate peer group were amazing players, Craig Taborn (piano), Gerald Cleaver (drums) and Andrew Dahlke (sax) whom I played with in U of M’s Jazz Combo and subsequently learned a lot from. Although the scene wasn’t huge, being next door to Detroit gave us access to a lot of great music and players like Rodney Whitaker, Tani Tabal and Regina Carter etc.. I went on to study guitar shortly at The Center For Creative Studies in Detroit and not long after, set out to NY. Having never set foot in NYC before, I ended up crashing on Andy Dahlkes’ studio floor after arriving with no apartment and the money to barely pay one month’s rent, until I got myself sorted out.

JI: Talk about what you’ve learned about leadership from one or more of the jazz artists with/for whom you have worked.

TSP Interview in Jazz Inside NY

MR: I’ve rarely been a sideman, as I’ve always done my own thing, written my own tunes and arrangements, and presented my bands. But what I’ve learned is that communication and clear intentions are key. Also, you should be aware of your bandmates’ strengths and give them the space to let them flourish. Be open to new ideas, learn from each other and don’t try to do everything yourself. That last one is something I’m getting better at. And have fun on the bandstand!

DLB: I played with Cecil Taylor, Billy Bang, and the drummer Clifford Barbaro’s bands in the mid 90’s, often as a sideman to Mark, and a number of rock bands. I’ve led my own jazz quartets, 2 rock bands and more recently my own solo project (which I’d have to categorize more as country). Each experience was very different – some chaotic, some focused, all great learning experiences and a plethora of music. Ultimately, people all have imperfections and different communication styles. For me I prefer to let the music do the talking.

MR: We have a very exciting show at Joe’s Pub on Thursday, January 26th at 7pm. We’ll have a few special surprise guests as well to add to our sonic palette. Our new manager, Suzi Reynolds, has come onboard 1000% and is pushing us hard. She was introduced to me by one of the drumming greats, Steve Johns, shortly after a gig we recently played at Sculler’s in Boston.

DLB: What does the future look like for TSP? We are constantly evolving, writing and working towards the next thing. We had a great year: Carnegie Hall, The Blue Note twice and many other great experiences. And now we’re really psyched to be one of the first bands in the newly renovated Joe’s Pub and we’re hoping to see all of you there! Come say hi. We want to know who you are and get to know our fans. We’ve been lucky enough to start working with a great team of people that are helping us advance on a business level. Among them is SARAR, a great fashion brand on Madison Ave., who has endorsed us and opened up lots of new doors and audiences for us. We’re also deep into planning the next recording. The exact details are being sorted out now, but you can certainly look for The Song Project – Vol. 2 in 2012, and keep an eye on our website, thesongproject.net, for updates, details and some inside info. There will definitely be more groundbreaking technology associated with this release than ever before, so stay tuned. We’re excited about it all. Musically we’ve grown as a group and grown our audience. This new recording will be an extension of that; beauty with an edge.

MR: Lots of great new things are happening – so stay in touch with us at facebook/ thesongproject, on twitter at thesongproject, and online at thesongproject.net. We want to hear from you!!…what you like, how you like “The Applum”, and who knows, send us your favorite requests and you just might hear them at Joes Pub. See ya there!

Interview by Joe Patitucci