Mark Turner is a post-bop tenor saxophonist most influenced by John Coltrane, but also notably Warne Marsh. Born November 10, 1965 in Ohio, Turner was raised in California and initially studied visual arts at Long Beach State, but decided instead to pursue music and transferred to Berklee. Turner moved to New York and worked with James Moody, Jimmy Smith, the TanaReid Quintet, Ryan Kisor, Jonny King, Leon Parker, and Joshua Redman. He recorded his first album as a leader, Yam Yam, in 1994; the follow-up, a self-titled effort, did not appear until 1998. In This World appeared later that same year, and in early 2000, he resurfaced with The Ballad Session. Cafe Oscurra appeared a year later. In 2004, the saxophonist teamed with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard for the trio album Fly. Starting with 2012's All Our Reasons, Turner began a recording relationship with the storied European label ECM that resulted in several more albums, including 2012's Year of the Snake and 2014's piano-less quartet recording, Lathe of Heaven.
All MUsic - Steve Huey
New York Times_ The Best Jazz Player You've Never Heard
By BEN RATLIFFJUNE 16, 2002
THE tenor saxophonist Mark Turner is possibly jazz's premier player, and at the same time he's a very typical one.
He isn't getting rich. He isn't becoming famous. He has no publicist. He doesn't even have a record contract. He had one for three years, but the label, Warner Brothers, dropped him -- the way the major record labels are dropping mainstream jazz artists right and left these days. Yet Mark Turner, who is 36, keeps playing where he can, and his stature in the jazz world keeps growing. This month, for the first time, he'll appear in the JVC Jazz Festival in New York, which starts today.
A few months ago I had an experience that starkly demonstrated how important Mr. Turner is among younger musicians. While reporting on the Thelonious Monk Institute saxophone competition in Washington -- an annual contest that has become something like the Van Cliburn competition of jazz -- I heard 15 young players. As expected, most of them drew much of their sound from one source: John Coltrane. There was no mistaking that gruff, keening tone, those scale-based patterns.
But to my surprise, the second most prevalent sound among the 15 was very different. It was lighter, more evenly produced from the bottom to the very top of the horn, in long, chromatic strokes. At first I thought it was the sound of Warne Marsh. But there was no reason to think that Marsh, who died in 1987 and was always a minority taste, had suddenly become au courant. Then I realized that it was the sound of Mark Turner.
Outside of jazz's small world, however, I can't remember holding a conversation with anyone who has heard of Mr. Turner. This is how it often works in serious mainstream jazz, a discipline that bears comparison to serious painting or poetry in that it is often accused of being dead yet continues to evolve and even find a modest audience.
Mr. Turner should have his own regular band, as the more successful artists in jazz do. (He'll play with Ben Street on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums in his JVC show at the Village Vanguard on June 27 -- a trio that looks as if it may become regular in time.) Within the limited circle of jazz clubs across the country, Mr. Turner tends to play with young, top-shelf rhythm-section musicians like the drummers Brian Blade and Nasheet Waits, the bassists Larry Grenadier and Reid Anderson, the pianists Ethan Iverson and Brad Mehldau. In the past, he hasn't been offered enough steady work to keep musicians like those with him. To maintain a high-level band, you need an international audience and a lot of festival gigs. To get a lot of festival gigs, it helps to have a major-label record deal.
Mr. Turner lost his in December, after four releases. At first, his association with Warner Brothers looked as if it could last. He is a standard-bearer. His music is intellectual and rigorously composed, defined by long, flowing, chromatically complex lines that keep their stamina and intensity as they stay dynamically even. He has learned how to play the highest reaches of his instrument, the altissimo register, with a serene strength, never shouting for the effect that audiences love. The overwhelming sense about Mr. Turner is that he wants to get on with his work.
Musicians can't say a negative word about him. (''His music is the freshest thing around,'' said the singer Luciana Souza, an accomplished composer. ''I want to write like that. It's 'out' music that still sounds very musical and consonant.'') Mr. Turner writes his own material; he is lean and handsome; he has a thrift-store-cool fashion sense: large-collar shirts, cardigans and 1970's earth tones.
But in the end, Mr. Turner's music may have been too rigorous for Warner Brothers and he isn't the sort who might turn his music around to sell records. There was some disconnection between artist and label. An album, ''Ballad Session,'' conceived by Warner Brothers as a corrective to the notion that Mr. Turner was all intellect, ended up becoming a collection of candlelight jazz standards like ''Skylark'' and ''All or Nothing at All.'' Mr. Turner had originally wanted to record an album of ''slow music,'' as he called it -- pieces from all over the map, including original tunes and works by Olivier Messaien and Aphex Twin.
Finally, as explained by Matt Pierson, senior vice president of jazz at Warner Brothers, it came down to brute numbers. The albums didn't sell well (in major-label terms, that means at least 10,000 copies). The company couldn't justify the cost of the marketing that it routinely puts into its releases, which can run to $50,000 -- easily twice what an independent label would spend.
''It's fine,'' Mr. Turner said of the end of his relationship with the label. ''I was considering trying to get out of it myself. Nothing against Warner, but I feel relieved and open and free.''
Since being dropped by Warner Brothers, Mr. Turner says he has had no calls from record labels.
Some jazz recording executives say that broader audiences don't have the patience to deal with compositions like his -- moody, with long, difficult-to-remember themes. But the fact is that Mark Turner is a great jazz musician during a particularly bad time for being a great jazz musician.
Jazz does not stand alone anymore as a viable, self-sustaining department within most major record companies. Most are following the successful example of Nonesuch, which has sprinkled a few jazz artists among its list of new classical music, singer-songwriter rock, Cuban and African oldies and chic unclassifiables like Laurie Anderson. Since the mid-90's, when major labels were let down by the failure of a mostly press-driven ''renaissance'' that had encouraged them to sign young jazz bandleaders in the vein of Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard, jazz is now seen by record executives as one of many possible kinds of ''adult'' music. (The big exception is for the back-catalog jazz reissues, which are far outselling new work.)
Verve -- an important label in jazz since 1956 -- has cut half of its traditional jazz roster in the last year, canceling contracts with respected names like Russell Malone, Kenny Barron and Christian McBride; it is putting its energies into promoting the singers Diana Krall and Natalie Cole. Blue Note, the other well-known strictly jazz imprimatur, has just had its first gold album (with sales of more than 500,000 copies) in nine years: ''Come Away With Me,'' by Norah Jones, who is not a jazz artist but a folk-rock singer. Not surprising, the label is looking for more of her kind and less of Mark Turner's.
Mr. Turner is quiet and self-assured but essentially noncompetitive. (During an interview with him at a Midtown Manhattan restaurant, my tape recorder barely registered his voice; when I suggested that his sound had been studied by some of the saxophonists who regularly played at the New York jazz club Smalls in the mid-90's, he demurred by saying nothing.)
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Among younger jazz musicians, he inspires admiration for his approach to practicing and living as much as for his playing. Mr. Turner, a Buddhist, lives in New Haven with his wife, Helena Hansen, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Yale University, and two children; he enjoys the quiet of a town where there is no jazz scene to speak of.
''I went and practiced with him once,'' said the saxophonist Bill McHenry, who is 29. ''He showed me these music books of things he writes out; just in one book of 36 pages he had tons of different chords and exercises. Because of the purity of his approach, he influences a lot of different people in that way -- either like me, who does freer stuff, or someone else, who does straight-ahead music: it doesn't matter.''
It took some time for Mr. Turner to find his own voice on the instrument. He was born in Ohio, grew up in Cerritos and Palos Verdes, Calif., near Los Angeles, and played saxophone in high school. (He was also a dedicated break-dancer, who broke his front teeth attempting a back flip.) After a brief period studying design and illustration at Long Beach State University, he went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, in the late 80's, where he quickly became known as a super-studious musician who had explored Coltrane more deeply than anyone around him.
''I was fairly methodical,'' Mr. Turner remembered. ''I almost always wrote out Coltrane's solos, and I'd have a lot of notes on the side.''
Wasn't he afraid of becoming trapped inside Coltrane's voice? ''No,'' he said, sanguinely. ''By doing it, I knew I would eventually not be interested in it anymore. Also, I noticed that if you looked at someone else who was into Trane, and if you could listen through that person's ear and mind, it would be a slightly different version. That's who you are -- it's how you hear.'' After exploring Coltrane, Mr. Turner approached the work of Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins in the same meticulous way.
BY the early 90's, he said, he had exhausted his interest in ''a line of tenor players who do pretty much what most tenor players do today. That is, more of an aggressive sound, with a vocabulary that's come to be a bit programmed.'' When he moved to New York in 1990, he turned to a new figure, who bumped him into a new place: Warne Marsh.
Best known as a fellow-traveler of the pianist Lennie Tristano, Marsh represented the opposite of aggression: he was a linear, melodic improviser who managed to merge spontaneity and research, playing nearly Bach-like melodic lines. As he listened more closely, Mr. Turner found that there was a link between Marsh, Coltrane and Mr. Henderson. And that was Lester Young, the great light-toned saxophonist of the swing era.
Mr. Turner has appeared on some excellent records -- particularly his own ''In This World'' (Warner Brothers, 1998) and ''Abolish Bad Architecture'' (Fresh Sound, 1999), an album by the bassist Reid Anderson on which he played a sideman role. But his best work is clearly still ahead of him. He says he is done with being the leader of the Mark Turner Trio or the Mark Turner Quartet: he wants to form a cooperative band that doesn't bear his name and to share composing and publishing credit. Part of his reasoning is modesty, but he also believes he can reach a new and wider audience that way. Some of his contemporaries believe that his dedication to music may be so pure that it affects the music's reception. ''His style is so understated in a way,'' said the saxophonist Donny McCaslin. ''His demeanor is reserved, and his playing reflects that. He has an introspective sound. Maybe people aren't seeing what's there.''
Mr. Anderson, the bassist, puts it more precisely. ''He uses harmonies that are his language of harmony; he hears the melody within those harmonies. Sometimes they're complex, and on the surface are almost nonfunctional. But they're of course fully functional. He's dealing on that high level that perhaps only the initiated can appreciate.''
Mark Turner Trio
Seventh Avenue South at 11th Street.
June 27 at 9:30 and 11:30
Turner Times 7
Before Mark Turner was dropped by Warner Brothers, he had made these albums:
DHARMA DAYS: Warner Brothers, 2001
BALLAD SESSION: Warner Brothers, 2000
TWO TENOR BALLADS: Criss Cross, 2000
IN THIS WORLD: Warner Brothers, 1998
MARK TURNER: Warner Brothers, 1998
WARNER JAMS, VOL. 2 -- THE TWO TENORS: (with the saxophonist James Moody) Warner Brothers, 1997
YAM YAM: Criss Cross, 1994