With Rutgers JazzFest coming up this Saturday, we will be interviewing Mason Gross School of the Arts faculty member, Director of Rutgers JazzFest, and the Assistant Director for this year’s Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute, Marc Stasio!
Pianist, composer, arranger, educator, and author, Marc Stasio, has pursued jazz and contemporary music for over 35 years. He actively lives out his calling producing scores for hire, serving as jazz faculty, and performing abroad. His scores can be heard on recordings by renowned artists including Michel Camilo and Conrad Herwig. As professor of jazz studies he specializes in teaching composition and arranging based on his principle of “the Hidden Score”, authoring a blog and an upcoming book by the same name. Marc holds a Masters in Jazz Studies and currently pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts degree.
TJ: What initially inspired you to go into the arts?
MS: I was showing signs of being very creative at an early age with drawing and painting, and remember asking my parents when I was 8 if I could learn piano after seeing someone perform on television. I came home from school one day to find a used upright sitting in our living room. I began taking classical lessons and progressed rapidly. When I hit 13, I experienced an awakening of sorts when I took a great interest in jazz and popular music (to the dislike of my piano teacher!).
Suddenly, harmony and theory concepts just fell into place and I found I could use this new understanding to improvise and unleash myself from the printed page. That interest in jazz led to getting more involved in bands at school and wanting to write music for them, which naturally led to creating arrangements in high school. I then knew I wanted to pursue music as a career as a writer and player.
TJ: Was there a teacher who made an impact upon your development as an artist? How did they impact your own work as a teacher?
MS: My first piano teacher was a great mentor and probably responsible for causing me to stick with it through my early years. But I’d have to say when I entered Berklee School of Music, Herb Pomeroy had a great impact. It was through him that I learned wonderful scoring approaches and workflow concepts that just stuck with me and helped me grow. It was the marvelous way he tought how to take complexity and boil it down into attainable tasks to create the desired whole that just changed my thinking on scoring. I now carry so much of this into my own classroom, as well as on the field.
TJ: What is the most rewarding part of teaching for you?
MS: Any teacher will tell you it’s a joy to see the “light bulb” go on and have the priviledge to lead students to a new understanding. To impart information that ultimately helps to unleash their own ability and creativity is very rewarding.
TJ: Who are your top three jazz pianists of the past 25 years? Why are they in your top three?
MS: I’d have to go beyond 25 years and say Bill Evans; I must have transcribed every solo and I still retain so many things I learned from him. His lyricism was astounding. Herbie Hancock; his harmonic sense and inventiveness has always been inspirational. McCoy Tyner; his unique sound and approach changed jazz, and studying his music had such an impact on me.
TJ: Jazz is often called “America’s greatest art form.” In what ways is jazz music uniquely American?
MS: America provided a means for jazz to emerge in ways not possible elsewhere. The incredible synergy of events and people that came together in this country the way it did is a unique slice of history that allows America to stake its claim to it. Its greatness is from its core – music performed freely from the heart; improvising and allowing the soul to have its voice. This is VERY unique to the conventions of music up to that time, and is directly drawn from the African roots that founded it. Ultimately, the greatness is that every style and form of contemporary American music known today is fully traceable back to the blues; the very seed of jazz.
TJ: How can studying jazz performance help non-jazz performers? Would you recommend they register for Rutgers JazzFest or the Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute?
MS: Firstly, it can help by clarifying many misconceptions about what jazz is, and isn’t. So many students are uninterested in jazz because they simply don’t know what it is and what it’s made of. Second, jazz focuses more on theory and harmony concepts that helps students understand more of WHAT they’re actually playing – not just the rote mechanics of how to play it. Such as, the relationship of the melodic ideas they’re playing to the harmony provided so that the notes take on a meaning – they’re not just notes. Lastly, it helps students to understand how to create music that’s not always tied to a written page. These are all very new concepts to beginning jazz students, and extremely beneficial to their musicianship, regardless of which type of music they normally concentrate on.
Programs like JazzFest and the summer camps are all designed to introduce and mentor students in these areas to gain an appreciation for it and expand their musical horizons.
Thank so much, Marc!
The Mason Gross School of the Arts Jazz Program and the Mason Gross Extension Division presents Rutgers JazzFest, a day of workshops, master classes and performances for precollege students and school jazz bands. Mason Gross’ renowned collegiate jazz faculty will be featured teaching artists and performers throughout the day. The event concludes with a concert in the Nicholas Music Center featuring school bands and Mason Gross faculty.
The Rutgers Summer Jazz Institute is ideal for young musicians, ages 13–18, interested in improving their jazz improvisation, small group, and large ensemble skills. Students will work intensively in daily rehearsals with the internationally renowned, award-winning jazz faculty of Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. Students will learn and perform the music of Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and many more in a comprehensive workshop environment on the Douglass/Cook campus of Rutgers University.