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Versatile Saxophonist & Lover of Shiny Things

Saxophonist Mark DeJong has over 20 years of professional experience as a musician, educator, director, composer, bandleader, promoter, contractor, presenter and sideman. A graduate of the prestigious jazz program at Rutgers University, Mark has benefited from the tutelage of saxophone masters Ralph Bowen, George Garzone, Donny McCaslin, and Stan Karp. A dynamic and versatile musician, Mark is equally at home in jazz, blues, pop, folk, and gospel settings. With recent accomplishments such as his renowned international group, The Outer Bridge Ensemble, a WCMA nomination for his recording The Unknown and his selection as a performing artist at the Canadian pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, Marks abilities have garnered recognition regionally, across Canada, and beyond the border. Mark has performed with many of the world’s leading musicians from all genres and styles, such as Ray Charles, Ian Tyson, Wayne Newton, Lennie Pickett, Rob McConnell, Moe Koffman, Tommy Banks, Victor Sawa, Hugh Fraser, P.J. Perry, Nikki Yanofsky, Denzal Sinclaire, and Carol Welsman. Performance credits include the Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and Saskatoon International Jazz festivals, as well as numerous concert halls and jazz clubs across North America, Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Curious about his thoughts on the future of music? Why is the saxophone his “chosen one”? Favourite live music memory, top 3 “desert island” discs & what made him fall in love with jazz? READ ON!

Q: You have over 20 years of professional experience as a musician, educator, director, composer, bandleader, promoter, contractor, presenter, and sideman. In your opinion, how are things shaping up out there for the future of music? What are the most notable “shifts” that you are observing?

MARK: I have divergent opinions on how things are shaping up for the future. Firstly, it’s a wonderful time to be a musician because there is incredible access to an untold richness of technology and resources (ie. historical, contemporary, global recordings) that are all at our fingertips, if we choose to look for them. And multimedia options are there for all of us to learn/use/exploit. There is so much enjoyment and information to be gleaned, if we only know where to look without getting distracted by the plethora of options for how to spend our time. 

Speaking of looking forward to the post-pandemic times, it’s my opinion that there will be an incredible amount of interest and appetite for live performances in virtually all areas of the arts. This will fuel a high degree of potential performance activity for years to come.

On the other side of the coin, with compensation rates from streaming services at such an egregious low level, surviving as an artist is incredibly difficult and the pandemic hasn’t appeared to do anything to change that. I also believe that the concept of “pivoting” is what musicians (and, frankly, anyone used to surviving in the gig economy) has been doing for years. I would like to see a discussion about how our society can start to re-imagine and create opportunities for artists/performers that don’t involve the side-hustle (teaching, providing online content post-pandemic, whatever you can think of that is “music-related” but not actually creating and performing music).

Q: What is it about the saxophone that made you commit to that being your instrument?

MARK: It’s the perfect instrument. It has the ability to be extremely loud and extremely soft. It can shout like a human and honk like goose. It can whisper in your ear and cry the blues for all who care to listen. Plus, it’s shiny.

Q: Please share with us your favourite live music memory, either as a performer or in the audience.

MARK: As a performer, there are quite a few contenders, but I’ll pick this one: Performing the music of Joni Mitchell with Sarah Slean and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra with Vince Mendoza (cond), Edwin Bassing (bass) and Peter Erskine (drums). My role was to play/improvise the soprano sax parts that Wayne Shorter played on those recordings and it was a dream gig. Plus, Sarah was heavenly in the way she channelled Joni and the Symphony with that rhythm section? Oh my, I need to sit down.

As an audience member? Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band live at the Bella Concert Hall in 2017. Of course I was the one who booked them but who can blame me?

Q: What are your top 3 “desert island” albums and why?

MARK: My answer would change every day so as of today (in no particular order):

Bobby McFerrin – Vocabularies

A total re-imagination of his repertoire with Bobby and full choir, plus guest rhythm section and soloists like Donny McCaslin, in an epic and raw exploration of the possibilities of the human voice. Plus, the tunes are just happy. Mostly.

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – First Time

Sonny Payne on drums. Thad Jones with guest Al Porcino on tpt. The Franks (Foster/Wess) playing tenor. Then the rest of the band. And Sinatra? Are you kidding me?

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

His classic quartet (Tyner, Garrison, Jones) in the most restrained situation leaves you dreaming of the notes they didn’t play. That would give me hope to get off the island so I can check out all the music I was missing while on the island.

Q: What made you fall in love with jazz?

MARK: Kind of Blue. Every tune. Every solo.

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