Born: November 3, 1945 Primary Instrument: Piano
Born November 3rd, 1945 Mark is an unheralded Philly jazz institution: self taught, prodigiously gifted, obscure . . . yet among musicians his reputation could not be heavier; his list of credits as an accompanist and arranger reads like a modern jazz encyclopedia. (Nate Chinen.) Numerous critics have favorably compared Kramer's style to that of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Herbie Hancock, but one which is singularly his own. He is credited with inventing a rich harmonic vocabulary and a distinctive pianistic style, nearly, if not fully, in tandem with the above masters. From age four, Mark was classically trained on violin by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In his mid-teens, Kramer shifted entirely to bass, saxophone and piano, and then focused entirely on jazz piano. In the early years, Kramer played piano regularly with Randy and Mike Brecker, Charles Fambrough, Stanley Clarke, Eric Gravatt, Sonny Fortune and many other Philadelphia jazz giants. Arguably, an unwritten portion of jazz history took place at Mark's apartment on Ridge avenue in Philly. There one would find Charles Fambrough, Eric Gravatt, Mike and Randy Brecker, Daryl Brown, Stanley Clarke and so many others assembled for hours/days of non-stop jamming and recording. Mark still plays with and/or produces records with Fambrough, Randy, and Gravatt.
Mark is best known for his work with the Mark Kramer Trio. Originally conceived as an acoustic-electric-fusion group in the late 1970s - featuring Paul Klinefelter on bass, and Mike Dougherty on drums - it would quickly mature into a complex acoustic chamber ensemble. Over the years the trio performed several times weekly at clubs and concert halls, and won numerous awards and commendations (see below).
In the late 80s, Mark Kramer's trio (mainly consisting of Bill Miller, bass and Butch Reed, drums) hosted approximately 50 world class but regional guest artist/soloists (including Junior Cook, Lee Konitz, George Coleman, Steve Turre, Bobby Watson, Al Cohn, Tal Farlow, Archie Shepp, and several dozen more) at Si Ristorantee Jazz in Philadelphia - a perfectly appointed jazz club owned by Gianfranco Cherici. These concerts were generally SRO, most were recorded, and are currently archived. During that time Mark's trio was featured in major print media weekly, and was broadcast on New Year's Eve by Tobias Poole of nationally acclaimed FM radio station WRTI. Subsequently, for 13-14 years Mark Kramer served as the Jazz Director at Ye Olde Temperance House, a club in Bucks County. PA. The Mark Kramer Trio was the house trio playing up to 4-5 nights weekly. His group (featuring over the years mainly bassists William Zinno, Matt Parrish, Gary Mazzaroppi [see Marion McPartland], DeWitt Kay, Fred Weiss, Scott Lee, Mike Richmond, Charles Fambrough/others and drummers Butch Reed, John Mosemann, Glenn Davis, Dave Moan, Joe Chambers/others) accompanied approximately 300 guest artists mostly from Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York. For 2 years Mark and Arnie Lawrence played together there weekly. (Lawrence was the co-founder of the New School of Music Jazz program.) Outside of Philly proper, Ye Olde Temperance House received Philadelphia magazine's coveted Best of Philly Award in 1999.
In the late 1990s Mark Kramer's trio debuted internationally with a much misunderstood recording for Telarc Records, EVITA en JAZZ - strange fruit for jazz. The CD did well commercially and is still in print. Reviewers unanimously recognized Kramer's exquisite sound. Yet, nearly all could not get past his choice of source material (Webber). In 2009, Kramer disclosed to K.S. that he had delighted in creating this jazz farce. I had estimated (quite badly, as I see it now) that this inbred/failing REAL BOOK jazz industry would embrace the art, relish the impossible craft, and love the joke. Over a decade later, Kramer's place as the then 4th jazz pianist in TELARC's catalog (alongside Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and McCoy Tyner) continues to irk some jazz veterans. For example, public radio's PIANO JAZZ, still blocks Kramer from appearing, despite petitions from two record labels, and more than a few prominent friends of the show's host. Immediately upon receiving in 2006 a promotional copy of Art of the Heart, widely acclaimed as a brilliant and intimate duo recording by Kramer and Eddie Gomez, the show's host invited Eddie to appear with her, without Kramer. As Mark tells it with a twinkle, Eddie's requests for me to appear with him (a BASSIST) on PIANO JAZZ, were met with, 'What can he [Mark] do that I [Marian] cannot.
In the ensuing years, Kramer's trio would go on to record about 7 more jazz versions of complete Broadway shows.
In about 2001, Mark left Ye Olde Temperance House, and returned mainly to perform locally in the city proper of Philadelphia. He was introduced by bassist Charles Fambrough to a local club there called Chris' Jazz Cafe (now also a favorite jaunt of NYC musicians soliciting work.) Through Kramer, then the house pianist - working closely with Chris' management - Mark's old friends George Coleman, Lee Konitz, Lew Tabackin, Eddie Gomez and others came to pay Kramer's trio a visit at Chris' Jazz Cafe. During that year Chris' won best Casual Jazz Club in Philadelphia award. Kramer had also been featured as a headliner at Zanzibar Blue and at other jazz clubs in the region. (Upon release of his other CDs, Mark performed at Birdland (NYC), and for extended engagements at the Iridium and other leading jazz venues and Festivals throughout the world.)
In the same year (2001), Mark mentioned to Eddie Gomez [bassist with pianist Bill Evans for 11 years] that Mark would be available on a full-time basis to travel, record, and generally revitalize their 12 year collaboration. Mark and Eddie thus quickly formed the Eddie Gomez-Mark Kramer Production Company and Trio, began to catalog and remix a backlog of their recordings - three CDs worth]. In 2002, they also recorded afresh their trio's Jazz Fiddler on the Roof, co-released on MYTHIC JAZZ RECORDS and TARA records, and subsequently re-released in 2004 on the internationally distributed TWINZ record label. The show's composer Jerry Bock [Too Close for Comfort, etc.] opined that the Eddie Gomez-Mark Kramer version of the show is a true transformation, a masterpiece; bringing tears of joy; I am honored and my gratitude knows no bounds. Currently Eddie and Mark are featured in each others' groups, and as co-leaders on joint projects.
Around the same time as the recording of Fiddler, The Mark Kramer Trio completed its ambitious recording of Harry Potter Jazz, vol. 1 (Sorcerer's-Philosopher s Stone) based on the intriguing score by composer John Williams. After a several year delay due to Warner Brothers, the CD was released internationally by a non-major label, once instances of compulsory licensing were demonstrated.
In early 2003, Mark co-produced, engineered, and played piano on a Tribute to Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee featuring two local Philadelphia vocalists as well as a local trumpeter John Swana [see CRISS CROSS records] and saxophonist Larry McKenna [see DREAMBOX MEDIA]. In July-August 2003, Mark Kramer (playing along with Charles Fambrough, Lennie White, Mulgrew Miller, George Colligan, Steven Johns, and Marlan Simon) engineered Stonejazz a jazz tribute to the Rolling Stones — distributed through Warner Brothers EA. The CD charted nationally in the top 20 for weeks. Later that year Fambrough, Kramer and drummer Jim Miller would record Jazz Greetings an unusual Christmas CD, released in 2008-9, as recently reviewed in AAJ. In about 2005, completed a near note for note trio jazz rendition of Mozart's Symphony in G minor (K.550); the world's first complete classical Symphony by a jazz trio.
Kramer and Gomez have recently released TROUBLED TIMES (2008) and KIND of TRIO (2009) on the Eroica Label. Both of these works are scheduled for distribution to media in 2010. Overall, Mark has recorded several dozen records as leader and sideman.
Mark also has been an invited lecturer at Rutger's University and The New School of Music on the Art of the Jazz Trio and Jazz Harmony. Together Eddie Gomez and Mark Kramer have provided demonstrations on interactive improvisation at major universities. Eddie and Mark are also currently recording new original music and as of 2010 are still working together, the most recent being a tour of 8 theaters (Joe LaBarbera on Drums) in April of 2010.
Up until 2008 or so, most of the pianist's recordings had incorporated elegant/exquisite [as reviewed] (though derivative) aspects of jazz and jazz piano. Notwithstanding, according to Mark, their intent was to globally recruit newcomers to jazz, not to impress a mainstream jazz audience. Yet, except in 2-3 cases (i.e., Harry Potter Jazz, the complete Mozart Symphony in G minor in Jazz, and possibly EVITA), the novelty approaches failed to meaningfully impact the aging field. It is likely that my productions diminished my street cred, alienating the core mainstream jazz audience. I do not regret what I did, but I could have been more clear about my intent.
To change course, Mark has recently developed a new method for jazz composing and orchestration, along with potentially ground breaking studio production techniques. On this, Kramer wanted me [KS] to add: On my own terms, only in partnership with what created me, do I wish to play out my remaining life in jazz. I was blessed with a significant gift which I've neglected for way too long.
With all of this activity, why then is Mark Kramer still a relatively obscure jazz pianist? The unstated fact of Mark's jazz career is that he had been pre-occupied.
1) It is only in 2001-2 that he went full-time into music. Thus, most of his milestones in the field of jazz took place even as he worked both as an MD and PhD (Temple), 80 hour weeks as the head of Psychopharmacology at Merck Research Laboratories. Merck and Co. - a very large corporation. A point of fact is that Kramer's high profile career in medical research (a first author in the premier Journal of SCIENCE) was not often known to his jazz collaborators, nor was his jazz career known to most of his scientist colleagues. Until recently, Mark Kramer kept these areas of his life separate so they would not cloud the issue of professional qualifications, lead to gimmicky reviews, such as might be advanced by people in either field. Currently, this is not an issue, as he now works almost entirely as a musician.
2) a faulty electrical bathroom fixure caused a fire which consumed his entire house and recording studio in early 2004 (as he played a concert at Merkin Hall, NYC.) It was not until 2007-8 that he would re-construct his life and home and studio.
About his career in music and his abilities as a pianist: Mark Kramer is one of the most self-effacing musicians you'll ever meet!, says retired jazz historian/sociologist Dr. Jack Beurckle formerly of WRTI-FM. He doesn't realize, and will not accept, that he is one of the true masters. His recordings are magnificent. He is not pumped up by the jazz media, nor does he have big recurring support. I do not think he's ever had a formal media campaign. He'll take all and any critique directly to heart, and use almost anything anybody says as an impetus for self- improvement, needed or not. But, Eddie Gomez, Charles Fambrough, Gary Mazzaroppi, Joe Chambers, and countless others at a high level and without an agenda understand that Mark Kramer really is a rare one - a genius. When Mark and Eddie [Gomez] play together, there is just no better pianist in the world today; no better combination, no deeper emotion. Just listen to his stuff. It is hand and glove. It is a taste of heaven. Miles would have dug it.
~ Jack Redmond (original 2004) updated by Kurt Seigel (personal manager), June 2010 USA
Awards:Early 1980s: "Best" Philadelphia jazz pianist,"Best" Philadelphia piano trio 1985, 1987, Kramer was selected nationally as a top undiscovered jazz pianist by the judges and creators of the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. To be completed. Engineering awards. etc.
“Mark Kramer is a jazz piano giant, finally being discovered, moving the modern mainstream of jazz forward, combining his early influences and formidable technique with fresh ideas that form his own individual voice.” Scott Yanow, 2008
“The magical interaction between Mark Kramer and Eddie Gomez cannot be overstated for it is rare to find two individualists thinking as one and always seeming to know where each other is heading. . . [these are intimate and classic conversations.] (Scott Yanow, jazz writer, AMG/other)
“. . . wonderous sounds and emotions with sensitivity and clarity.” George Harris, AAJ
“Mark is . . .always melodic and seemingly simple; but in that latter expression lies the secret. It might appear simple, but that is because of . . . skills honed over many years . . in a [music] that has grown steadily more complex and less true. This is first-class . . .the result is real and enduring.” Bruce Crowther Web
“With all the pianists blossoming from the ranks globally, it is soothing and refreshing to hear the mighty art of jazz piano still have the respect it deserves. Mark Kramer has a risk mentality to his playing, never holding back to facilitate the music into another direction yet to be explored. Very satisfying.” Karl Stober - eJazzNews
“ . . . gifted pianist. . . brilliant musician . . . elevates listeners to new emotional heights .. . Simple, soothing, and heartfelt.” C. Lizaire CelebrityCafe.com
“Kramer's luminous...interesting harmonies and intelligent, spare elaborations communicate disciplined emotion . . . will melt hard hearted woman and turn cold fishes into lover boys.” Thomas Conrad, JazzTimes
“brilliant pianist. . . fresh, airy, intense, and absolutely beautiful.” Richard Bourcier - Jazz Review
” . . . Kramer’s prowess at the keyboard remains uncontested.” John Stevenson - eJazzNews
“Kramer's sprightly harmonics and radiantly conveyed lyricism, lushly melodic and buoyant phrasings sans any glitz and sugar-coating . . [creates]. . an overall vibe that goes straight to the heart” Glenn Astaria eJazz News
“Kramer seems like a veritable and bona fide version of Evans as the modal pianist who endeared himself to jazz fans worldwide.” Michael P. Gladstone, All About Jazz
”. . .an amazing piano player . . . takes chances . . . utilizes fresh and interesting harmonies. . . freely manipulates rhythm. Piano becomes a living, breathing thing under his hands . . melodies are colored with taste and style . . .comping always cushions, and appropriate . . solos always an exciting journey . . .swings hard in places. ” Dave Miele, JazzImprov Magazine.
”Mainly plays melodically, clearly, deeply, and naturally. Favors space. Comes across as familiar. Harmonically and rhythmically one of the most advanced among his peers. Decades for this work to be properly understood” (Teddy Wilson, juried panel:1985 his written notes handed to artist.)
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