Born: September 26, 1959 Primary Instrument: Piano
Mark Simon couples jazz experience with a myriad of jazz influences to create a style of playing and writing that offers a mature outlook while pushing his work out to the edge.
Simon, a Chicago-born Cub fan, has been playing jazz for over 30 years, starting somewhat inauspiciously by playing along with old Jazz At The Philharmonic records from his father’s massive and eclectic record collection, which ran the gamut from early jazz master Louis Armstrong to avant-garde Cecil Taylor. By 13, Mark was listening to Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge and other jazz legends while his school chums were gearing up to Led Zeppelin.
Young Simon soon graduated to jazz sessions, further honing his keyboard skills while beginning to play occasional jazz gigs. He cites high school jazz band director, Don Owens, as an important part of his jazz education. It was the same band that Mark’s brother Fred had earlier played in. Owens went on to become the director of Northwestern University’s jazz program.
From “sitting in” with the JATP, he enrolled in a youth summer jazz camp at the University of Illinois, where he was exposed to the live side of jazz. Mark would sneak out of the dorm at night to sit in with the faculty on jam sessions, providing him with a sense of excitement in playing that he’s never lost. “The faculty would have these all-night jams and I was the only student invited to sit in. It was an awesome and valuable experience and it gave me a real foundation in jazz”.
Of course, he wasn’t left out of the pop music loop either. His friends came to listen to his jazz records and in exchange exposed Mark to the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Doors and other rock artists. However, Mark’s influences were grounded by jazz artists such as pianists Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, bassist Charles Mingus, vibist Gary Burton and saxophone giant Sonny Rollins, all of whom he was able to hear as a teenager for $2 a ticket at a Chicago concert hall.
Mark also studied the works of pianists Hampton Hawes (“His honesty and integrity appeal to me”) and Wynton Kelly, Thelonious Monk, Vince Guaraldi and his brother, Fred Simon, an accomplished jazz pianist and recording artist whom Mark refers to as “my earliest influence”.
Growing up in jazz, Mark Simon has gained experience from playing extensively with Leroy Vinnegar and Hadley Caliman, performing in concert with Bud Shank, Jeff Clayton, Joshua Breakstone and singer Julie Kelly and playing jam sessions with several notable jazz artists, including Teddy Edwards, Red Holloway and Herb Ellis.
Mark has been a Portland resident since 1978, when he came west from Chicago to study jazz at Mount Hood Community College. He’s been a featured performer with the MHCC alumni band at several Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz events. Since then, he’s played with most of the jazz stalwarts in the Portland area, including Mel Brown, Glen Moore, Nancy King and Ron Steen.
His Libra Moon, PORTLAND NIGHTS recording debut (featuring eight Simon originals) includes first-call jazz artists Paul Mazzio, trumpet and flugelhorn; Gary Hobbs, drums: Dave Captein, bass and Michael Bard sax. Michael co-produced the CD with Mark.
Mark continues to compose music and work around the Portland area playing solo piano gigs, accompanying vocalists, playing with jazz groups (including his newly-formed Mark Simon trio), as well as teaching piano and providing services for vocalists.
“Local piano virtuoso Mark Simon sent me his debut CD Portland Nights and it’s a superior effort. Mark composed and arranged all eight songs and utilized the talents of popular sidemen well-known to this area. Although each song is superb, my favorites are Hometown Blues, Sunday Rain and Portland Nights.” - Bonnie Carter - Positively Entertainment
Mark is an eloquent and energetic player and composer in the bebop tradition. His years with Leroy Vinnegar certainly are evident and have left their mark with a strong rhythmic approach to the trio sound - Gordon Lee - pianist, composer and recording artist
“I’ve heard Mark Simon from time to time over the years, and I am struck by how he’s grown into such a poised and mature musician.” - Dave Frishberg, Grammy award-winning Pianist and Composer
“I am amazed at Mark’s concept of writing, it’s really his best kept secret and his playing ability has grown by leaps. His improvisation reminds me of Horace Silver and Cedar Walton. There is no question about it, Mark has got that thing! He just doesn’t sound like anyone else and his writing is going to be a major force in the future.” - Mel Brown, Consummate Drummer; (Diana Ross, Richie Cole, etc.)