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Get to Know Mark Lettieri

Posted February 11th, 2019  |  By A4A.admin

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CSMA welcomes the Mark Lettieri Trio for a free concert in Tateuchi Hall on Sunday, February 17 at 2:00pm.  The Mark Lettieri Trio performs instrumental music of the jazz, rock, funk variety.  We spoke with Mark Lettieri to learn more about his background and what the audience can expect from their performance in Tateuchi Hall. 

Mark Lettieri, Guitarist

Give us a little background on yourself. How did you begin playing and performing music?

I picked up the guitar at age 11 and was hooked ever since! I took some lessons with some great local teachers in the Bay Area and began jamming with my friends (who were also discovering guitar, drums, bass, etc.) in our garages. Some of our first performances were at school functions, teen centers (we were too young to play clubs of course) and church youth group events.

Did you have access to music education in school? If not, how did you find your way into music?

Yes I did, though I didn’t choose to pursue it until my senior year at Menlo Atherton High School, when I decided to join the advanced jazz band. There we great music programs though all the schools I attended on the Peninsula, but I don’t recall there being much instruction or opportunity for guitar specifically, until the high school level where jazz and big band music became a part of the curriculum. I did most of my education through private lessons, playing with friends and practicing on my own.

Tell us about a great music teacher you had.

I’ll tell you about three! Gordon Kahan was my primary guitar teacher though high school. With him, I learned loads about technique, theory and just general “cool guitar stuff.” We’d jam on Van Halen, Hendrix…all my favorites at the time. He was a former student of my guitar hero Joe Satriani and shared everything he’d learned from Joe, which was fantastic. But he didn’t let me off easy. If I didn’t practice something, he’d get on me about it, which I’m thankful for! My jazz band director at M-A was Frank Moura who was totally hilarious and made playing in a big jazz ensemble (something I’d never done) work for a rock guy like me. Through him, I learned how to apply rhythm guitar playing in a way I hadn’t done before. Lastly, at Texas Christian University, I studied for a few semesters with Thomas Burchill, a fantastic jazz instructor who helped me develop my sense of harmony and composition. He knew I was interested in lots of styles of music, so he tailored his lessons to apply jazz concepts to all the other sounds I was developing.

How often do you practice and/or rehearse?

Ha, lately no so much! Much of my time is spent on “career-based logistics” as I like to call it, basically all the things modern musicians have to do to keep things moving. So, when I do get time on the instrument, it’s usually spent learning music for a session or tour or perhaps spending some time to write or arrange for my own projects. I definitely don’t have as much free time to just sit down and play like I used to. Perhaps I need to make time.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring musicians?

It’s simple advice, really. When you’re young, the key is just to have fun. Make sure you’re always having a good time making or playing music. Jam with your friends. Stay inspired. Keep learning new things.

Tell us a little bit about the Mark Lettieri Trio.

The Trio is the live incarnation of my studio recordings. On my records, you’ll hear extra guitars, keyboards or percussion, but live, the goal is to strip it down to the essence of the composition and deliver it that way. Hopefully, if it’s a good tune, it’ll come across without the extra stuff – even though I love the extra stuff! My core guys are Jason Thomas on drums and Wes Stephenson on bass. Both guys are Texas-based. Jason plays with me in Snarky Puppy and Wes leads his own band, the Funky Knuckles. They both play on all my records and accompany me for most every live show. They’re the heartbeat of the Trio sound.  However, for the show at Tateuchi Hall I’ll be joined by my good friend Uriah Duffy on bass, who’s worked with artists as diverse as Whitesnake and Prince and an incredible Bay Area drummer, Dame Taylor, who plays with Fantastic Negrito. I’m really looking forward to hearing how we interpret the music together!

You perform various genres of music with many different artists. What are some of your favorite/most memorable moments?

One that always sticks out was playing the Jazz à Vienne Festival outside Lyon, France when I was on tour with Erykah Badu. The performance is held in an ancient Roman theater, the majority of which has been left untouched. I’d never experienced anything like that; playing great music with friends as the sun went down in such a historic place! A great moment in recent memory was when Snarky Puppy collaborated on a performance with Maalem Hamid El Kasri, a legendary Gnawa musician, and his group in the city of Essaouira, Morocco. Talk about some serious rhythms!

What can the audience expect during the performance in Tateuchi Hall?

Ha, well I hope we’re not too loud! Seriously though, for fans of instrumental music of the jazz/rock/funk variety, it should be good time. And you’ll see three guys playing the mess out of their instruments, also having a good time. And there will probably be lots of guitar. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon!

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