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Q & A with CJO’s special guest Michael Philip Mossman

Published April 5th, 2017 by | Comments Off on Q & A with CJO’s special guest Michael Philip Mossman

Cleveland Jazz Orchestra: Afro-Cuban Explosion will be in the Ohio Theatre on Saturday, April 8 at 8:00 p.m. The show features New York trumpeter, composer and Oberlin graduate Michael Philip Mossman who joins CJO in a dynamic exploration of the intersection of music from Africa, Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean. Experience the rhythmic sounds of “Night in Tunisia”, Mambo, Mantuno, Salsa, Samba and more!

In anticipation of his upcoming performance, we had the pleasure of asking the talented Michael Philip Mossman some questions about his life and career.

When and how did you start playing?

I started playing at the age of 8 and promptly quit lessons (but stayed in the band!) because I didn’t like the music in the books and hated they way we were taught to read music. I learned to play by imitating songs I heard on the radio, which I taped on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I searched for any music with a trumpet in it and happened on WRTI, a college station that played jazz. I just imitated what I heard and could do the same in band practice. But importantly, the sound I developed was based on hearing great music played by fine musicians. I learned to improvise just by trial and error.

Then when I was 15 I attended a jazz clinic in Wilmington, DE and met some great musicians from NY. Of these Roland Hanna became my colleague at Queens College until he passed away. Another, Don Sebesky, became my arranging teacher when I moved to NY. Later, I did learn to read music, of course, and attended Oberlin Conservatory and studied orchestral trumpet there as well as jazz composition with Wendell Logan. I moved to Chicago after school and studied with Vincent Cichowicz, a really great orchestral trumpet player and teacher. I soon moved to New York and learned a ton of things working with some wonderful (and generous) musicians who were very welcoming, like Lew Soloff, Kamau Adilifu, and Jon Faddis.

What musicians do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from anything beautiful, no matter what kind of music. Because I am an arranger I am constantly exposed to different kinds of music from many cultures, with which I’m tasked with arranging for big band, orchestra, film, etc. In this way I get to hear and intensely study details of music composition, performance and the cultures they come from. Sometimes technique is amazing, sometimes the feeling a musician expresses, sometime the compositions and arrangements are innovative or just very well-done.

Another thing that inspires me is the mentorship I have received from others, including Mario Bauza, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Jon Faddis, Horace Silver, Michel Camilo and my teachers, Wendell Logan, Bill Fielder, Vince Cichowicz and other great teachers I have observed.

Mossman leading the WDR (Europe’s best big band, based out of Cologne) doing one of his arrangements.

Do you play any other instruments besides the trumpet?

I play “arrangers” piano and still practice the trombone. Sometimes I play valve trombone with Paquito D’Rivera. I spent time practicing both drum set and guitar to help me understand how to orchestrate for them. Click here to listen to Michael Philip Mossman play Springdance (feat. K. Drew Jr., D. Sanchez, M. “Smitty” Smith, & J. Genus).

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to run, swim and spend time with my family and friends. I like getting very dirty in the garden and doing very bad carpentry.

Do any other members of your family play music?

My father, Howard Mossman plays the theremin! His playing is heard in the award-winning movie, “The Bothersome Man.” He has never been a professional player, but is very knowledgeable about this instrument.

Who is one artist you listen to that might surprise your fans?

I don’t know if it would surprise anyone but I do enjoy African Jazz artists, such as Mohktar Samba and Richard Bona. I am just finishing charts for a West Indian Jazz group called Sakesho. Not bebop or Afro-Cuban Jazz as we are playing with the CJO but very challenging and beautiful. I also like great Bluegrass and Flamenco guitar playing as well as Arabian Oud. (I recently did a chart for Oud player Charbel Rouhana.)

How do you balance being Director of Jazz Studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College/CUNY, your performance career and family?

I try as much as possible to bring everyone into everything else I do. My daughters have attended many concerts and at times travel with me, as does my “acting” wife, Nancy (who plays the
trumpet!). My first daughter, Anayvelyse had her own ”Latin Jazz” radio show at Columbia and my younger daughter writes her own songs. I always discuss my current work in classes at QC and this keeps my teaching current and relevant. When possible, I include students in rehearsals and recording sessions so they feel a part of the scene. Many are!

You’ve toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, McKoy Tyner, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Zawinul, Slide Hampton, The Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra and more.

What artists or groups are on your wish list for future collaborations?

I really enjoyed scoring the film, Chico and Rita (Academy Award finalist in 2012, directed by Fernando Trueba) using songs by Bebo Valdez. That and composing ballets, Beneath the Mask and The Legend of King Cintolo were a lot of fun and challenging as the music was part of a larger picture. I think visually of music and use a lot of analogies from other art forms (especially cooking and architecture) and nature when I teach. That keeps me from getting too lost in the weeds, musically and writing only for jazz nerds like myself.

Looking ahead, what is up next for you in your career?


Lately I’ve been focused on increasing my focus on the intersection between music composition, live performance studio music production. Many students either focus only on playing and find they have no audience or only on production and have no musical depth. To maintain the valuable techniques and knowledge we build on takes a lot of study. But digital production is the way we communicate now and cannot be ignored by “traditionalists.”

I also have been on an 18 year quest to teach artists about business thinking for the sake of the sustainability of their careers as well as unlocking for them the vast store of creativity found in the business world. Its all about allowing them to make a living creating their music and sharing it.

Is there anything else that you want our audience to know about you?

I’m very happy to have chosen music as a life, even with the many, many ups and downs a life in the arts can present. I believe that the finest thing about music is that people from every different place, economically, ethnically, politically, etc can find not only common ground but common passion. In music we literally synchronize with each other to achieve common goals. We learn respect for others’ achievements and recognize their contributions to our success even if we don’t agree on everything else they do. We also learn humility and gratitude. We explore history and our present world for ideas and are both caretakers of our cultures as well as ambassadors of them.

Enjoy this night of music and rhythm. Click here to get your tickets now!

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