Mark Jones is a visual artist, musician, poet, philosopher, essayist, martial artist and bon vivant. In all of his endeavors, he has remained truly original, pure, honest, and faithfully uncompromising, never self-promoting, never prostituting his ideals for commercial interests, never asking for charity, and has never been offered connections, venture capital, or any opportunities to demonstrate his abilities. Because of this, he has worked in virtual obscurity, and in order to survive, has been forced to work in such sundry honest yet tangential professions as a laborer on a Ford Motor Co. door assembly line, a non-ferrous metal sorter, truck loader, warehouse laborer and traveling salesman, music and art teacher, wooden playground designer and manufacturer, home inspector and environmental tester.
With drastically limited free time because of these full-time jobs, he has pushed himself to simulate the life of a working artist by continually challenging himself to not only find time to maintain and improve his crafts, but to push the limits of new creation and discovery as if it was going to appreciated beyond the borders of his house. He has turned his focus inward and viewed art as a means toward self-discovery and improvement. Throughout these ordeals, his spirit has remained resolute, and has lived, to paraphrase the poet Delmore Schwartz, “to be indestructible as an Artist until destroyed as a human being.”
Mark Neil Jones was born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 19, 1952, and from an early age showed a propensity for drawing and music, having won a grade school art show and demonstrated an ability to play his sister’s piano lesson by simply listening to it from another room. He went on at an early age to take painting courses at the Cleveland Institute of Art, private piano lessons, and gave a recital at the Cleveland Music Settlement.
In high school, Mark became smitten with blues music, and began immersing himself in the study of blues on piano, guitar and harmonica. He took a few piano lessons at jazz legend Bill DeArango’s studio, and then he and guitarist pal Darryl Berk formed the Mo Schwartz Blues Band, which performed around Cleveland. The young Mr. Jones not only studied the blues, but received a direct transmission from a number of the patriarchs of the blues. Junior Wells heard him playing piano in Ann Arbor, and gave him the seal of approval when he commanded Mark to keep playing while he joined in singing and playing harp. The teenage Jones drew accolades from Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee at Baldwin Wallace College, when he performed for them, and is pictured with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters in Jame Segrest’s definitive biography of Howlin’ Wolf. In 1970, Mr. Jones completed a thesis on a history of the blues - a recorded 4 hour lecture with copious musical examples, including two original works in which he overdubbed himself playing numerous instruments. It was called “the best work of its kind” by Cleveland’s acclaimed patriarch blues band leader Bill “Mr. Stress” Miller.
After a year at the University of Miami, he transfered to Kent State where he earned a BFA in painting, and also studied literature, poetry and other humanities, and began writing poetry in ernest, having attended workshops with Robert Creely, Robert Duncan and Galway Kinnell. During this period, after being exposed to the music of John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Oscar Peterson, Larry Coryell, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea and Cecil Taylor, he caught the jazz bug and began teaching himself how to play jazz piano, as well as Indian ragas and other world musics. He and a few friends formed the Cleveland Art Ensemble which performed at his senior thesis art show, and included the Jones original extended form composition, “African Sketches.” Mark also began his journalistic endeavors by writing some record and concert reviews for a local publication. Another interest of his was cultivated during this time at Kent State - Eastern philosophy and martial arts. He began studying Ishin-Ryu Okinawan karate, and then Chinese Shaolin kung-fu and chi-kung (qigong). During his college years, Mark traveled to the Soviet Union with Kent State President Glen A. Olds, and also spent a week in the jungles of Jamaica.
In the mid seventies, after having back-packed throughout Europe, Mr. Jones moved to Youngstown, Ohio where he studied jazz and classical piano with local legend Sidney Jireck, and composition, harmony and counterpoint with Daniel Altsmann. He also continued his martial arts pursuit, studying an Indonesian style of kung-fu called Poekoelan Tjimindie there with Bill Dobich, a top disciple of the late Willie Wetzel. Mark moved to New York in 1977 and studied bebop piano with Walter Bishop Jr., and began showing his paintings in several Soho galleries, including the M. Elson Gallery, which provided live, recorded concerts as “Axis in Soho”, and Mr. Jones’ paintings served as a backdrop for musicians such as Sun Ra and Paul Bley. He also exhibited his work in a collaboration with the Constantina Petkova Dance Theater Group.
For economic reasons, Mark moved back to Cleveland in 1978 but continued to pursue his artistic endeavors. He studied classical piano with Lithuanian virtuoso Anatas Smetona and composed a number of his finest works in both jazz and classical idioms. He held a jazz workshop at his home in Lyndhurst, Ohio with his roomate Jeff Stewart in which many musicians came by to perform works by Mr. Jones as well as by Ornette Coleman, Monk, and Charlie Parker. During this period, he completed the solo piano work “Pyerezhivally”, his “quartet for oboe, two horns and cello,” and was commissioned by Case Western Reserve University to compose a prelude and fugue for woodwind quartet and men’s choir, which was performed in Cleveland to much acclaim. At this time, Pulitzer nominee Joseph Packales called Mr. Jones “a composer of world class stature.” Another project recorded then was a piece for 10 poets, in which he conducted poets to read their works in overlapping intervals with certain inflections according to his direction.
In 1980, Mr. Jones was accepted to study with Cecil Taylor and his ensemble, who were in residence at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY. At the end of the workshop, he performed an extended composition of Mr. Taylor’s along with other students in front of a distinguished audience which included Carla Bley, Jack DeJohnette, Karl Berger as well as Taylor’s associates Sunny Murray, Jimmy Lyons, Alan Silva, Jerome Cooper, and Ramsay Ameen. The event was documented in the April, 1980 issue of Downbeat Magazine with a photo featuring Mr. Jones performing.
On June 19th of that year, (his birthday), he gave a solo concert called “Inner Odyssey” at Spaces, a performing arts venue in downtown Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. The concert featured his 24 ft. long painting of the same name as a backdrop. Following the concert, Mr. Jones was interviewed by WRUW radio, and the interview also appeared nationally on NPR stations. Around this time period, Mr. Jones held a temporary professorship at the Cooper School of Art, a private art college in Cleveland, where he lectured on philosophy and art history and taught drawing. During this time, he also had an essay on Norwegian Art published in Art in America, showed his paintings in Cleveland and New York, and continued to work on his poetry.
In 1983, Mr. Jones moved back to New York, where he still resides, and once again studied briefly with Walter Bishop Jr., but the core focus was to study with renowned educator and master pianist, Sal Mosca, which Mr. Jones did for seven years, only missing lessons when traveling to Brazil, where he increasingly began spending more time beginning in 1986. The study with Sal was augmented by studies in conducting and classical piano at the Westchester Conservatory. Continually expanding his horizons, he also studied psychotherapy in the graduate program at Columbia University, while interning at Harlem Valley Psychiatric, and studied language at NYU.
Throughout this time, Mr. Jones continued to show his art in New York, and teach art and music privately. He formed his first version of Sound Sculpture, a musical trio with Matthew Petterson on bass and Kevin Hart on drums, which was formed in order to perform his compositions. They gave a few concerts and eventually disbanded, although Mark occasionally performed duets of standards with various bass players around Westchester. He also collaborated with his friend, singer/songwriter Mark Dobson, and arranged and produced several recording sessions for him, on which Mr. Jones played numerous instruments. Around this time, his interest in writing grew, and he began having essays of far-reaching subject matter published (mostly in edited form) in the New York Times, Village Voice, Newsweek, Mojo, Dirty Linen, Downbeat, New York Jewish Week, the Cleveland Jewish News, Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu, Tai-Chi, and others.
In the early 90’s, he formed a second version of Sound Sculpture with Jay Mazarella on bass and John Doty on drums. They gave several performances, and recorded 3 tunes with violin virtuoso Rob Thomas and percussionist Steve Samuels. In the mid 90’s, feeling stressed from running a wooden swingset business that he had no interest in, but needed the income produced by it, Mr. Jones began immersing himself in the study of the Chinese Internal martial arts, including tai-chi, bagua, hsing-yi and chi-kung, with a senor disciple of B.P. Chan, as well as with Mr. Chan himself, from whom he garnered a treasury of philosophy and ethics, as well as martial arts skills. Mr. Jones also began work on a long-term project, a philosophy book that engenders the facets of life he feels of paramount importance to living a happy and healthy life - diet, exercise, mental and spiritual outlook, an appreciation and understanding of the Arts, human interraction, meditations on the meaning of reality, and how to think for oneself in a society controlled by money and conformity.
The new millenium has Mark Jones completing not only that aforementioned philosophy book, but a book dealing with the principles of body mechanics - how the human body moves most efficiently to maximize strength and avoid injury, several essays, including one on “Jews and the Blues”, completing his songbook of original musical compositions for improvisation, from 1969-2008, his String Quartet no. 1, “Illuminations” for solo cello, the collected works of his poetry entitled, “The Cry of the Lonely, the Song of the Poet”, more jazz and classical musical recordings, and beginning and finishing several new series of artworks including one based upon the relationship of Brazilian Carnaval and Afro-Brazilian religion, one of Judaic Themes in the Poetry of Bob Dylan, a synthesis of landscapes and superimposed old master drawings, poetic images frozen in clear casting resin, a continuation of his Chinese landscape series in oil, and several series of photographs. He also hopes to finish his “BossAmerioca” project, a Brazilian music project which he ran out of funds to finish after having successfully recorded the first three of a planned fifty tunes. In 2009, Mr. Jones assembled a third incarnation of the band Sound Sculpture, and gave a critically acclaimed performance at the Iridium Jazz Club in NYC, which was also recorded and filmed. The concert is available on CD and DVD.
Since 1983, Mark Jones has been based in Cortlandt Manor, New York, in northern Westchester County, and since 1986, spending winters in Rio de Janeiro.