Dr. Mark Lomax, II, critically acclaimed composer, on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 6 p.m., will play selections with a four-piece ensemble from his 2019 12-album, 8.5-hour release, “400: An Afrikan Epic,” at Chestnut Hill College.

by Len Lear

In honor of Black History Month, Dr. Mark Lomax, II, critically acclaimed composer, recording artist, drummer, activist and music professor at Ohio State University, on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 6 p.m., will play selections with a four-piece ensemble from his 2019 12-album, 8.5-hour release, “400: An Afrikan Epic,” at Chestnut Hill College. The body of work, according to Lomax, is “a musical journey through the past, present and future of Black America and the Afrikan diaspora.”

Lomax, 41, who specializes in the socio-political and spiritual aspects of African-American art and music, insists that “there has never been a time in my life that music was not a part of me.” Heavily influenced by his father, a pastor, and mother, a composer of gospel music, Lomax was introduced to gospel and jazz at an early age.

Besides performing with gospel choirs around the country, Lomax also boasts impressive jazz credentials. He has toured with the Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet and worked with notable artists such as Clark Terry, Marlon Jordan, Azar Lawrence, Bennie Maupin, Billy Harper, Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis and Wessel Anderson, among others. Jazz Times says Lomax’s “forceful drumming would have made Elvin Jones proud.”

Dr. Lomax holds a Doctor of Music Arts degree in composition from Ohio State University. Whether he’s interpreting the Negro Spiritual through jazz, arranging gospel music for a symphony orchestra or performing his original works, his music has received raves from critics. Referring to “400: An Afrikan Epic,” Lane Czaplinski, performing arts director at Ohio State, recently said, “Mark is an absolute experimentalist … and this huge, deep project will look at the legacy of jazz from the past all the way to the future.”

Following is an interview we conducted Jan. 28 with Dr. Lomax:

•Who are the musicians whom you personally admire the most?

“Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Florence Price, Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington and Edward ‘Kidd’ Jordan.”

•How long did you work on 400: An Afrikan Epic?

“I started composing for the ‘400’ in the spring of 2016 and completed the last recording on Dec. 28, 2019.”

•Why did you take on such an astonishingly ambitious project?

“I had to. After having premiered ‘Song of the Dogon’ at the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, Ohio) in June of 2016, I really didn’t have anything artistically on the horizon. This prompted me to sit still in my studio and come to the realization that 2019 marked the 400th commemoration of the first ‘Afrikans’ being brought to North American shores as enslaved human beings. After making inquiries to colleagues as to what they were planning to mark this auspicious occasion and hearing that it was on very few radars, I thought I’d compose my first symphony. That symphony became the ‘400’ project as each of the three macro movements (past, present and future) took shape as 12 complete albums that could be organized within that structure. Looking back on the process, I never actually made a conscious decision to compose and produce 12 albums. That’s just how it happened.”

How do you feel about the receptions it has received so far?

“Ecstatic! It has been well received by a wide range of audiences from Oklahoma to Massachusetts.”

What could you possibly do for an encore?

“‘The 400 Years Suite’ was released on MLK Day (2020), as the follow-up to the larger cycle. This is a story that has so much yet to be told, so an encore isn’t anywhere on the horizon.”

What courses do you teach at Ohio State?

“I teach African American Music.”

What has Donald Trump meant, if anything, for relations between the races in the U.S.?

“Nothing. Trump is a manifestation of our collective lack of engagement with issues of race and class. The only way to combat Trump is to engage our collective humanity as a means of healing toward the future.”

Are you optimistic or pessimistic (or neither) regarding the healing of the racial divide and achieving racial equality in the U.S.?

“The best part of working with young people is that I can see so many reasons to be optimistic. You can’t do the type of work we do and not be optimistic.”

Of all the honors and accolades you have received, which one means the most to you and why?

“Such things are only helpful in as much as they provide a pathway to continue engaging communities across the country in this meaningful work.”

What is the hardest thing you have ever done?

“Working in nonprofit, the hardest thing I do is listen to adults make excuses for why we continue to fail our youth. We will not see change until we decide as a culture to do the right thing for the right reason, simply because it is the right thing to do. The right thing to do is always that which does the most good for all involved, from corporations and the wealthy paying their fair share of time, talent and treasure to those who aren’t as affluent contributing to the greater good in ways that are appropriate for them. Many hands make light work.”

What is the best advice you have ever received?

“The great drummer, Herlin Riley, told me that to be a great musician, I had to find the essence of the music. I was 15 at the time, and that was not what I wanted to hear, but by 22 I finally realized what he meant. Finding the essence of the music really meant coming into relationship with the most authentic aspect of who we are as human beings. That is the place where we find the All That Is. Finding the All is how we find each other, and that is the essence of the music.”

If you could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, past of present, who would it be and why? “There are a great many people on that list from Ptah Hotep to Ida B. Wells Barnett and James Reese Europe. In a contemporary context, I’d love the opportunity to meet Angela Davis. Her life and work has long served as an example for how I’d like to exist in the world.”

For more information about Dr. Lomax, visit marklomaxii.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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