© 2024 WYSO
Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mark Lomax creates humanist futures through Jazz


This week, Midday Music host Evan Miller spoke with drummer, composer, and educator Dr. Mark Lomax ahead of his December 2 performance with the Mark Lomax Trio at the Foundry Theater in Yellow Springs. The Trio features tenor saxophonist Edwin Bayard and bassist Dean Hulett. Dr. Lomax is a Wexner Center Artist in Residence and a faculty member at Ohio State University’s school of music. An acclaimed jazz musician and composer, he has recorded more than two dozen albums. In the interview, he spoke with Evan about his career and compositions, including 400, a 12-part epic which grapples with the legacy of slavery by examining pre-colonial African history and afro-futurist possibilities.

Evan began the interview by playing a recording of the Mark Lomax Trio at Columbus’ McConnell Art Center in 2022. The performance celebrated the opening of an exhibition by Columbus visual artist Lance Johnson. Dr. Lomax talked about how his trio used Johnson’s tapestries as “graphic scores” for improvisation:

“[Johnson] is such a brilliant artist. He uses hip hop, graffiti, layering, and a really cool rhythm in his work, and vibrant colors and words. We used four pieces of his tapestry series as the scores, and we interpreted each of them musically for a live audience—which was a lot of pressure because, what if it didn't come out well? But I’m always trying to push the envelope and figure out what the new art thing is.”

Dr. Lomax has spent his whole life pushing the musical envelope. “I don't know a time when I wasn’t playing music,” he told Evan. He was born in Blacksburg, Virginia. His mother was the founder and the head of Virginia Tech’s gospel choir, and his father was a chaplain for the university. As a baby, his mother held him during choir rehearsals and he soon developed a keen ear. “They said by the time I was six months old, I was matching pitches in the soprano section,” he said. The family moved to Columbus when Mark was two. He began taking drum lessons, where he quickly surpassed older peers. “By six, I’m backing up choirs,” he said. “By 12, I’m professional. I’m touring at 14, my first album at 19.” In his 20s, Lomax toured with the New Orleans trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis’s sextet. Other notable collaborators include Clark Terry, Marlon Jordan, Azar Lawrence, Bennie Maupin, Billy Harper, Nicholas Payton, Ellis Marsalis, and Wessel Anderson.

In 2015, Dr. Lomax began working on his most expansive project to date, 400: An Afrikan Epic. He told Evan that he conceived of the piece in response to the approaching 400th anniversary of 1619, the year in which the first enslaved Africans landed in the British colonies of America. The project came to encompass 12 albums, recorded from 2016 to 2018. Dr Lomax explained why he wanted to the piece to extend beyond the last four centuries of slavery and racial oppression, to explore pre-colonial African history and hopes for an afro-humanist future:

“We had to tell the story. It’s 12 albums because we wanted to give space to each of the three areas: past, present and future. Kwame Ture–Stokely Carmichael–says, if you start with trauma and identify with that trauma, you can never overcome the trauma. So we couldn't start the story with the ‘20 and odd Negroes,’ as the ship’s manifest called them, arriving at Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619. We had to start with a time in the world where Africans on the planet were last healthy, happy, whole and in control of their own destiny. So that's pre-colonial Africa. It's called Alkebulan. Then we do the Ma'afa, which is Kiswahili for Greek tragedy, the African Holocaust, which is still continuing. And then the best part and the most important part is Uhuru—artistically projecting 400 years in the future, where we're not just Africans in America, but humanity has reached a place where we value each other because we're human, and we're acting humanely toward each other and in balance with the planet in the cosmos. That's when I think we all will have healed.”

400: An Afrikan Epic is available for streaming, free of charge, on Mark Lomax’s website. A documentary film about the piece is also available. For information and updates about Dr. Lomax, visit marklomaxii.com, or follow him on social media.

Text by Peter Day, adapted from an interview by Evan Miller from December 1, 2023.

Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.
Peter Day writes and produces stories for WYSO’s music department. His works include a feature about Dayton's premiere Silent Disco and a profile of British rapper Little Simz. He also assists with station operations and serves as fill-in host for Behind the Groove. Peter began interning at WYSO in 2019 and, in his spare time while earning his anthropology degree, he served as program director for Yale University’s student radio station, WYBC.