Jazz composer Mark Lomax uses music to teach shared history
Using music to connect the past, present and future is a theme of the works of musician Mark Lomax, II. The 2018 recipient of the Wexner Center for the Arts Artist in Residency Award, Lomax explained his inspiration and ideas to students at Weigel Hall this week.
“I think it’s the job of the artist to create work that inspires and uplifts so we can, together, move forward to a future that we create,” Lomax said.
Lomax is a jazz drummer, composer, educator and so-called “triple Buckeye” with an undergraduate degree, a master’s and a doctor of musical arts in composition from Ohio State. Lomax was a guest in the class President Michael V. Drake co-teaches with Moritz College of Law Dean Alan Michaels.
The course, “The Civil Rights Movement and the Supreme Court,” examines the Civil Rights era and uses music from the time as a reference point. Previous musical guests have included Paul Simon, Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane.
Drake introduced Lomax after discussing the connection between jazz saxophone musician Cannonball Adderley and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Jackson is both the inspiration for and a participant on the 1969 album “Country Preacher.”
“Both Cannonball the band leader and Jesse Jackson the preacher talked about music, and how music was a part of the understanding and the community of people coming together,” Drake said. “Music connects with people. It connects people with time, it connects people with places and it connects with our emotions. It’s very important in our lives as humans.”
Lomax explained to the class how he explored those connections in his latest work, 400: An Afrikan Epic. The 12-album collection traces the story of the African diaspora from the past, present and future.
The collection is divided into thirds and explores thousands of years of history beginning with pre-colonial Afrika, the 400-year period from the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade to today, and Afro-futurism – a vision of how blacks in America progress in the next 400 years.
Lomax said his plan was to compose a three-part symphony to debut in 2019 – 400 years from the recognized start of the transatlantic slave trade. The project, supported in part through his residency at the Wexner Center, took more than three years to develop and produce. The result is an 8 1/2-hour-long musical journey.
Lomax said it was a connection to history and community that made the music possible.
“It occurred to me that I didn’t really do anything. I was just a vessel for a narrative that already existed. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and my elders who had long before me told this story,” Lomax said.
Lomax explained how common musical scales or rhythms occur and recur in music across history. That historic connection helps move people forward.
“What does the future hold? I don’t know,” he said. “I do know that if we are to be healthy, happy and whole again we need to be reprogrammed – reprogrammed in a way that helps us see each other in the most authentic, most substantive and profound way.”
Lomax said he is now taking his new collection on the road. His tour will go to college campuses to encourage students to use art they create to listen, engage and change.
Drake said learning the connection between history and art helps people develop in their own lives.
“The point to share is that artists create their art from the personal and political and social circumstances of their being,” Drake said. “They express that in a way that we, from different points of view and different times in our lives, can be in touch with that point in their lives and use that to expand and enrich our own existence.”