The Life of Mark Colby
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1949, Mark comes from a musical background, as his father was a professional musician (drummer) who played with Benny Goodman for a time in the ‘40’s. At the age of eight, Mark was given a clarinet and lessons with a wonderful teacher by the name of Bill Schlagel, who emphasized the importance of proper technique and sound. At age eleven, Mark took the next step in his evolution, saxophone, and thus began his life-long love affair. Immersed in the sounds of the big bands enjoyed by his father, intrigued by the more modern sounds of bebop, cool and hard-bop records his sister played around the house, his dedication to pursuing a life in music was cemented.
In 1962, his family moved to Miami, Florida, where he began playing professionally at age 14. On Miami Beach, he had the opportunity to play shows with popular acts, including Tony Bennett, Sonny and Cher, Bill Cosby, Ann-Margret and Sammy Davis, Jr., with seasoned musicians. He was for many years the youngest guy on the bandstand, all the while pursuing his desire to play all styles of jazz. As a high school student, he studied with James Casale (co-author of Patterns for Jazz with Jerry Coker.) After high school, Mark attended the University of Miami, enrolling in Jerry Coker’s Jazz Studies program. Studying with Jerry and pianist Vince Maggio had a profound effect on him, as did sitting in with Ira Sullivan since the age of 16. These master musicians provided him inspiration and encouragement, as well as invaluable education in the jazz idiom.
Mark was fortunate to have had the incredible experience of working with legendary baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan while he was artist in residence. While in college, he recorded with the likes of Dr. John, Wilson Pickett, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, and the Bee Gees. After graduating with a Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies, he received a call from Maynard Ferguson inviting him to join his band in New York. After three albums and three years touring as featured soloist and musical director with Maynard, Bob James beckoned, and he became of member of the “James gang.” Bob signed Mark to Columbia Records, beginning his solo recording career. “Serpentine Fire” and “One Good Turn” both sold very well, while he toured for the next six years as a featured member of Bob James’ band. Mark’s tours with Maynard and Bob found him playing jazz festivals and concert halls around the world.
In 1980, Mark moved to Chicago, with its very active music scene. Mark was immediately participating in a recording market that was exploding. Jingles, record dates, and jazz gigs were plentiful. In 1983, he was approached by DePaul University to assume a teaching position as jazz saxophone instructor. He’s still there, and in 1998 joined the faculty at Elmhurst College.
In the ensuing years, he has played and in some cases toured with such varied luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Jaco Pastorius, Mose Allison, Joe Williams and Charlie Haden. Currently he is performing as a guest soloist and clinician/adjudicator at middle schools, high schools and colleges throughout the United States and Europe, representing Selmer Paris Saxophones and Vandoren reeds. In 2001, he performed Duke Ellington’s version of “The Nutcracker Suite” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in 2008 performed Leonard Bernstein’s “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs.” In 1999, Hallway Records released “Reunion” (with Vince Maggio) followed by “Tenor Reference” in 2002, to glowing reviews and appreciative audiences. His last release on Hallway Records was a tribute to Stan Getz entitled Speaking of Stan, which was released in 2006 and went to #3 on the jazz radio charts. During 2007-2010, he appeared at the Chicago, Paradise Valley Arizona Jazz Festival, Evanston, Naperville and Glen Ellyn Jazz Festivals. In 2010 Mark was the artist in residence at the Three Rivers Saxaphone Symposium in PA. Mark appeared in a cameo with Diana Krall in the Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies,” released in July 2009. His CD on Origin Records, “Reflections” was released in November 2008. In 2010 Mark was one of the people interviewed with his own chapter in Cicily Janus’s new book entitled “The New Faces of Jazz” published by Billboard Press. Currently he has completed a new recording, All or Nothing at All, to be released on his own RCI label in 2016.
Mark Stephen Colby, 71, of Aurora IL, passed away on August 31st peacefully in his home. He is survived by his adoring wife, Mary; loving sister, Rosie (Jim) Watts; son, James (Cathy;) daughters, Jennifer (Mike) Savage; Hillary; and Katherine (Brian) Ruiz. He has six grandchildren, Deanna; Ryan; Kayla; Riley; Caroline and Isabella; and niece, Audrey Denson.