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Conversation with Mark Rivera

Live shows have been shut down for a year, what’s that been like for you professionally?
The fact that live performances have been shut down is unbearable… It’s what we do so I can only say that it’s like not having  oxygen.

You’ve had a long music career alongside the biggest names in music. Why not front your own band?
I have had the opportunity to front a number of my own bands and I must say I love it. But what I love most of all is being part of a band that very dear friends and myself have put together. For example a band called Glad: The Music Of Traffic, as well as Mark Rivera’s 67’ Chevy. Getting to perform with different musicians is one of the greatest joys of all.

You’re from Brooklyn. Do you think your career and musical tastes might have been different if you were raised someplace else, like New Orleans or Chicago?
Brooklyn in the early 60’s was the absolute best place and time in my opinion. It was more than where I was born and raised … it was more who I was raised by and the fact that I was surrounded by amazing friends.

You’re half Puerto Rican, was Caribbean music an influence when growing up?
When I was growing up my Dad had the best stereo equiptment and the music that was always playing was Salsa, Jazz, Classical. But I’d play my Rock n’ Roll, R&B and, of course, The Beatles.

Many contemporary artists rely on robot talent, samples, beats and loops rather than traditional musical ‘chops’.  Have you ever worked on that type of project and if so how did it go?
I’ve experimented and continue to experiment with all types of music. I enjoy the fact that technology  allows us to play with musicians on the other side of the world as well as triggering sequences to spark emotions that otherwise would not have been there.  But I must say, there is nothing like  being in a room with other Musicians and reacting in the moment to what is happening. It’s like having a conversation.  That’s what I miss most of all right now.

Baby boomers treated music as essential fuel in the 60s and 70s, yet music education went out the window when that generation matured and came into power. What happened and how can we reverse it?
Regarding music education, and any artistic or vocational education for that matter, I think that unfortunately we’ve closed the barn gate long after the cattle have gone. It’s so far out my control and it’s a shame because there were a number of wonderful teachers that  completely changed my life. I only hope that parents will allow their children to explore the arts and follow their dreams. Hey, you never know how it might turn out.

What’s you favorite note?
My favorite note is the one that plays harmoniously with those notes around it.

[So, a D ?… Editor]

Mark Rivera is the long time saxophonist and musical director for the Billy Joel Band. In addition to his 40+ years with Billy Joel. Mark has graced the recordings of Foreigner, Peter Gabriel, and Blue Oyster Cult. He's been a regular touring member of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band, and was onstage during the final live performance of John Lennon.
Photos: Eric Jones

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