Instrument: Keyboards. (I'd like to get a guitar, but my wife Karen said no. She bought me a bass instead because she thought that would be quieter and less annoying.)
Early Years: I started college as a music major, but had a hand injury during my freshman year, so instead, finished with a B.A. in Philosophy. It took well over a decade for my right hand to gain enough strength back to play octaves and regain the independent use of my 4th and 5th fingers. Until recently, I also had a back injury that that made me stand up at the keyboard.
My parents were missionaries, so I've spent time in Uganda, Nairobi and the Philippines. I started off playing trumpet (influenced by Chuck Mangione), but also wanted to play guitar. I was given an acoustic guitar with gut strings, and then was forced to take classical guitar lessons. I wanted to play rock guitar, so when the classical lessons were over, I restrung the guitar with steel strings. Right around seventh grade I heard Dave Grusin and knew I wanted to play piano.
Portland: My wife, Karen, was born and raised in Portland, and about 10 years ago, we decided to move here after getting sick of the weather and scenery in Chicago. We also wanted to be closer to her parents for the sake of the future grandkids. I've worked at OHSU, Enron, a startup called PolyServe, and currently work at JanRain. I've also tried being a piano technician. We have two kids; Annika, nine and Adrick, six. My album, "Stitch in Time," has songs for both of them – "Anneka's Dance" and "Spanish Swordfight" (because Adrick is a fan of "The Princess Bride" and most particularly, Inigo Montoya).
MPEG, aka "Melz/Prigodich/Erskine Group": I just started playing in public again about two years ago. Before that, I was a sideman in a wedding band and an amateur jazz quartet in Chicago, plus a church musician. I got burned out lugging my gear to the wedding gigs playing solo piano cocktail music, so after moving to Portland, I had no desire to start gigging again. It was my cancer diagnosis in November 2008, along with the demise of my HP/PolyServe career that led me to stop being a non-musical workaholic and instead get serious about pursuing my childhood dream of becoming a professional jazz musician and composer. Originally, the band name was "Someday Syndrome," since it grew out of Ben Darwish's Progression Jam Session at the Someday Lounge. Naming a group is about as tough as naming a song.
Musical Influences: Dave Grusin and Chuck Mangione first got me interested in jazz. I heard Chick Corea in high school and, at first, hated his stuff, but later got addicted. Chick is by far my biggest influence and hero – he's our modern day Mozart, and then some. Kerry Livgren in Kansas is also very influential, and seeing Hiromi Uehara perform was a life-changing experience that motivated me to throw caution to the wind and play my butt off!
Most Satisfying Experience: I guess releasing this debut album is my overall most satisfying life achievement to date. Besides that, writing a new tune, interacting with my band members, hearing my band play one of my new tunes for the first time, getting feedback on my music from musicians I look up to, finding a particularly nasty software bug, hugging my kids.
Favorite Recordings: It varies over time. I guess the standouts are: Chick Corea Quartet ("Time Warp") and Chick Corea Elektric Band ("Inside Out").
Discography: "A Stitch In Time" is my only real recording to date.
Gigs: I booked a monthly Wednesday night gig at The Globe restaurant on 20th and Belmont in Portland as a way to rehearse in public, and hopefully help my bandmates at least earn a small tip income. The alternative is rehearsing in private for no dough at all. It's been really tough as a brand new bandleader trying to find good paying gigs. Larger venues don't want to book new bands because they are worried about the size of the draw. But we're too loud for many small venues. It's really hard to play drums quietly in a high-energy fusion band.
Future Plans: I hope that the CD sales will eventually help fund album number two someday. I've written more than enough material for at least two more albums and keep writing more. It would also be great to book an occasional out-of-town gig if I can figure out how to afford to travel. I dream of playing at Jazz Alley in Seattle someday. Jimmy Mak's was the first big jazz club to cross off my bucket list. It will be complicated to schedule out of town gigs, though, while coordinating "real" life with my day job and family.
Other: This album and band would never have happened without two things: 1) my cancer diagnosis and the resulting motivation to "Livestrong" that forced me to stop procrastinating and drove me to tell other people about my music in spite of being an introvert at heart; and 2) the social networking power of Facebook (and the internet in general), which allowed me to network with other musicians, promote my music, and raise the needed funding via Kickstarter.
-- by Mark Niemann-Ross