A world premiere from Mark Lomax II comes together with support from the Wex

Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager

Dec 20, 2018

Jazz musician, composer, educator, and activist Mark Lomax playing the drums in his home studio

On January 26, be one of the first to hear the incredible new work from the Columbus-based drummer, composer, and Wexner Center Artist Residency Award winner.

Nearly three years ago in the late winter of 2016, Mark Lomax II took on the job of Community Research and Grants Management Officer for the Columbus Foundation. A jazz drummer, composer, activist, and educator with a Doctor of Musical Arts in composition from The Ohio State University, Lomax had spent most of his life immersed in music, performing alongside notable artists such as Delfeayo Marsalis, Clark Terry, Bennie Maupin and many more. He was dedicated to the new position but found himself facing a common challenge for artists in the workforce: how to continue pushing himself creatively while spending his days on work that didn’t involve his primary form of expression. 

“I went into my office for a little bit to take a breath and the number ‘400’ just popped into my spirit,” the artist recalls. “Just my whole body resonated with that.”

The number “400,” in this instance, connected to the impending four-century anniversary of the arrival of African slaves to the shores of America in 1619. 

“I called a bunch of friends who are creatives and it wasn’t on their radar, so I started mapping out some ideas,” Lomax says. 

The artist saw a source of inspiration in this milestone moment for the worst of humanity and its continued impact on American society, the through-lines between historical enslavement and modern mass incarceration, and he started mapping out a three-movement symphony. When he was done, Lomax was surprised to find he had the makings of an expansive 12-album cycle—a celebration of creativity, strength, and resilience that would link past, present, and future through music. 

The cycle, entitled 400: An Afrikan Epic, debuts on disc on January 23, 2019, coinciding with the artist’s 40th birthday. A world-premiere live performance of selections from the cycle will follow at the Lincoln Theatre on Saturday, January 26 at 8 PM, presented by the Wexner Center for the Arts, which provided essential support for Lomax’s project through a Wexner Center Artist Residency Award.

In the process of composing and recording the works, Lomax was connected to Lane Czaplinski, Director of Performing Arts at the multidisciplinary contemporary arts center. Their discussions about the work and the potential within the city’s music community led to Lomax receiving the Wex Artist Residency Award for 2018-19.

As Lomax explains, “I had half of the cycle done already, because in 2015 I had purchased my own recording equipment that I was recording with at concerts, but I’m not an engineer. Some of it came out really well and we’re releasing it as part of the cycle, but other parts were a little shaky.”

With the Artist Residency Award, Lomax was able to re-record sections of the cycle with professional assistance from Jon Fintel at Columbus’s Relay Recording. He was also able to hire support from musicians in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and to fly in core members of his jazz ensemble—bassist Dean Hulett from Tijuana and pianist William Menefield from Atlanta—to join Lomax on drums and fellow Columbus jazz artist Eddie Bayard on tenor saxophone. Once together in the studio, the players powered through remaining material for seven-and-a-half of the 12 albums in just four days.

“That was the boost we needed to get the project to the finish line,” says Lomax.

In addition to financial and institutional support for creative work, the Artist Residency Award has an educational component that allows students at Ohio State and throughout the community to engage directly with artists at the top of their respective disciplines. Lomax will work with students through a master class for drummers at Ohio State’s School of Music and an overview course at the university on African-American music for the spring 2019 semester. Lomax has also partnered with Czaplinski to curate programs of classical and contemporary African-American music for the Wex’s spring performing arts season.

“We hope to use the art to help communities shape a path together from what we might not always want to talk about, so we can move forward in a way that creates a better world for everybody.”

Lomax and his ensemble will tour with the program nationally following its world premiere in Columbus. More information about the artist and his music is available on Mark Lomax II’s website. More information about the Wexner Center’s Artist Residency Award program is available here.