Mark Shilansky's Join the Club Sextet features exciting arrangements of jazz standards, originals, and popular tunes, informed by Latin jazz, swing, and world music influences. Often described as 21st-century space-age bachelor pad music, this group breathes new life into music by Dave Brubeck and Wayne Shorter, and weds jazzy complexity to music by such artists as the Police, the Cardigans, and Sara Bareilles, all with exciting soloing and interaction, and a relentless groove. The band this evening features Shilansky on piano and voice, his long-time rhythm section mates Fernando Huergo on bass and Bertram Lehmann on drums, guitarist Eric Byers, saxophonist Dino Govoni, and trumpeter Doug Olsen.
Growing up in a suburb of Concord, NH, Mark Shilansky wrote songs as early as elementary school, followed by performances in original rock bands and jazz study at the Concord Community Music School. He received a B.A. in music performance in 1992 from the University of New Hampshire, where he played classical and jazz piano and apprenticed with such adjunct professors and visiting artists as Clark Terry, Phil Woods, and Jimmy Heath. He moved to Boston, continuing his studies at New England Conservatory, receiving a master's of music degree in jazz studies in 1994, working with such teachers as Bevan Manson, Paul Bley, and John McNeil, supplementing his education since then by studying with jazz gurus Kenny Werner, Hal Crook, and Charlie Banacos.
Following a move to New York in the mid-'90s to immerse himself in the hotbed of music that is Manhattan, and a subsequent return in 1997 to become an assistant professor at Berklee College of Music and to teach at UNH, Shilansky released his debut CD, First Look (1997), a piano trio date featuring Steve LaSpina on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. He followed this release with a shift in artistic direction, continuing on the path of jazz, but also incorporating the singer-songwriter influences of his early years, such as Elvis Costello and Steely Dan. This direction culminated in a collection of original music, Different Songs (2000), featuring Shilansky as principal vocalist as well as producer/keyboardist. Other Voices (2003), Shilansky's third CD as leader, marked a return to jazz, Latin jazz, and longform (occasionally free-jazz) compositions, all featuring the voice in some way, and featuring the vocal work of Luciana Souza, Lisa Thorson, and Paul Stiller of Vox One. Join the Club (2007), Shilansky's latest CD, features original compositions and Latin jazz renderings of jazz standards and contemporary pop tunes by the bands Police and the Cardigans, and features saxist Donny McCaslin, trombonist Jay Ashby, and vocalist Kim Nazarian. Of this CD, Jon Garelick of the Boston Phoenix, says "Shilansky knows how to make every moment engage, [with] long arcs of melody as he works through the chord changes . . . . This 'club' is one anyone would be happy to join."
All throughout this creative career as a pianist and composer of his own material, Shilansky has been a consistent presence as a sideman. A tenure throughout much of the '90s as a member of the Luciana Souza quintet (along with his current bandmates, bassist Fernando Huergo and drummer Bertram Lehmann) led to his almost ubiquitous presence as an accompanist of vocalists such as Lisa Thorson, the New York Voices, Kris Adams, Carolyn Leonhart, Rebecca Parris, and Patrice Williamson (for whom he has written copious arrangements, and produced her CD, Free to Dream). He played piano and contributed arrangements and an original song, "I Have Found," on the debut release by rising star vocalist Robin McKelle, Never Let Me Go. Most recently, Shilansky is a strong presence on vocalist Chris Humphrey's debut CD Nothin' but Blue Skies, featuring Martin Wind (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums), and for the last four years has been the pianist and occasional arranger for the vocal jazz group Syncopation, appearing on the band's CDs and accompanying them on tours of the U.S. and Japan.
Shilansky has kept active as a sideman with instrumentalists, as well, notably with guitarist Steve Kirby (playing piano and organ on his North Light CD), trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (with concerts at the Regattabar and New York's Birdland), and on drummer David Jamrog's Visions, a collective group featuring saxist George Garzone. Also, increasingly, Shilansky is in demand in the recording studio as a producer/arranger as well as a performer, with a growing list of artists (singer-songwriters as well as jazz artists), having served in this capacity on CDs by Kaye Kelly, Celia Slattery, Dana Edelman, Christina Watson, Lauren Wool, Allyssa Jones, and Michelle Mailhot.