Mark Christopher Brandt is a pianist, composer, and music educator who has been active in the arts and the Washington, D.C. professional music arena since 1977. Mark was born on February 2, 1961, in San Diego, California. At age six, his family relocated to Northern Virginia, where he first began to develop his musical talent and ability. He began formal music lessons at eight years old and was performing original songs to school audiences as early as sixth grade. His first professional club gig was at a piano bar in McLean, Virginia when he was just sixteen years old. By the age of eighteen, Mark was playing jazz, fusion, and pop music for a living.
In 1979, Mark graduated from Chantilly High School and then attended Catholic University (CU) in Washington, D.C. as a classical piano performance/traditional composition major, working nights and weekends as a professional keyboardist with a local jazz and pop group. After three years at CU, he entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts where he completed his formal education studying jazz composition and arranging. In 1986, after performing in a variety of groups from Stowe, Vermont to Orlando, Florida, Mark returned to Northern Virginia and established himself as a jazz and fusion musician of note.
While embracing the study of jazz and improvisation in his artistic expression, Mark has stayed close to his imitation of the Baroque era composer, J.S. Bach, and the Romantic era composer, Frederic Chopin, in particular, who preferred small and intimate settings for performance and who always preferred the company of his students to that of audiences of any size.
As both musician and music educator, Mark has continually raised the bar of artistic standards and integrity throughout the Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and Maryland areas. His East Coast Duo, with Shaun Jurek on acoustic bass, has become a highly rated and highly sought after jazz group for events, ranging from performances at assisted living centers, to the National Christmas Tree, to many of the most reputable and nationally notable hotels and political establishments in the District of Columbia. While the D.C. area is loaded with gifted and talented pianists, there are few, if any, who have developed a unique voice as Brandt has, and who are truly improvising each and every time they sit down at the piano. Mark’s consistently individual and organic artistic output is a contributing factor to the number of professionals and college graduates who seek him out for those “mysteries of music” which can not be found in a music college curriculum.
From 1987 until 1991, Mark honed his craft as an improvising pianist, playing jazz standards seven hours a day at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel near Dulles Airport from 4:00 to 7:00pm in the cocktail piano lounge, and then again in the Jazz Club upstairs from 7:00 until 11:00pm, while working in a trio setting of piano, bass and drums on weekends. In 1995, Mark released his first recording entitled Veritas, drawing the interest of several major labels and increasing his reputation as a creative force in the Washington, D.C. area. It was during this time that Mark began to formulate both his independent label and his private instruction studio under the banner of Lionheart Music East. Mark has since released ten CDs, three DVDs, and performed at many of the major venues the Washington, D.C. tri-state area has to offer.
From 1995 until 1999, Mark continued to perform and record while establishing himself as a respected clinician and educator throughout Northern Virginia. In 2000, Mark stepped away from performing and recording in order to concentrate on his faith, his family, and his students. In 2008, he began to perform again in jazz trio and duo settings, and in 2013, he founded No Explanations with guitarist Dan Leonard.
The Virginia-based pairing of these two virtuosos spawned three unique recordings and one “traditional jazz” Christmas CD (piano, bass and drums), December Moment (2014), which received a favorable review from Downbeat Magazine (2015), becoming a perennial favorite among jazz listeners throughout the country.
The eclectic duo moved quickly through an evolving repertoire of open material with loose harmonic sketches and written melodies found on Round Trip (2014), to the more composed chamber music style pieces found on Joie de Vivre (2015), to the completely improvised material created on the spot in the studio on their most recent CD bearing the name No Explanations (2016).
Their DVD Round Trip, the Making of an Artist (2016), produced in conjunction with Mojo Factory Productions, documents the journey of the two musicians from their earliest collaborations in 1997 to the actual day in the studio in 2013 when the final pieces for Round Trip were recorded. There is emphasis on the life of pianist Mark Christopher Brandt in this powerfully inspiring and motivational video, which devotes ample and enriching time on the obstacles he overcame in breaking free from drug and alcohol dependency in the early 1990’s. The video features spectacular scenery from the Shenandoah Mountains to the coastline of Maryland, with wildlife ranging from the occasional hawk, to a family of deer, to a close (and peaceful) encounter with a family of black bears. The Round Trip DVD has been seen in film festivals all over the world and it continues to draw interest and inspire all who view it.
In 2016, Mark met and began to collaborate with Bulgarian flutist Yana Nikol. The two musicians instantly found a chemistry and simpatico which runs the gambit through world music, jazz, Latin, European classical, and the folk music of Bulgaria. Yana and Mark found a similar connection with master cellist Katherine Colburn of Manassas, Virginia, and the three musicians recorded and released The Nightingale (2017), a program music composition by Brandt, which is based on the short story of the same title by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. The success of The Nightingale has sparked an entirely new direction for the eclectic composer which complements his intense pursuits into the world of improvised music.
It is possible to find Mark’s musical influence, both artistically and aesthetically, in a variety of places across the globe. Since the release of his first CD Veritas (1995), he has consistently produced one quality project after another, supporting each work with international sales coupled with profoundly demanding and uplifting local performances, master classes, clinics, and house concerts. Mark maintains a rigorous daily practice routine, in constant pursuit of bettering himself as a pianist and as a composer. He remains a highly sought-after music educator, and in his own words he values, above all accolades, the rewards that come from the time he spends with his students.
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