Slain Dragons and Conquered Demons Becomes The Conduit
November 13, 2018
Mark’s Youtube channel has officially changed names but the content is going to remain the same. Why the change? Mark explains below
“Slain Dragons and Conquered Demons implies past tense. I am anything but past tense. I am always striving to remain in the present moment and be that vessel or “conduit” of God’s love with my music. For years I have told my students that as artists we are, in a sense, mediums—and more specifically conduits—of God’s love. It is up to us as musicians to develop our skills while simultaneously denying ourselves so that we are always serving humanity with our gifts in the most efficient way but not adding warped or inordinate slants to the beauty that is flowing through us.”
Improvisation and Mastering the Art of Being Your True Self
Structure and Freedom DVD Released!
October 13, 2018
Structure and Freedom is a master class on improvisation taught by two highly gifted musicians in a very relaxed setting. With this DVD, Mark Christopher Brandt adds to his improvisational filmography, inviting the virtuoso flutist Yana Nikol to join him for some off-the-cuff creating. Both musicians share a remarkable, uncanny and relaxed ability to compose music on the spot while they are being recorded and filmed.
In addition to being one of the most active and prolific pianist/composers on the East Coast, Mark has operated a successful private instruction studio built solely on word-of-mouth advertising for over twenty years. He is the recipient of a Virginia Governor’s School award for exemplary service and dedication to education.
From 2008 to 2015 Mark was a sponsor for the annual Chantilly High School Invitational Jazz Festival. It was an annual event for over thirty years and during his tenure it was the largest of its kind on the East Coast. Mark participated in the festival each year as a clinician - at times as a judicator - and as a featured performer. His students were always among the top ensemble and individual performers.
Yana, like Mark, is a prolific and active musician who can be heard performing as a leader with her own groups, or as a guest with the United States Military Band and countless other local groups, on a weekly - and at times nightly - basis. Along with Cristian Perez, another reputable musician in the D.C. music scene, Yana runs a monthly eclectic jam session which attracts musicians from every walk of life.
Mark’s collaboration with Yana Nikol dates back to 2015 when the two artists met and immediately discovered a unique and effortless simpatico. The title, Structure and Freedom, is most appropriate. As Mark and Yana effortlessly interact and create, the discipline in their personal lives becomes evident in the profound freedom the two demonstrate as performers and friends.
Structure and Freedom shows firsthand why those who have studied with Mark become scholarship material at major music colleges and universities throughout America, and why so many artists and graduate students come to him for that extra little magic which cannot be found in the curriculum of any school. Many of Mark’s former students have successful careers in the music industry as performers, educators, producers and engineers. Many more, by applying their musical gifts and skills in unique and creative ways outside of actual musical expression, have found a greater quality of life whatever their chosen profession.
If you are a serious artist of any age and interested in developing a greater freedom in your playing, then you won’t want to be without this DVD. If you want to learn more about improvising and want to put more joy into your musical experience, Mark and Yana will be encouraging tour guides on your journey of self-discovery. The good news about this master class is that you can stop and start it when you want. Rewind if you don’t quite catch something, or just start from the beginning again and again.
The New Studio Album Sunflowers and Roses is Here!
July 31, 2018
Mark’s new release is here and the freedom of risk-free improvisation is again on display with the creative duo of Mark Christopher Brandt and Yana Nikol! Sunflowers and Roses is actually the soundtrack for Structure and Freedom, the third DVD in Mark’s improvisation series which is due for release in the fall of 2018. In a departure from his first two DVDs, Seven Moons and Seven Gifts, both of which had accompanying CDs bearing the same title as their counterpart DVDs, Mark decided to put forth a CD that would stand on its own, apart from the Structure and Freedom DVD.
All of these songs were created on the spot in the studio and they have further moved Yana and Mark to push the boundaries of their artistry. Mark and Yana have produced three projects together since they began their collaboration in 2015. The artistic accomplishment in these three projects, The Nightingale, Sunflowers and Roses and the soon to be released DVD titled Structure and Freedom is staggering.
Sales of Mark and Yana’s artwork prove their national appeal even though both artists are content to remain local to the Washington D.C. area in their performances. Mark, in the same manner as two of his predecessors, Frederic Chopin and John Coltrane, is a protean musician. He has remained an active and creative artist since beginning his career in 1977. His original music, dating back to 1995, continues to sell online despite the slow decline of music appreciation which the internet spawned decades ago. If there is another “local artist” pushing personal and artistic boundaries, while remaining completely accessible and down to earth, that person is likely collaborating with either Yana Nikol or with Mark Christopher Brandt, or with both.
Social Media Does Not an Artist Make
At the end of 2017 Mark deleted his personal Facebook account, his personal fan page, and the page for his group No Explanations. He has since streamlined his performance schedule to bookings with his East Coast Duo, with acoustic jazz bassist Shaun Jurek, and duo performances with flutist Yana Nikol.
While collaboration with longtime friend and guitarist Dan Leonard remains talk at the table, the band No Explanations - which they both founded in 2013 - has been dissolved. Read more about this in earlier news or on Mark’s Discography page.
Mark is still offering solo piano performances, featuring completely improvised material rather than documented repertoire, to highlight his very successful DVD series on Improvisation and his YouTube Channel - Slain Dragons and Conquered Demons (changed to The Conduit). See November 13, 2018 News.
October 13, 2017
These are Mark’s first and only spiritual writings. They were first used in his home parish of All Saints Catholic Church in 2003 when Mark was asked to lead the Rosary on Saturday mornings. Mark has been leading the Rosary with these very meditations, missing only the occasional Saturday for family vacations and unavoidable travel for performances, for 15 years.
In 2015, at the request of his spiritual director, Mark published his personal meditations on the Rosary in A Year of Favor. He was also asked to write down his meditations on the Stations of the Cross. His Footsteps Your Calvary was the result. Both of these books have full ecclesiastical permission for publication from the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia under the Code of Canon Law.
A Year of Favor and His Footsteps Your Calvary were published in October of 2017. Fostering devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Rosary, Mark’s simple yet profound meditations have begun to reach Catholic churches and individual souls throughout the United States.
June 13, 2017
Mark with virtuoso flutist Yana Nikol
Master cellist Katherine Colburn and Mark
The Nightingale is an instrumental musical journey that tracks events depicted in the short story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. The Nightingale is shocking in its compositional depth and beauty, along with its delivery by the incredible Bulgarian flutist, Yana Nikol, and the equally gifted cellist, Katherine Colburn. Rounding out this trio on piano is the composer of the music and producer of the project, Mark Christopher Brandt.
Since the release of this CD, and the ensuing master classes and performances it spawned, Mark has begun to compose chamber music for Katherine Colburn and her string quartet while pursuing intensely creative improvisational projects with Yana Nikol, all of which are soon to be released. Stay tuned for more news about these exciting works of art!
Round Trip The Making of an Artist
April 28, 2016
Buy This DVD
Click here to view the trailer.
This DVD is reaching audiences, and individual hearts all over the world. It is a powerful and compelling documentary that covers Mark’s journey through the maze of his addictive personality to the freedom he discovered on the other side with his faith, his family, and his music. There are beautiful surprises throughout this DVD for anyone open to receiving them.
The Making of an Artist has been entered, and viewed, in numerous documentary film festivals, and it has been translated into Italian and Polish for the Festival Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film Festival 2017 in Italy, and the KSF Niepokalana 2017, 32nd International Catholic Film and Multimedia Festival in Poland, respectively.
Uplifting, thought-provoking and sobering, Round Trip, The Making of an Artist brings you an intimate look inside the creative process of Mark Christopher Brandt, a unique American pianist and composer.
Mark provides a motivational and inspirational narrative for each musical track on his Round Trip CD which finds its beginnings in 1997, sixteen years prior to its completion. The journey to completion of this CD is shared in this documentary.
In July of 2013, Mark entered the recording studio with guitarist Dan Leonard to finish Round Trip, which sparked the formation of No Explanations, an eclectic musical group featuring the duo in a highly creative instrumental music setting.
As Mark welcomes you inside his mind and heart, the magic of improvisational music, coupled with his simple embracing of life’s flow, is captured masterfully by videographer Scott Nurmi of Mojo Factory Productions.
Scott has filmed documentary footage for some of the music world’s most reputable artists, including Jim Carroll and the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra; iconic bassist Stanley Clarke; saxophonist Dave Koz; and the Washington Ballet, to name only a few.
Round Trip, The Making of an Artist is not only a motivational masterpiece for musicians who wish to pursue life in the world of higher art and improvisation, but also for anyone doubting their ability to excel and achieve their dreams in any walk of life.
No Explanations Disbands 2016
No Explanations played their last public performance in the summer of 2016. The separation was mutually and amicably agreed upon by both founding members. The last of the t-shirts and coffee cups with the NE logo sold in early 2017. By then, both pianist Mark Christopher Brandt and guitarist Dan Leonard knew that their band was once again passing into the place where dreams come true. The No Explanations fan page on Facebook - over 6000 strong - came down in May of 2017. The website and the Youtube channel followed shortly after. It is not possible to say that Mark and Dan will never play together again. It is possible to say that they accomplished all of the artistic goals they set as a duo and then some. Four albums, one of which received a glowing review in Downbeat Magazine, and a documentary DVD that has been featured in film festivals all over the world and translated into both Italian and Polish, is no small legacy for a band that was active for just over 3 years.
Downloads of the music of No Explanations are still selling online, while the Documentary DVD and hard copies of each album are available at Mark Christopher Brandt’s website. Certain musicians find each other while traveling along their individual paths and they form bonds that bring about beautiful, albeit fleeting, moments in time. In a natural and flowing way, as if their paths were meant to fork, they move simultaneously forward and apart, having grown deeper from the encounter. The good news is that these two musicians recorded their collaborations, leaving behind an incredible testament to their deep and extraordinary friendship as well as their gifts of song.
Mark and Dan last performance at Twins in Washington, D.C. August 10, 2016
No Explanations 2013-2016
Crossing International Borders with Joie de Vivre 2015!
The following interview appeared in the April, 2015 issue of Irish Dance and Culture Magazine
IDM catches up with Mark Christopher Brandt, pianist and composer, from the popular band No Explanations on the heels of the release of their new CD, Joie de Vivre. The CD has received fantastic reviews from dance teachers who hope to incorporate many of their creative tunes into show productions.
Tell us about the members of your group?
We are blessed to have the incredible violinist Emily Wellington on this project. She is a 2006 graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, where she studied music education with a concentration in violin. She completed her Masters of Music degree in violin performance from George Mason University in fairfax, VA. While she can play just about anything on the violin, she has a particular love for Irish music. I can’t imagine any other violinist playing this music.
My partner in the duo is guitarist Dan Leonard. Dan began playing the guitar at the age of 11 and gravitated quickly to the styles of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. He majored in classical guitar and composition at George Mason University while studying jazz privately and working as a freelance guitarist. Dan has performed in the Washington D.C. area for over 30 years, and he has traveled internationally for several of those years with the Deanna Bogart Band. He has been nominated for numerous Washington area music awards, and his studio credits include TV’s America’s Most Wanted and The Learning Channel, as well as many releases by regional artists. He is not only a virtuoso on guitar but an excellent composer as well.
And as for you?
I grew up knowing that I would be a musician and, in particular, a composer. That just always seemed like it was a given. I honestly cannot remember a day, especially since I began my performance career in 1977, when I did not wake up in that frame of mind. I studied classical piano performance and traditional composition at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. for three years. I finished my education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA where I studied jazz composition. My real education, however, came from my years of traveling and performing in country, pop, rock, and jazz groups and as both a private instructor and a clinician.
How about the CD’s that No Explanations released?
The first No Explanations CD was entitled Round Trip which was released just one year ago on March 25, 2014. Our second project was a Christmas CD, also released in 2014, which garnered a favorable review in Downbeat Magazine, and the third outing is called Joie de Vivre, which we just released on Saint Patrick’s Day 2015, and of course that’s the one we are promoting now.
Tell us about Joie de Vivre.
Joie de Vivre came about as I was flying back and forth to Ireland with my daughter Shani, a competitive Irish dancer and the featured singer on the title track, as well as the Irish dancer on the American Suite for Irish Dancers. The beauty of Ireland, coupled with the years I spent supporting Shani in the goal of making her the best dancer possible, gave birth to the compositions on Joie de Vivre. I could actually hear in my ‘inner ear’ what this music would sound like with a violin and a guitar, and the thought of recording Irish dance steps as percussion was particularly exciting.
What sparked your interest in Irish music and are all of the compositions on Joie de Vivre your originals?
The exposure to my daughter’s love for Irish music and Irish dance is really what got me thinking about composing this music. In addition to participating in feiseanna often, Shani was also dancing in shows for her school. On one occasion, as Shani was dancing a slip jig, I overheard someone in the crowd say, “Wow, that girl really has that Joie de vivre (joy of life) when she dances.” At that moment, I began to plot a CD which would have that title. Going to Ireland was not just a dream come true for Shani, but for me as well. I actually began composing the music for Joie de Vivre on the return flight from our first trip. I compose all of the music for No Explanations, and I also wrote the lyrics for the title track. The American Suite for Irish Dancers could be performed in a show anywhere, and any of the three individual parts, as well as the collective whole, would make for an enjoyable and exciting Irish dance performance. Even the piece I wrote called A Celebration of Life has jig and hornpipe elements which would make it equally interesting for the adventurous Irish dancer looking for a unique performance challenge.
What inspires you to get up every day and play music?
My first response to that question is God. We are all Catholic in my house, so we begin our days with the rosary, daily Mass, and after that, we start making music. Most of my musician friends are Christians, and some of them are Catholic as well, so we have a great deal in common in that we recognize music as a gift from God, and one to be shared with as many people as possible. There is never a day I do not look forward to waking up and practicing, writing, or teaching music.
Did you have a love for Irish music before your daughter began dancing?
My first jazz gig was in an Irish pub with a guitarist, so my connection with Irish music and the guitar/piano combination is not coincidental. I was first introduced to jazz and improvisation in high school by a friend who was the guitarist in the school jazz band. My high school drama teacher’s husband recognized that, together, we had something to offer. He got us a piano/guitar duo gig for a while, and we would play jazz in the corner of this Irish pub before we were even old enough to legally drink. My love for jazz, my love for guitar duos, and my love for Irish culture goes at least that far back. Without doubt, the Irish music and rhythms which I have composed for Joie de Vivre and immersed myself in for so long will be with me spiritually, personally, and as a performer for the rest of my life. I personally think that every artist and every person should make it a point to visit Ireland; one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Joie de Vivre video with lyrics
No Explanations - Behind the Curtain
Dan Leonard on Art, Life and working with
Mark Christopher Brandt
December Moment Receives Glowing Review from Down Beat Magazine
November 30, 2014
December Moment (2014)
Downbeat Magazine's December 2014 Review of December Moment
by Bobby Reed
Because most adults have heard them hundreds of times, it's easy for straightforward renditions of Christmas classics to overstay their welcome. Fortunately, on December Moment, the trio No Explanations puts a premium on brevity. The album includes pithy arrangements of 16 familiar chestnuts, half of which are less than two minutes long. Pianist Mark Christopher Brandt, bassist Shaun Jurek and drummer Russell Lucas have crafted a peaceful album that combines religious and secular tunes.
Brandt wrote all the arrangements, adding surprising twists and fluid improv segments to "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and putting Jurek's bass in the spotlight for a concise, 85-second rendition of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." The title track, which is the only original tune here, was spontaneously composed in the studio and illustrates the musicians' simpatico approach. This is a fine album for nighttime listening, when you're in the mood to relax and reflect, long after the kids have gone to slumberland.
Mark Christopher Brandt: acoustic piano
Shaun Jurek: acoustic bass
Russell Lucas: drums
1. O Come O Come Emanuel
2. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
3. The First Noel
4. Angels We Have Heard On High
5. Silent Night
6. We Three Kings
7. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
8. Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
9. O Christmas Tree
10. Jingle Bells
11. O Come All Ye Faithful
12. O Holy Night
13. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
14. Away In A Manger
15. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
16. We Wish You A Merry Christmas
17. December Moment