Mark Colby - Playing With Intensity

Updated: Aug 3, 2018


Born in Brooklyn, New York, Mark Colby grew up surrounded by music thanks to his father who himself was a professional musician. He actually played drums for a time with Benny Goodman in the 1940's.


Mark started on clarinet at the age of 8 but switched to saxophone a few years later and never looked back.


In 1962, his family moved to Miami, Florida, where he began playing professionally at age 14.  On Miami Beach, he had the opportunity to play shows with popular acts, including Tony Bennett, Sonny and Cher, Bill Cosby, Ann-Margret and Sammy Davis, Jr., and many others. At that time he was still in high school so he was always the youngest guy on the bandstand.


After high school Mark attended the University of Miami, enrolling in Jerry Coker’s Jazz Studies program.  Studying with Jerry and pianist Vince Maggio had a profound effect on him, as did sitting in with Ira Sullivan since the age of 16.  These master musicians provided him inspiration and encouragement, as well as invaluable education in the jazz idiom.


While in college, he recorded with the likes of Dr. John, Wilson Pickett, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones, and the Bee Gees.  After graduating with a Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies, he received a call from Maynard Ferguson inviting him to join his band in New York.  After three albums and three years touring as featured soloist and musical director with Maynard, Bob James beckoned, and he became of member of the “James gang.”  Bob signed Mark to Columbia Records, beginning his solo recording career.  “Serpentine Fire” and “One Good Turn” both sold very well, while he toured for the next six years as a featured member of Bob James’ band.  Mark’s tours with Maynard and Bob found him playing jazz festivals and concert halls around the world.

In 1980 Mark moved to Chicago and has called it home ever since. Once in Chicago he continued to keeping a very busy performance schedule and in 1983 he was approached by DePaul University to assume a teaching position as a jazz saxophone instructor where he taught for 31 years. In addition to DePaul in 1998 he became a saxophone instructor at Elmhurst College where he continues to teach and provide real world experience to young jazz students.


In this interview Mark talks about his teaching concepts, shares stories about Maynard Ferguson, Bob James and many others and also discusses how he continues to explore his sound and expand as a musician.


FEATURED SECTIONS (Click on the time and you will be sent to Youtube to watch the specific section.)


1:29 - First started playing clarinet


2:54 - The importance of listening


6:13 - First professional gigs at 14 years old

7:00 - Learning tunes


9:00 - Miami University


13:10 - Playing in Miami Beach


16:45 - Getting the call to go on the road with Maynard Ferguson


22:09 - Playing every night with intensity



27:28 - Auditioning Peter Erskine


28:20 - Leaving the Maynard Ferguson Band


29:54 - Signing a record deal with Columbia Records


35:46 - Get back to an acoustic sound


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