“Making it” is an infamously elusive challenge of life in New York. What does it require to hit the ground running? Connections can help. A supportive community is invaluable. But most foundational, perhaps, is a sense of belonging.
Hannah Marks decided to make New York her new home in fall of 2019, arriving with clarity and purpose. She was coming off the heels of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead at the Kennedy Center. She arrived in New York with some momentum, and found herself on a path with early performance opportunities and recognition from mentors. Months in, Marks was playing regularly, booking tours, and going to sessions. April 1, 2020 was slated to be her debut show as a bandleader at The Jazz Gallery.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything stopped. Many left New York, never to return, but Marks couldn’t stay away, and ended up finding creative ways to beat the gloom. One outcome was the creation of a new band, Tide Pools, with Jazz Gallery regulars Alfredo Colon (alto saxophone) and Connor Parks (drums). Tide Pools will be performing at the Gallery this Friday, June 4, marking the end of a fourteen month delay of Marks’ leadership debut. We spoke about it all in a recent phone interview.
The Jazz Gallery: You mentioned that you’re in Washington Heights now. Have you been in New York for the whole pandemic?
Hannah Marks: Almost. I left for the worst of it. I went back to Des Moines, Iowa, my hometown, from March to early May. I’ve been in New York since then. Even though things weren’t necessarily happening, I wanted to be around for any potential work. I’m glad I came back when I did.
TJG: I’m looking at today’s date and am realizing that we met almost exactly two years ago at Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead.
HM: I can’t believe it’s been two years. It feels as though we skipped a year.
TJG: How did you feel coming out of that program? Where did it leave you?
HM: It was pivotal, in that when I came to the program, I did not think I was going to move to New York. I thought I was going to move to Chicago. But I came into the program with an open mind. I wanted my mind to be changed. By the end of the two weeks, I had talked to a lot of people, and several were about to move to New York or were living there now. I thought, “I’ll have some good connections if I take that jump now.” Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jason Moran both told me, “If you don’t do it now… you’ll never be ‘ready,’ so just make the jump.”
TJG: Had you been talking to them, saying you didn’t think you were ready yet?
HM: Yeah, and the idea I had in my head about New York was that I figured I was going to be eaten alive here. That has not been the case. Everyone has been super supportive. I think it’s a sink-or-swim situation, but I got here and felt “I have no choice but to swim.” It’s hard to arrive in the city completely ready playing-wise, but if you just force yourself to jump into the current–continuing with the metaphor–then you’re in the flow of the city.