Mark Allen Felton, multi-talented saxophonist known for his smooth jazz and gospel sound, was among a major list of legendary artists to perform for the 15th anniversary of the Jazz in the Garden Music Festival in Miami in March.
The popular jazz and R&B music festival included Mary J. Blige, H.E.R, Rick Ross, the Isley Brothers, SWV, the Roots with special guest T-Pain, and many more.
Though Felton is a Chicago native, he spent much of his early years developing his craft as a student at Texas Southern University and received numerous awards for his musical excellence.
His discography extends more than 25 years and he has worked with such notable artists as Patti LaBelle, Janelle Monáe, Kenny G, Chaka Khan, Lalah Hathaway and the late Billy Preston.
Felton spoke to the Defender to talk about his musical journey, his ties to Houston and the city’s influence on his style.
Defender: You are a Chicago Native but you have ties to Houston. Tell us more about that.
Felton: I went to [TSU] back in the day. I had a music scholarship coming out of Chicago [in the ’80s]. I spent about five years in Houston. I unfortunately didn’t finish because I left to chase my dreams in Los Angeles, but I’ve always wanted to come back and finish. I learned so much. It gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of great musicians and I had amazing instructors at TSU and it really shaped me as a young man. It gave me a lot of values that I still use until today.
Defender: Houston has such a diverse culture and musical sound. Has living here influenced the style of music you play?
Felton: In some ways definitely. We have some great saxophone players that come from Houston. I remember having a mentor like Conrad Johnson who gave me the opportunity to be in his big band when I was in college. I was a part of this organization called The People’s Workshop [formed in 1976 at TSU as a place for students to compose and perform, free from the constrains of Western classical music education] and so many great musicians came out of that. It helped with my growth as an artist.
Defender: You are independent music professional. Was that an intentional decision? How has your journey in the music business been for you?
In many cases you’re kind of forced to do a lot of things as a musician especially in today’s times. I’ve been blessed to be around good people who have helped me shape my career. I’ve taken a lot of time to understand how the business works. I took on the task of learning how to produce, write, have my own studio, mix my music and be the jack of all trades.
Defender: The entertainment industry took a big hit during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did this experience set you back or did it help with re-creating or developing your sound?
Felton: I never looked at it to be a setback because it’s an opportunity to make an assessment of what you need to do to create a path and grow. During that time period I wrote a 300-page novel called “Jacks Myth.” It was a great opportunity for me to explore other avenues of creativity. The book is about an older musician who never gave up on his dreams of becoming known in the world. It’s an inspirational satirical comedy. The book also has an album where each chapter has its own song. The pandemic was hard for everyone but it was a blessing at the same time.
Defender: Who are some of your favorite artists or groups that inspired your musical journey
Felton: Growing up, I wanted to be a basketball player. Things didn’t turn out the way I thought so I turned to music as my main thing because I wanted to be successful in the arts. One of the groups that influenced me is Kool and the Gang. I would watch them on television and they were spreading the horns around and I thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Earth Wind and Fire, Sonny Stitt, Grover Washington Jr. and John Coltrane are major influencers as well.
Defender: What new projects are you currently working on?
Felton: This new record I’m working on is called “Gem-in-I” [Gemini] because I have little gems are coming from my soul that I want to share with the world. I started working on this during the pandemic. The first radio release will come out in February and then the CD will come out in March.
Defender: You are on the lineup with some legendary names to perform at the Jazz in the Garden Music Fest in Miami. What should fans expect to see?
Felton: Fans can expect to see a visual performance as well as hearing some great music. I like to put on a show and offer a great experience where you feel like you are wrapped into the music. I like to merge with the crowd almost like one big band. The audience members are in the band as well.
Defender: Any last words for our audience?
Felton: I’m grateful for all the support that I’ve received throughout the years. I have a show that comes on every Sunday night on Facebook live at 7 p.m. called “Sunday Night Sax.” I have loyal followers who are there every week and I look forward to welcoming more.
Facebook: Mark Allen Felton