The first impression you may have of Marcus Horatio Mitchell is that he is a handsome, young man with dreamy, brown eyes, a happy-go-lucky disposition, and a sunny smile that could melt the Arctic glaciers, but this handsome 24-year old has more than just good looks to his credit. He has the music chops and astute business sense of an artist who can give smooth jazz, and the burgeoning urban jazz market, the lift to bring it notoriety in the way that Smokey Robinson gave to Quiet Storm.
Born on March 24, 1983 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, to parents who valued pride in hard work, Mitchell shares, "Well, my father is a retired Master Sergeant from the Air Force so I guess you can say I have the firm military qualities from him. You know, everything has to be perfect! My mother is easy going and down to earth. I'm like that when I'm playing or dealing with the company."
His parents have remained a vital part of his life, guiding him towards his destiny to becoming an influential saxophone player and a prominent businessman, as President and CEO of his own companies including MHM (Marcus Horatio Mitchell) Entertainment Group and its parent company, the record label 24th Music, which are all based in Maryland. His label, 24th Music, has released both of Mitchell’s albums, his debut disc Jumpin’ in 2005 and his current sophomore release R&R, which features a titillating piano solo by Jeff Lorber on the opening track "Saturday Night."
Mitchell asserts, "I’m self-taught" on the saxophone. "I started at the age of eight. In school, we had to pick an instrument for music class. At first, I wanted to play the trumpet, but when I got home and told my father, he said ‘You should play the sax. I played it so you should play it.’ I got really scared because of all the keys on the horn," he laughs.
A little intimidated by the saxophone, he reveals, "Honestly, back then I really didn't like practicing. My father pushed me because he and my mother spent a lot of money on the horn."
It was not until he heard Charlie Parker play that he was inspired by the saxophone's capabilities. "The first time I heard Charlie Parker I said, 'WOW!!! He plays the sax with no effort - fast, slow!!! Charlie Parker is the man!'"
While attending Crossland High School in Temple Hills, Maryland, Mitchell was hired by Matthew Knowles Music World as an in-house consultant where he worked with the company’s roster of artists such as Destiny’s Child, Kim Waters and Marcus Johnson. How Mitchell was chosen for the post, he recalls, "That's a long story. To keep it short, basically I was at the right place at the right time. I was still in high school when I got involved with Mathew and his company. To this day, he remains a close mentor and we continue to work on projects together. I learned so much Mathew, he is a great business man! The one thing that he has taught me is to never follow trends. Be innovative and step out of the box. That's what I do in my music and in my company."
As part of the production team at Matthew Knowles Music World, Mitchell also learned from the artists whom he worked with there. He admits, "I learned so much from these artists and other artists. The one thing that I have learned is that you always want a clean recording! Save all the crazy runs and Coltrane licks for your live show. Don't get me wrong, I still play with the same passion, but I do it so the music is still tasteful."
While still in high school, Mitchell also formed a close bond with the school’s band director Mr. Brown who encouraged Mitchell to apply to Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. He explains, "The band director, Mr. Brown, offered me a scholarship to attend (Shaw University) so I guess the rest is history. I never saw the school or anything. I basically talked to Mr. Brown," who convinced him that the school produces great figures and "I am the type of person that likes to see great figures. The offer was right. I majored in communications and minored in business."
While matriculated at Shaw University from 2001 to 2005, Mitchell spent his extracurricular time playing the saxophone in a jazz jam band called N-Tune Band, performing around the Raleigh area. He also began the foundation for his own record label with a loan provided to him by Wachovia Bank’s account executive Frankie Perry, and 24th Music moved from being a vision to becoming a reality.
The first release from 24th Music was Mitchell’s debut album Jumpin’. "While in college, my senior year, I knew that I wanted to have an album done so I could hit the road full force once I graduated. Throughout college, my business partner, Shannon Parker, and I ran a record label right out of the dorm! I worked with a local producer by the name of Terrance White and Jackiem Joyner. I probably can't afford Jackiem now."
Mitchell’s second album R&R also released by 24th Music, further establishes him in jazz, urban and R&B markets. The album features the smooth jazz vocals of Yvette Thomas on "Summer Breeze," the vivacious R&B grooves of singer Tara Aldridge on "Outstanding," and the funk/hip hop styling of Blackbuddafly on "When We First Met." The album has a vast music palate, which allows Mitchell to explore beyond known boundaries. "I love artists who have different styles," he reflects. "When an artist doesn't follow trends and just does them, it's great."
Some artists whom he would like to work with someday, he lists, "I would have to say my girl Beyonce, of course, John Mayer, Christina Aguilera and Kanye West. The sax with Kanye would be really innovative. Jazz meets Hip Hop! See, another great marketing twist!"
He emphasizes, "My company’s motto is ‘Creative Music with Substance.’ Every track that represents me and my company must have meaning. From start to finish, it must have a foundation. Music is like storytelling. My music always tells a story."
Mitchell wanted his albums released by his own company because he saw the benefits that Matthew Knowles experienced by doing business this way. "I wanted to have my own company after meeting Mathew Knowles. I said to myself here's a guy who took a chance, left his high paying job to pursue what he believed in. I did the same thing. I left my high paying job as an IT manager to pursue my own company. So many people told me, 'You can't do that!' Mind you, I started the company in my dorm room at Shaw University. Also ran the company while I was working my day job, on top of playing almost every night. I prayed and stepped out on faith. I can say, I’m not doing too bad," he discerns.
Though Mitchell has been able to establish himself in jazz music at a young age, he expresses, "I never feel guilty. I feel blessed because I know that it hasn't been easy, and I continue to work hard to build a positive foundation. I haven't made it yet. There is always room for improvement as an artist/musician, and as a business man. I learn new things everyday. The important thing for me is to stay humble to God’s will and hopefully, my experiences will help someone else to accomplish their goals."
Mitchell challenges himself by reaching for more and finding support in new outlets like the Internet. "The Internet has been a key marketing tool for me. We are in a new age now. I'm all about nuances and creating new concepts to help build a brand. It's all about using those logistical resources to get the job done. It goes back to thinking outside the box. With me running the company, I always have to stay innovative. Innovation is key, so I focus on Internet avenue's such as smoothjazz.com and my biggest one, myspace. With myspace, I've been able to tap into new markets and new fans and creating a buzz, which in turn, is helping me to create my brand! Creating a brand is important. An artist must create a brand that will, in turn, have longevity."
Mitchell determined that support is the key to his longevity. Success comes and goes, but longevity is something that can sustain you. He examines, "You may have certain people that do give you that support, but you always feel like you could get so much more! I used to ask myself,'why didn't I get asked to be on that festival’ or ‘why didn't they play my single there.’ After a while, I said, 'You know what God has set my pace for me. Let me be quiet and let him do his Holy Work.' Yes, I face challenges, but with God on my side, no challenge is too big for me. A challenge is not a challenge; it’s a lesson to make you grow as a person and a living product of God."
Presently, Marcus H. Mitchell and his band are on tour to support his latest release R&R. He beams, "I have an awesome band from the D.C. area. I think I like that they all come from different backgrounds, so when we do a live set, you may hear some Go-Go key. I do live in D.C." He correlates, "hip hop, gospel, old school, fusion, you name it and we probably do it. This way it keeps each and every show fresh and our fan base can always expect something new."
He conveys, "The bigger the crowd, the better! I love to interact, go in the crowd and everything. People love to see a great show. They paid to see you. The one thing I don't do is sacrifice the music though. I understand that you must entertain but to me, the music comes first and will always be first."
Mitchell and his band recently played the 3rd Annual Jazz Festival at Cooper's Field in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He recollects, "It was great! I kept asking myself how did I get here! That experience was great because I was able to meet artists that I grew up listening to, and actually got a chance to hang out with them. I'm really persistent. Once I found out about the festival, I kept calling [and] emailing, so I guess they said, 'Please let him come so he will stop calling!' I like to call it ‘Persistence with Class.’"
He enthuses, "Yes, I will play at a festival everyday! Festivals are key to marketing. I believe it also gives the artist a chance to sell CD's in bulk units and a chance to interact with their fans. Calling all festivals, please book me!"
Though Mitchell and his band have been playing local clubs mainly in the Triangle Area that encompasses Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, with a few dates in Raleigh, he says that he very much wants to expand the tour further. "We are actually starting to hit markets where I'm getting support for the first single like Houston, Chicago and Reno, so look for me to be all over. I'm actually looking to travel to Tokyo really soon and even Brazil, and possibly back to Cuba."
When most artists would be overwhelmed by balancing their solo albums with managing a record label and an entertainment company, Marcus H. Mitchell has them interconnected with each other. His music chops and business sensibilities work hand-in-hand as he proclaims, "The one thing that makes my company so unique is that I'm an artist, as well as my own A&R staff. I take into consideration a lot of things."
The artists whom he chooses to sign to 24th Music and work with are ones whom he believes are creating trends and not following them. He assesses, "First thing" he watches for "Is the artist doing them or are they following trends? We want quality music. We are always looking for a new sound. Trey Eley our flute artist plays like a sax player! Our new girl group, Lavish, is very soulful, not commercial. Yes, commercial sells, but quality is always better. I believe in self representation. If an artist’s project isn't representing them, I can always tell by listening and will generally call them back with comments. They generally always say ‘Wow! How did you know that I was trying to play like so and so?' I'm not only a CEO, but an artist, as well. The biggest thing I can say is before you send in your package, remember to read our company’s motto 'Creative Music with Substance.'"
Being handsome, young, enthusiastic and a trendsetter, has no doubt been instrumental in bringing Marcus H. Mitchell to the level of success he is experiencing now, but it is having substance in his music which he believes will give him the longevity, that he strives to achieve. It’s a quality that he attributes to Matthew Knowles and it is also a factor that he saw in Charlie Parker, and desires from his own music. His music reaches for new horizons, bridging the funk grooves of Chris Brown with the spontaneity of John Coltrane. and making smooth jazz with urban accents.