"I don't want to be seen as a drummer," says Mark McLean. "I want to be known as a musician whose instrument just happens to be the drums."
Indeed, in his decade and a half as a professional musician, the Toronto-born, New York-based drummer/composer/producer has earned a far-reaching reputation, both as a versatile, sensitive player and as a visionary bandleader and recording artist.
As an in-demand sideman, he's contributed to a remarkably diverse assortment of recording projects and live combos, working with a broad array of artists from the worlds of jazz, pop and rock. He's also found time to carve out a distinctive creative niche of his own as a bandleader and recording artist.
McLean's musical journey at the age of nine, when he emerged as a gifted classical pianist. He transferred that passion to drumming in his teens, and it wasn't long before he was fielding offers to play with some of jazz's leading lights, including a stint with seminal pianist (and fellow Canadian) Oscar Peterson.
In 2000, McLean relocated to New York, where his talents were quickly recognized in that city's thriving jazz community. An opportunity to join the great singer/pianist Andy Bey's trio helped to raise McLean's international profile considerably. In 2003, McLean began a lengthy collaboration with vocalist/pianist Peter Cincotti.
Since then, McLean has kept busy working on numerous projects by a wide variety of artists. He's worked with a who's-who assortment of jazz giants and pop icons, including Andrea Bocelli, Jamie Cullum, Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Gladys Knight, Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis, Joe Sample, Jimmy Webb, Vanessa Williams and producer Phil Ramone. He also served as co-producer and arranger on Molly Johnson's 2009 Juno-award-winning album Lucky, and was co-arranger on Sophie Milman's 2009 release Take Love Easy, while continuing to tour and record as a member of George Michael's band.
On the live front, McLean was featured at the 2010 Montreal Drum Festival, a long-running annual international event featuring drummers from around the world, where McLean and his band's performance was acclaimed as one of the festival's highlights. He also served as drummer, music director and bandleader for the 2011 edition of Jazz FM 91.1's internationally renowned Jazz Lives concert/broadcast in Toronto, in which he and the house band backed Al Jarreau, Joey Defrancesco, and Randy Brecker.
Despite his busy schedule, McLean has also made time to pursue his own recording muse, beginning with the 2010 release of Mark McLean's Playground, his first album of original compositions. The self-produced project, which demonstrates the breadth of McLean's eclectic musical interests, has won considerable critical acclaim. McLean supported Playground's release with a two-week, eight-city Canadian tour that was well-received by fans and critics, and whose highlights included a large outdoor show in Ottawa, where McLean's combo opened for Chick Corea and Return To Forever IV.
"I didn't want to make a 'drummer album,'" McLean says of Mark McLean's Playground. "I really think in terms of harmony and melody. I almost always compose from the piano, and the drum part usually comes last. There are a lot of different kinds of records I'd like to make in the future. Playground 2 and Playground 3 are already in pre-production, and so far the only common element is myself."