There are a couple of things that define Mark Hamersly as a musician.
"My style of playing solos is very deliberate, like I'm seeing the notes written down," he says. "My approach to guitar and bass is old-school, much like that of a horn player. They all can read music. It's a style I use to create melodies. It's the original intent of jazz, I think. It's not just playing the right notes, but taking them a step further to make melody.
"Dizzy Gillespie played like that, fast tempos with continuous notes, on trumpet. Gillespie and Charlie Parker, that's bebop, right there. It's melody-making with lots of notes. That's the fast way to describe what's different about my style. That's my thing, the highly melodic playing."
Another thing for Hamersly is playing with heavyweight musicians, he says.
"When you're with another really good player, stuff happens. When I'm about to play a solo, and the musician I'm with gives me a clear sense of time, then I can almost stop playing for a bar or two and see what comes next. It's different than when I feel I have to work to keep the feel going. There's more support when musicians can hold a tempo, and I can play wherever it takes me."
Hamersly made a living for 30 years playing upright bass and guitar around the Monterey Peninsula. He attended John F. Kennedy High School in Grenada Hills, where he learned to play and read big band music. He moved to Southern Oregon in 2014.
He still plays the upright bass his dad bought for him when he was 13.
"It's a bit of a relationship," Hamersly says. "I'm 53 now. I didn't really expect it would go on that long, but here we are."
It took some time to find the heavyweights in Southern Oregon. Drummer Tom Stamper was the first jazz musician he met, and it was at a jam party at Stamper's that pianist Dave Scoggin heard Hamersly solo, stringing a bunch of eighth notes together, Hamersly says.
"It was nice when I finally met Dave," he says. "He transcribes tunes himself and looks for new material. He's turned on by Brazilian tunes that are fun and interesting to play. He told me later that he resonated with my style."
Since the introduction at Stamper's, Hamersly has met other heavyweights. Scoggin calls him to play at his Friday night sets at Dal Carver's Wild Goose Cafe and Bar and twice-monthly sets at Larks in Medford. Word got around, and jazz pianist Thor Poloson called Hamersly to fill in at Merrill Smith's La Baguette Music Cafe. Carver and Smith — avid jazz musicians in their own right — hire players of similar ilk to play their restaurants.
"Thor has some serious chops," Hamersly says. "It's liberating and exciting to play with him. He can hold a fast tempo up, and it makes me play harder. He called my playing lyrical. When it's time for me to solo, I'm going to give listeners melody. I'm going to go anywhere, and I might not do anything that sounds like a typical bass solo. There are a lot of jazz jokes about boring bass solos, so I take the opportunity to play something fun on the upright."
Hamersly and Polson will perform from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, at La Baguette Music Cafe, 340 A St. Look for a possible appearance by sax player Adam Harris.
"That's how I meet people," Hamersley says. "I often sub for others. If I play really well and do a fancy solo, sometimes I'll get a call back. It would be my favorite thing to be a first-call bassist. To be in a band limits the freedom to meet other musicians or play other styles."
Southern Oregon Jazz Orchestra calls Hamersly to sub because he's a strong reader; pianist Ben Gault calls him to play Django Reinhardt-style guitar or upright bass in his Bear Creek Jazztet; and guitarist Ed Dunsavage calls him to sub in his trio.
Hamersly got to know Rogue Valley pianist Alan Berman playing New Year's Eve shows at a country club in Monterey.
"Basically, I'm the all-purpose sideman," he says.
Hamersly played regularly at the Hyatt Regency during the annual Monterey Jazz Festivals, where he'd jam with many of the top jazz artists who headlined the festivals.
"Wynton Marsalis came in one night," Hamersly recalls. "This is my favorite moment. He always looks so nicely dressed, I mean presidential. He gets his trumpet out, and it's absolutely shiny, shimmering gold. Then he plays the first few notes of 'I Can't Get Started.' I knew the tune, and I knew the key he was in. So I started playing with him, with no chart.
Hamersly felt validated.
"I"d learned so many tunes over all the years of playing that when an opportunity like that one came along, I could fall right in. It was my little moment, and it was personal."
A versatile performer, Hamersly also teaches private classes. Find him on facebook.com/mark.hamersly or email firstname.lastname@example.org.