Local music community mourns after virtuoso collapses and dies on stage | New

Some have described it as the performance of a lifetime.

The Kern County music community is in mourning this week after one of their own collapsed and died during a performance at the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop on Tuesday night.

Held at the Petroleum Club at Sundale Country Club in South West Bakersfield, organizers of the weekly workshop had invited Mark Infante, a highly regarded and talented harmonica player and singer, to deliver an educational and entertaining clinic on the tiny musical instrument. which had been his obsession. and companion since he was a boy.

“Mark was the guest artist at the workshop that night,” said longtime drummer Zanne Zarow. “He was a virtuoso on the harmonica. He played like a full rhythm section, while simultaneously playing the melody.”

Infante, 69, told a story to the audience that night about a day in her childhood when a teacher brought harmonicas to class and said students could buy one for $2.50. After young Mark had collected the money, he bought his first harmonica from his teacher.

On Tuesday, he had a briefcase full of harmonicas on stage with him, Zarow said.

He demonstrated various harmonicas, then dazzled the audience with John Phillip Souza’s composition, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” as the audience applauded.

“Then he played the harmonica intro to the J. Geils Band’s ‘Whammer Jammer,’ the ultimate blues-rock harmonica song,” Zarow recalled. “He also played a nice jazz ballad, ‘Misty.'”

“Then, halfway through his show, he smiled and fell backwards off his stool onto the floor,” she said. “He received CPR until paramedics showed up, but he was already on the wings of a song, on his way to heaven to be with his love, Cathy.”

He met Cathy Schultz after moving to Bakersfield from the East Coast in 2009, her brother, David Infante, said. The two became almost inseparable – until Cathy’s untimely passing in 2018.

On Tuesday night, a friend picked up Mark’s phone and called David at his home in Phoenix.

“I was in my car and on the road to Bakersfield within 30 minutes,” David Infante told The Californian.

But rescuers couldn’t save his brother.

Despite his shock and grief, David Infante said he was amazed by the outpouring of love and condolences from the Bakersfield music community, as well as music lovers and fans in Bakersfield and Kern County.

He and his brother, Mark, and their sister, Stephanie Koloski, grew up in Milford, Connecticut.

Once Mark got his hands on that first harmonica, that was it, David recalls.

“He stuck with it all his life.”

Like many of Infante’s friends in Bakersfield, guitarist and vocalist Tim Stonelake met Mark at a Kern River Blues Society jam.

“I was immediately impressed by his hits on the harmonica,” Stonelake said in a text. “We became friends easily and he played in one of my bands for years.

“Mark was very friendly and enjoyed meeting people, usually at a music event, and had many friends,” Stonelake said. “It was hard not to love him.”

Infante definitely loved the blues, but he could play jazz standards, Christmas songs, Italian favorites, patriotic tunes and more.

He could also take a harmonica apart and modify it for the perfect pitch, Stonelake said.

“Mark was thrilled with his star performance at Tuesday’s Bakersfield Jazz Workshop,” he said. “He had prepared a set of songs, with additional commentary on the history and mechanics of harmonica music, and I knew that would be good.”

But Stonelake was unable to attend and, like countless friends, fans and fellow musicians, he is sad to have missed his last chance to see his friend.

“How I wish we had been there for him that night,” he said.

Steve Eisen, jazz trumpeter and CEO of the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop, first met Infante at the workshop in 2009.

“I remember hearing him play his harmonica for the first time during our jam session, and how natural and emotional he played,” Eisen said. “It gave me goosebumps, and I knew then that he was the real deal, a real natural performer.

“From then on, Mark continued to attend the workshop regularly, where he played his instruments and sang so well until his last breath last Tuesday.”

The Bakersfield Jazz Workshop will set up a scholarship in Mark Infante’s name, he said.

And Eisen echoed many Bakersfield musicians who said Infant died doing what he cherished most. Many said it only suited someone who loved music so well.

David, Mark’s brother, agreed.

“He wouldn’t have done it any other way,” he said of Mark.

“And if he had to do it again, he would do it exactly the same way.”

Or as Zarow put it, “on the wings of a song”.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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