Interview

What inspired you to become a bassist?

The low frequency called to me, it drew me in. With all the music I was exposed to growing up - pop, classical, jazz, I would inevitably end up focusing on the bass . Some of the players who particularly inspired me were Jack Bruce, Charlie Haden, Jimmy Garrison, Paul Chambers, Jack Casidy, Steve Swallow, Eddie Gomez, Eberhard Weber, Miroslav Vitous, Paul Jackson, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, and Bobby Rodriguez.

How did you study music?

I studied a little piano and trumpet in grade school - In my teens, at the apex of the British/psychedelic /soul culture of the 60's/70's, I started fooling around with guitar and electric bass, picking stuff off the radio and from records... then I apprentenced with my brother at his print shop in Berkeley (Calif.) in the summer after my sophomore year in high school and I used the money I earned to buy an old beat up 3/4 German flatback bass. My father bought me some lessons with the former principal of the Vancouver (Canada) symphony where we were living at the time- I also rented a cello and studied for awhile, but after I got my first girlfriend I gave that up and just continued with the bass. I remember at that point hearing Bitches Brew and Jimmy Garrison's solo on side one of A Love Supreme and diving into the universe of Jazz. When I was 19, I got a job in a stripclub downtown playing standards. Sometimes when a prominent player would come into town to play at a local club, I would go up to the stage on the break and ask for a lesson- I got one out of Eddie Gomez in exchange for convincing my father to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. I consider myself a fairly reserved person, but I was never shy when it came my pursuit of bass and music.

When I moved to New York I hooked up with the tumbao maestro Joe Santiago and took some lessons. I used to hang out all the time and listen to live music, especially at the club the Brecker Brothers had on 7th Ave. South, and at the old Newyorican Cafe on Ave. B to listen to Andy Gonzalez and his brother Jerry play Latin jazz, and I would always come home full of inspiration and ideas. One thing led to another, I got a regular gig playing bass for Dave Valentin, and I started getting opportunities to play with and learn from a lot of great musicians. I would say in retrospect that my deepest musical learning experiences have occurred on stage and in the studio... although they have not always been pleasant.

Could you talk about some of the ideas and concepts you try to teach your students?

In addition to rhythmic and harmonic stuff I always try to stress the real functions of bass, like providing bottom and outlining form. The three words Ray Brown said that I always remember are " Never Stop Practicing!"

Some suggestions:

  • Always start out with the things you find most difficult. If you do this, old challenges will become manageable and new ones will quickly take their place, in other words, you will progress.
  • I have found that 5 minutes of intense concentration is better than 5 hours of noodling.
  • Listening to a CD or watching a DVD can be informative and motivational, but it does not take the place of practice.
  • Learn to read and write music.
  • Work out grooves with a real live drummer.
  • If you can't do it slow, you can't do it fast.
  • Keep your ears and your spirit open to all kinds of music.
  • Never be complacent with your musical achievements. We are nothing but tiny finite bugs floating in the infinite universe of sound.
  • Be ready and willing to learn from younger musicians, especially your students.
  • Find a somatic discipline that works for you and stick with it.
  • Study music and not the musicians who play it.

What would you consider to be the most valuable asset a bassist can develop?

The ability to listen.

Anything else?

One thing is orchestration. Seeing sound from the eye of bass, you are in a position to shape and guide the music happening around you- to provide the link, or "glue" between the notes and the groove. In constructing a part for a song, playing a written line, improvising, or more likely doing a combination of these things, there's always room for contributing color, motion, and life to the music... and it's as much in what you do as it is in what you don't do. I've drawn tremendous inspiration from bassists I consider to be master orchestrators, like James Jamerson, Ron Carter, Jaco Pastorius, and Anthony Jackson to name a few.

I'm on a never ending, ever changing search to combine rhythm and harmony into a personal language. Bass is a way of thinking, a way of life.

What about the future of bass?

The future looks bright. The up and coming players today are better technically and more informed than ever before, and most of them are taller than me.

Could you talk about the book and DVD on Afro-Cuban grooves you did with drummer Robby Ameen?

In the book (and DVD) Robby and I are using Afro-Cuban music as a departure point into other styles. This music is an endless source of inspiration, and in 1990 when the book was published there was a real need, the time was ripe for this information to come out and we were among the first to do it- being devoted students of Latin music and culture, and with both of us having had the privilege of performing and studying with many of the greatest Latin musicians in the business. So far there have been almost 40,000 copies sold. CLICK HERE TO BUY THEM ONLINE

If you were exiled to a desert island for the rest of your life and were only allowed to take along the music of ten musicians, who would they be?

That's a tough one... I guess if it happened today, I would say J. S. Bach, Igor Stravinsky, Ornette Coleman, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Cachao- and Weather Report, if groups could be considered as one choice... ask me tomorrow and the list would be different.

How did you come to play Fodera basses and Epifani custom cabinets?

I went out to their (Joey Lauricella and Vinny Fodera's) shop in Brooklyn to see if they could sell a bass for me, and got drawn into a world of wood and sound- before I realized it, six hours had gone by and I was talking with them about building me an instrument. I had known about these guys already from the basses that Anthony (Jackson), Victor Wooten, James Genus, and my dear departed friend Ivan Elias were playing, but to actually see and play their stuff...it truly freaked me out. I realized that day that after many years of playing I had developed specific ideas and sonic concepts and needed help qualifying them, and I had finally found the cats with the skill, vision, and patience to help me.

I met Nick (Epifani) through my association with Fodera. He brought a 2X12" cabinet to a gig I was playing at the Blue Note NY for me to try and I was impressed with the clarity and projection it had. His cabinets have a definite sound personality that is compatible to my taste. Nick is a true maniac who has listened to the input of working bassists like myself and developed an exceptional product.

How about the 33" scale basses you play now?

In late '99 I began discussing with Vinny and Joey the concept of a 33" scale bass to relieve left hand fatigue in the lower register and to try to get the whole instrument to fit in a little closer to my body. We decided to use the same wood combinations as the 34" they made for me (solid koa body halves, ash neck with ebony fingerboard) along with Vinny's re-designed peg head (w/extended low B). Joey also suggested voicing the pickup a little closer to the bridge to add some point. I also wanted a thicker neck to maintain low end mass on a smaller instrument, and keep the single pot but incorporate a preamp- I had been messing around with (Mike) Pope's circuit and dug how it added dynamic range without sounding too electric.

The result was highly successful; a compact, ergonomic instrument, a great touring bass with the same warm and even voice of my 34". This bass is one of many examples of Vinny and Joey's willingness to collaborate one on one with players to refine what are already excellent instruments.