La parte dedicada a los Bajos como instrumentos: El nuevo foro donde escribir. Los muy bajos como Helio (1,45 cm, 57 años) también pueden escribir.

[6] The Anthony Jackson Interview

Notapor Bajísimo » 08 Abr 2006 14:29

Inicio con esta entrevista a Anthony Jackson una serie de post dedicados al bajo de 6 cuerdas (6-string bass).Se distinguirán por contener este símbolo [6]. Empiezo pues, con esta vieja entrevista al creador del bajo de 6 cuerdas tal como lo conocemos actualmente, Anthony Jackson que le hicieron en Bass Player. Aunque esté en inglés, y por su importancia como por la dificultad de encontrarla, os recomiendo su lectura.

The Anthony Jackson Interview
Part 1: Inspirations


By Chris Jisi

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The electric bass guitar was a brilliant invention, but its acceptance came slowly. Although Monk Montgomery and a few other pioneers latched onto the early Fenders immediately, a decade went by before the instrument's first virtuoso, Motown sideman James Jamerson, gave it legitimacy and respectability. Inspired by Jamerson's brilliant-and uncredited-work, such stylists as Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, and Larry Graham brought the instrument center-stage in the late '60s.

Over the past two decades, appreciation of the instrument's possibilities has elevated such modern masters as Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Jeff Berlin, and Billy Sheehan to celebrity status. And yet, one of the most innovative and important bassists of our time has-like Jamerson-functioned primarily as a sideman, and he remains largely unknown to contemporary audiences. His name is Anthony Jackson.

Driven purely by an unshakeable love for, and dedication to, music, Jackson has consistently broken down musical barriers. His mastery of various pick and fingerstyle techniques and startling ability to restructure instantly the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic direction of a piece of music mark him as an innovator of the highest order. Jackson has also conducted exhaustive research into the instrument's design and sonic reproduction, and his idea for a "contrabass guitar" predated the current boom in extended-range basses by nearly 20 years. Most important, as an artist, his refusal to compromise his integrity for popular trends has enabled him to retain his individuality in all musical situations.

Anthony Jackson was born on June 23, 1952, in New York City, approximately one year after the introduction of the Fender bass. By age 12, his voracious listening habits, combined with a few years of "poking" at the piano, evolved into a desire to play the guitar. He started out on a standard 6-string but soon began to play bass guitar as well. By the time he was 16, he had moved to bass full-time, drawing from a diverse collection of musical mentors, chief among them James Jamerson, Jack Casady (of the Jefferson Airplane), and French modernist composer Olivier Messiaen.

Jackson began to perform locally in 1966 and played on his first recording session in 1970. Two years later, he joined Billy Paul's band, receiving his first gold record for the hit "Me And Mrs. Jones." As a result, he started working regularly with the Philadelphia production team of Gamble and Huff. In 1973, he earned a writer's credit as well as an immediate reputation for his unforgettable bass line on the O'Jays' hit "For The Love Of Money." Shortly after, an informal demo session in New York for arranger Leon Pendarvis led to a session with pianist/singer Roberta Flack, and word of Jackson's sophisticated style spread quickly through the Big Apple's studio scene.

A 13-month stint with Buddy Rich's sextet at the drummer's East Side club gave Jackson additional exposure. He then toured with both Flack and violinist Michael Urbaniak before the demands of session work kept him in town. Always one to disdain categorization, he nevertheless became known as a "studio musician," despite his seminal work with fusion artists such as Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, and John Scofield. (He also received an offer to join Weather Report in 1975.)

After moving to Los Angeles in 1977, Anthony worked on projects with Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Tom Scott, and others. He returned to New York on the eve of what was to become a pivotal year, 1978. During the period that followed, he reached new technical and creative levels, resulting in some of the finest contemporary bass playing ever recorded, with such diverse artists as Chaka Khan (Naughty, What Cha' Gonna Do For Me), Steely Dan (Gaucho), Al Di Meola (Electric Rendezvous), Paul Simon (Greatest Hits, Etc.), Eyewitness (Modern Times), and Michel Camilo (In Trio).

In 1975, Jackson "terrorized" luthier Carl Thompson into building his first contrabass guitar-a 6-string bass tuned (low to high) B, E, A, D, G, C -an idea he conceived while in his teens. Working with successive guitar makers to improve design and playability, he finally began playing the instrument exclusively in 1982.

Although his uncompromising commitment to the contrabass guitar, his refusal to "mindlessly" slap and pop, and the increasing mechanization of music have led to unpredictable career turns, Jackson has remained immutably on course. Last year, he fulfilled a lifelong goal by paying homage to his mentor James Jamerson, contributing three transcriptions and a thoughtful analysis to the book Standing In The Shadows Of Motown: The Life And Music Of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson; he also performed one of his transcriptions on the accompanying tape. Recently, Jackson has fit the development of a new prototype contrabass guitar, his seventh, around projects with vocalists Amy Sky and Phoebe Snow, composer/pianist Carlos Franzetti, composer/drummer Roland Vasquez, composers Akiko Yano and Ryuichi Sakamoto, guitarist (and old friend) Lee Ritenour, drummers Dave Weckl and Simon Phillips, and a new edition of Eyewitness.

Anthony Jackson has grown tired of addressing the same handful of "controversial" issues, such as his reluctance to slap or to record the obligatory solo album. Instead, in Part One of this interview, he traces the development of his style and instruments, a discussion that provides an eye-opening view of a number of important musicians and valuable insights into the history of the bass guitar.




Along with Stanley Clarke, Alphonso Johnson, and Jaco Pastorius, you are one of the original voices of the "bass revolution" of the early '70s. What was the atmosphere that existed then?

There was more of a sense of adventure. Miles Davis' Bitches Brew was relatively new and had gotten a lot of people buzzing about new ideas and new avenues to try with rhythm sections. Even before that album came out, my best friend in high school, [guitarist/producer] Reggie Lucas, myself, and many of our friends were experimenting with the concept of putting jazz ideas on top of funk rhythms. We'd all grown up on the Beatles, James Brown, and John Coltrane, and there were endless clubs and loft spaces to play and experiment in. In 1972, I joined Billy Paul's band, Stanley was playing with Chick Corea, Alphonso had left Billy Paul's band and was with Woody Herman en route to Weather Report, and Jaco was down in Florida-a sensation, but not yet having attained international recognition.

When did you first meet Stanley Clarke?

Reggie had told me about him, and I saw him play for the first time at Max's Kansas City with Return To Forever. Our second meeting took place at his West Side apartment in 1973. Reggie and I had finished a project and he had to stop by Stanley's to get something, so I went along. We had a mutual respect for each other's playing, and when we met it was really quite funny. I tried his upright bass, which had the lowest action I'd ever felt, enabling me to get around on it fairly well, to which he commented, "Man, you should play upright." I said, "If I had one with this action I probably would," although in retrospect, even though I've had the opportunities, I realize the instrument has never captivated me. Anyway, inevitably he said, "Let me see your axe." I had my Gibson EB-2D with me, and I picked up his bass guitar, which was also a Gibson, I think. There was no amp in the apartment, so we sat opposite each other, one thing led to another, and we wound up dueling acoustically. It was good-natured, but because we were still young and mindful of our growing reputations, there was a serious undertone, rather like two big cats circling each other. I would lay down a moderato chordal passage, and Stanley would play everything he knew as fast as he could, and then we would switch roles. This went on, back and forth, for 15 or 20 minutes, after which we shook hands and had a real good laugh.

Who were some of the other important fusion bass guitarists?

"Slim" [Alphonso] Johnson. When we met in 1972, he struck me as the first player to show the same neurotic love for the instrument as I did. Steve Swallow is a very special case. He switched from the upright to the bass guitar because he also had a genuine love for the instrument. He went on to develop his own voice on it, despite blood-chilling cries of horror from the "jazz" community. John Lee, who played with McCoy Tyner and Larry Coryell, was a great composer in addition to being a fine player. Percy Jones is a first-rate innovator and is wrongfully labeled a Jaco clone by a large and very ignorant faction. One often overlooked but extremely important bassist was Michael Henderson, who played with Miles Davis and was one of James Jamerson's understudies at Motown. He was primarily an R&B/funk player, but with the unusual combination of big ears and a fearless ego, which enabled him to take a basic funk formula and try-successfully-to make it work in the context of Miles' music.

Some of your peers in the fusion world were critical of fellow players who became studio musicians. How did you enter the session scene and how did you feel about the criticism?

I didn't set out to be a "studio," "stage," or any other "type" of musician. Understand that I was a child when I started playing and my only motivation, reflecting a child's innocent idealism, was to find the greatest music to play and the greatest musicians to play it with. My first major recording experiences were very intense, beginning with Gamble and Huff in Philadelphia in 1972, and later as a freelancer in New York in 1974. One of the first people I came across in New York was L. Leon Pendarvis Jr., a very great composer and arranger who managed to get me on a Roberta Flack recording project he was producing. That led me to one of his other sessions, which is where I first met the great Steve Gadd. And as far as I'm concerned, there isn't anything that any fusion artist has done that exceeds the quality of work produced by what we can call the Pendarvis rhythm section [see sidebar, left]. We recorded hundreds of tracks, most of which were never released, but for sheer quality of composition and performance, the music is as good as anything I or anyone else has experienced. "The Darvis" is one the few composers who knows how to write for the rhythm section. He writes for the basic unit-guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, drums, and percussion-with the proficiency of a composer of string quartets. Working with that unit was significant because it stimulated major personal growth. Steve Gadd decisively influenced the way I hear music and is really the only drummer I've worked with who has. He is one of the important talents of the twentieth century.

You also recorded three albums and did a 13-month stint with Buddy Rich's sextet at his East Side club around that time.

Yes. That was an equally rewarding, though totally different, situation. My first experience with Buddy was with the big band in 1973. I came in cold without a rehearsal and got sent home in shame after one show because I didn't read well enough. I boned up and about a year later I managed to get an audition with his sextet and was hired. I would say that Buddy is the only bona fide genius I've worked with. His importance to his instrument equals that of [classical violinist Jascha] Heifitz and [classical pianist Vladimir] Horowitz to theirs. He's the ultimate example of an individual who allowed the warpage of personality to occur in exchange for the development and expression of a transcendental gift. He took a lot of flak for his apparently dated style, four-on-the-floor bass drumming in particular, but let me tell you, it swung, and it swung hard.

How did you feel about Buddy's funk and rock conceptions?

Consider that when the various big bands began their flirtation with commercial music in the late '60s, the bass chair, formerly confined to the upright, became a doubler's chair. These people, often upright players of very high quality, generally possessed no redeeming qualities as bass guitarists other than good sight-reading skills. Their interpretations tended to be stiff, clichéd, and generally offensive, reflecting their disdain for the instrument that they usually played only out of economic necessity. On the other hand, genuine, committed bass guitarists capable of bringing good performance qualities to these bands could seldom read well-myself, at that time, included. Understand that big- band arrangers were generally a pretty pathetic lot as well, including some of the biggest names still active today. Their conception of the so-called "New Music" can be judged by the typical style indications at the top of their charts, such as "Funky Boogaloo," "Get-Down Feel," or "Real Funky Here." These bigoted, stylistically limited-however well-trained-writers, working with bigoted and incompetent "Fender bassists," combined to make our instrument a laughingstock. This attitude, though slowly dying out, persists to the present.

By all accounts, it was one thing to play your part while Rich guided the band, but quite another to initiate something and have him react or follow. Were you able to do that?

Astonishingly, yes. I never got over my fear of him, because he was such an intimidating figure, but onstage I was soon able to communicate with him and persuade him to "dialogue" with me. By sheer coincidence, my emerging Jamerson-based funk conception fit very well with Buddy's busy, polyrhythmically-based conception, which was only a modern variation on the way he'd always played. It often sounded cluttered, but I believe this was only because few risked trying to interact with him. I took a chance and tried, and his total mastery of all things musical allowed him to fit his style around mine like a glove. Of course, he didn't have to like it-I had heard endless warnings about how one could never presume to engage in a back-and-forth with Buddy Rich onstage-but I think Buddy realized that he finally had a player in the bass chair who genuinely knew and loved the so-called "New Music" while also satisfying his demand for a genuine jazz player. By the way, the great guitarist Jack Wilkins [in Rich's band], who always played sitting down without a strap, explaining that this was the logical way to play the guitar, convinced me to do the same. I've been playing that way ever since.

What was your inspiration to play bass guitar?

I first became aware of it on an album called Mr. Twelve String Guitar by a then-unknown Glen Campbell and a studio band performing some generally awful pop hits. Let's just say that one particular instrument reached out of the stereo and bit me on the ass. The love affair with the bass guitar dates roughly from that moment in 1963. The jacket listed a credit for "Fender Bass," and while the player's name has long escaped me, the memory of how the sound of the instrument affected me is still strong. In June of 1965, my mother took me to Ben's Music on West 48th Street [in New York City] and bought my first bass guitar, a nameless, cherry sunburst, medium scale, single-pickup instrument for $43. I continued playing standard as well as bass guitar until 1968, when I was forced to admit that my standard guitar playing should be quietly put to death.

When did you discover James Jamerson, and what kind of impact did he have on you?

I heard him with the Four Tops on "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" [1964], on which he played upright. Much of Jamerson's earliest Motown output is on the upright, but his character was nevertheless distinctive enough to catch my ear. The beginning of a lifetime of being knocked to the floor and stomped on came in the summer of 1966 when "Road Runner" by Junior Walker And The All Stars was released. The song opens with a classic fill by [drummer] Benny Benjamin followed by eight bars of Jamerson at his best. At that point, I knew I had my mentor, although I didn't know his name. [Ed. Note: For more on James Jamerson, see page 54.]

Was there something specific about his playing?

I could point to his tone or his rhythmic feel or his use of passing tones to redefine harmonic structures, but it was more the mentor relationship. He simply turned the key in the lock, in a very big way. A while later, in 1972, I discovered a 1968 Diana Ross And The Supremes album called Love Child, containing several major Jamerson performances and a consummate one-"How Long Has That Evening Train Been Gone?"-and was in a position to spend virtually every waking hour for several months playing along with and studying them. It was probably then that one of the foundations of my style took root.

Having Jack Casady as your other main influence seems like such a striking contrast, much like the vast difference between your pick performances and the way you play when using your fingers.

I was fortunate in having two very individualistic and diverse bass guitar talents as mentors. Casady, whom I'd first heard on the Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album in late 1966, had a big, rich, metallic sound with a full bottom and a curious, guitaristic way of playing that I was immediately drawn to. When I saw him perform live, I was struck by his dignity and serious mien. Both he and Jamerson were preoccupied with performance, not hype. I had doubled with a pick since the very beginning and had always been aware of the tendency for English players to use it, in particular John Entwistle—go back and listen to the Who's "Happy Jack" for a first-class pick outing, still very difficult to duplicate even after more than two decades—but it was Casady's sound that kept me exploring the expressive possibilities of using the pick. To this day, when I use one and a flanger, Casady's influence emerges and can be clearly detected by an aficionado.

I am always intrigued by the drastic shift in direction my style takes when I use the pick. A whole new set of solutions to creative problems comes forth. Richard Tee is a perfect example of this: He sounds completely different when playing the acoustic piano than he does on the Fender Rhodes, and the two disparate styles remain separate and clearly defined, yet there is enough carryover between them to insure that they can be identified with only one man. People often express a fear that drastically changing either instrument or approach is going to affect their identity or caliber of performance, especially as perceived by an employer. However, I feel the possession of an alternative to an already developed style is a positive, and allows a uniquely panoramic perspective on any creative situation. The belief that this is a hindrance or obstacle has probably arrested the maturation of countless individual styles.

What was your introduction to the music of contemporary composer/organist Olivier Messiaen, and why is he a pivotal figure for you?

Most of my exposure to organ music traditionally centered around Bach, but in 1967 I came across an obscure recording that featured, along with works by Franck and Bach, a piece by Messiaen, a composer whose name and works were unknown to me. The piece was entitled "Dieu Parmi Nous (God Among Us)"-described as part of a nine-piece suite. I found it curious, even compelling, but somewhat unsettling, which criticism I soon traced to problems I perceived in Virgil Fox's interpretation. I decided to look for another interpreter and was stunned to quickly find an extensive collection of Messiaen organ works performed by the composer, including the complete La Nativite Du Signeur (The Birth Of The Lord), the suite from which "Dieu Parmi Nous" was drawn. I bought that album, and as I was on my way home, I had a peculiar feeling that something spectacular was about to occur.

That night, I listened to the album, and in the space of two hours, my life had changed completely and irrevocably. La Nativite totally and instantly changed the way I heard and played music. The effect was so shattering, so ecstatic, that all of my other sensual perceptions were subtly altered as well. Although there are many other composers whose music inspires in me sensations that can only be directly associated with the divine, Olivier Messiaen, alone among them, persists in having a voice, along with Jamerson and Casady, in every intuitively creative decision I make.

Upright jazz bassists such as Scott LaFaro and Ron Carter are masters of improvisational accompaniment, a concept you apply in many musical situations. Was jazz an influence?

Yes. I was very fortunate to discover jazz when I was about 16 through the album The John Coltrane Quartet Plays, with [pianist] McCoy Tyner, [drummer] Elvin Jones, and [bassist] Jimmy Garrison. Coltrane had died only a year before, and his influence was still fresh and dominant. Making the rounds of the New York jazz clubs, most of which are now gone, I slipped quickly and deliriously under the spell of the music, feeling at home with it alongside my other creative areas. The album Ornette [by saxophonist Ornette Coleman], which was recorded shortly before Scott LaFaro's death in 1961, made a terrific impact on me as well. LaFaro had an uncanny ability to suggest key centers without elaborating them, forcing them to exist as what we could call subsidiary tonal islands in a larger sea of chromaticism. His approach differed from that of Ron Carter, who seemed to me a less angular inventor, no doubt due not only to his being a separate personality from Scott, but to the very different improvisational environment of the Miles Davis group compared to the Ornette Coleman ensemble. I am still astonished at how very different and unique LaFaro and Carter are, and how room remains for several more chromatically oriented upright players, including Garrison and Charlie Haden. Each is a master at supporting and pointing out directions to their respective ensembles without playing in a fixed key.

There has been some criticism leveled at the 6-string bass guitar. Some players call it a marketing gimmick while others feel they should master the "standard" 4-string before concerning themselves with a six. Your thoughts?

My feeling is: Why is four the standard and not six? As the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family, the instrument should have had six strings from the beginning. The only reason it had four was because Leo Fender was thinking in application terms of an upright bass, but he built it along guitar lines because that was his training. The logical conception for the bass guitar encompasses six strings. As regards the issue of "mastering the 4-string" before moving on to the six, consider that inasmuch as there is no point where one can be said to have "mastered" anything, to make this inane suggestion reveals the speakers to be idiots. As long as we remain seekers, never truly achieving our ultimate goals, we may as well start with the full basic blueprint and enjoy the expanded expressive possibilities of the extended range of the instrument. Of course, the undoubtedly famous-name superstars who utter this nonsense probably regard themselves as masters in their own right. So be it. For the rest of us, their attitude reveals them to be jealous, angry, and frustrated. Too damn bad.

When did the idea for a contrabass guitar occur to you?

As a beginner, I observed proper tuning sequence-fourths-but often brought the entire sequence down a half- or whole-step in order to put certain important bass notes in the lowest possible octave. A typical example would be a song in Eb: Sometimes, especially when playing with bands, I found myself willing to take chances with switching octaves that I might feel too intimidated to attempt when practicing to records. As I progressed, I began consistently observing normal tuning discipline, but I continued feeling constrained when practicing to a particular record whose bass part would drop below low E. The numerous recordings of organist Jimmy Smith were important to me because practicing with them helped give me a firm foundation in swing, but there was one piece, now forgotten, that had an altogether different effect: I heard a significant note, one I simply had to play, that was below my range. I realized by this point that tuning down, while it allowed the note to be played, caused a loss of sonority.

For one reason or another, I decided I'd had enough of this very unfortunate need to compromise, and an idea that had been hovering just outside of awareness popped forward. That idea was a special instrument with an extra string on the bottom. This was probably 1970. At the time, I did not possess the slightest idea about how to carry this idea further, so I bandied it about for several months, passing up a possible variation in which a low B would be the fourth string while the high G would be eliminated, thus producing a 4-string tuned down a fourth. This meant, however, that I would lose my upper range. Sometime during this period, the idea of simply putting an extra string on the bottom along with an extra string on the top began to sound logical. By the time I began traveling extensively, in 1972, the 6-string extended-range bass guitar had become, for me, an inevitability. Just a few more pieces of the puzzle had to fall into place before the dream could take shape. The most important was the discovery that there were people in the business of building electric guitars to order. I had no idea whether or not they would be amenable to building odd or unusual instruments, but I knew it would do no harm to ask. Other points to be cleared up included finding strings, determining specialized means of amplification and reproduction and, of course, the accumulation of lots of money, along with a backbone stiff enough to be willing to expend this money on an instrument that just might wind up a failure. By 1974, I was ready to search for a builder and begin the unending odyssey with the "big six."


The Anthony Jackson Interview
Part II: Innovations


In Part One of this interview (Spring '90), Anthony Jackson traced the development of his daring and original style. At the age of 12, he was inspired by the sound of a bass guitar on a Glen Campbell album and began to explore the possibilities of the instrument. Early mentors included Motown legend James Jamerson and Jack Casady of the Jefferson Airplane, as well as the French modernist composer Olivier Messiaen. A studio veteran by the time he was 20, Jackson worked with both jazz and pop artists and was a key figure in the "bass revolution" of the '70s. While carving out a reputation as a player, Anthony also explored instrument design. In 1975, his research led to the building of his first "contrabass guitar," a 6-string bass tuned (low to high) B, E, A, D, G, C.

For the past 15 years, Jackson's brilliant ideas and extended-range sound have been much in demand, and he has made key contributions to memorable recordings by such artists as Chaka Khan, Steely Dan, Al Di Meola, Paul Simon, Michel Camilo, and Eyewitness. Guitarist Steve Khan, who founded Eyewitness in 1980, observes: "People are impressed by Anthony's technique, his sound, his incredible time and feel, and his innovative work in developing the 6-string contrabass guitar. But on our recordings, the quality that shines through is his unique sense of spontaneous reharmonization. He's willing to step into places where other bassists would not dare to go."

In this final part of the interview, Anthony Jackson explains some of his technical innovations and discusses their use in different musical settings. He concludes with a thought-provoking consideration of the present and future state of his art.

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Many of your concepts seemed to come together on the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" in 1973: the tone of roundwound strings, the rhythmic and sonic possibilities of playing with a pick, and the use of time-delay effects. How did everything fall into place?

To me, the ideal bass guitar sound has always seemed to be the sound of a standard guitar dropped an octave or more in pitch. My acceptance of this principle predates my first experiences as a bass guitarist and can possibly be traced to experiments involving records played at half-speed. Sometime back in the very beginning, I can recall commenting to a school friend on the shimmering, exquisite beauty of a now-forgotten performer's bronze-stringed flat-top guitar heard on a record played at 16 rpm. At the time, I simply could not accept not being able to achieve this sound, even if my intention was not to use it all the time. A few people-Jack Casady, John Entwistle, and the Dead's Phil Lesh-achieved a sound that at least seemed to be on the right track.

I decided to try roundwound strings in 1972, when they were still a novelty and people were saying, "Don't be a fool. They're noisy, they'll eat your frets, and they make the bass sound too much like a guitar." They were a revelation. Combined with the flatpick, which I had been using since the beginning as well as fingerstyle, my instrument assumed an identity completely removed from my Jamerson self, accentuating Casady's influence.

Around the same time, the Maestro company released a phase shifter. I knew the theory behind the device, and I heard it demonstrated by a guitarist one day at Manny's Music in New York City. Henry Aldrich, the owner, insisted that the box simply would not work for me: "It's for guitar, not for bass." I bought it anyway, and when I plugged it in at home, the world changed. I was completely flabbergasted. Here was a sound I had never heard-it was beautiful and just plain right. After a few weeks, I took the unit apart and located the intensity adjustment. I did some careful tweaking and was able to subtly enhance the effect.

That particular unit and my recently purchased Fender Precision were used on "For the Love of Money." That was, as far as I know, the first time a recording was made with a phased bass guitar. Kudos to [producers] Gamble and Huff for taking a chance on the sound-I loved it desperately, but it was still alien to the marketplace, as was the right-hand technique I was using with it. It would have been understandable had they elected to follow a more conservative approach, as was their norm. The success of the record clearly vindicated my decision to incorporate the pure guitar-consciousness brought forth by the roundwound string-and-pick endeavors. I continued experimenting until I met Al Di Meola in 1975, when he saw the possibilities and thereafter provided a powerful developmental stimulus.

One increasingly prominent aspect of your playing is a muting technique involving your right-hand palm and either a pick or your thumb.

There are several aspects to right-hand muting. The use of what I call the "palm mute with pick" dates back to my early association with Di Meola. Al is quite simply a virtuoso in just about any technique involving the flatpick, and his use of mute-and-pick was, when I first saw and heard it, a revelation. I spent some time trying to cultivate it for myself and had many opportunities to apply it because of his propensity for writing parallel lines for guitar and bass guitar. I recall some mute-and-pick duets on Elegant Gypsy, and I gave it major prominence on Splendido Hotel [both albums on Columbia].

As for the "palm mute with thumb," that seems to be much older. Around 1972, I began falling heavily under the sway of Latin music, and I became enamored of the old Ampeg Baby Bass. Although it sounded pretty awful in nearly every other context, in Latin music no other bass sound could touch it, and I wanted it. I wasn't comfortable with the idea of playing an instrument with such a stylistically limited range-or perhaps I should just be honest and say that I was determined to force my instrument to give me the sound of the Baby Bass. One way or the other, thumb-and-palm emerged as a personal technique giving me what I hoped was a compatible and effective sound for Latin music. Over the years, I've gotten comfortable with it, and I feel confident using it in non-Latin situations as well, although the peculiar problems of coordination due to the non-standard right-hand position have taken a lot of effort to overcome.

I'll sometimes use thumb-and-palm for the majority of a particular recording project, often surprising my associates, who can't figure out why such an unusual approach works so well. It doesn't always work, of course, but it's great to have it available as a creative alternative. There was also a period when, in an attempt to acquire something resembling Jamerson's sound, I would carry a piece of foam to insert under the strings just ahead of the bridge. The resulting sound is similar to that achieved by the thumb-and-palm, with the advantage of full mobility for the fingers of the right hand. Lost, however, is the ability to switch quickly from muted to open strings and back, and the subtle gradations of muting, whether from string-to-string or note-to-note on a single string. The desire to use muting as an expressive stylistic device, as opposed to a simple technique, has prompted me to attempt to cultivate a more elaborate version of the thumb-and-palm method. I'm trying to integrate my right-hand fingers into the operation of picking along with the thumb, while maintaining the palm as an increasingly mobile and sensitive mute.

On Chaka Khan's Naughty and What Cha' Gonna Do for Me [both on Warner Bros.], you were able to express highly creative ideas while not only supporting the songs but kicking the hell out of the grooves. Is that the most freedom you've ever been given as a sideman?

Certainly those recordings are among the best examples of blatant commerciality infused with high art that I've been involved with. The basic tracks went down quickly and easily. They probably could have been left untouched, ready for overdubs and sweetening, were it not for my inability to find anything good to say about my own performances. They were competent, but I was absolutely not thrilled, and this was unacceptable. This situation has generally prevailed throughout my career, and in most cases I have had no recourse but to stuff a sock in my mouth and go quietly home. Those who know me, of course, know that often the sock came out and I let everyone know that if they had any sense they would let me redo my parts until I felt they were right. For the most part, this got me nowhere, though I did make many close enemies.

I will probably never know what could have been going through the minds of Chaka and her producer, Arif Mardin, in allowing me to redo every single note of every single track I played on. To make a fascinating but long story short, Naughty, which was recorded in New York in 1979, went on without concern for the bass tracks. I was given absolute artistic license, with one exception, and an unheard-of amount of time-three months-to recompose the bass parts, whereupon I notified Arif of my readiness to record. I was then given all the studio time that I required. I never found out how much my indulgence cost Chaka, but the end result is as pure an example as exists, in my own case, of the ends justifying the means.

The performances represent, with only scattered exceptions, the peak of my creative abilities at the time and in that genre. They are, hopefully, only elemental today, but I recall listening to the final mixes just before release and realizing that I was able, for the first time, to hear evidence of a defined, mature, and effective style coming through my playing. This was a revelation, a coming-of-age, and, I hoped, proof that my stubbornness in playing what I heard despite intense pressure to "conform or else" was paying off. The succeeding album, What Cha' Gonna Do for Me, recorded in Montreux in 1980, was made along similar "highbrow" lines, but with the first signs of an end of an era in sight-the budget was down and the time restricted-although the end result remains impressive.

Unfortunately, reality closed in around us after that album, and the crucial prerequisites to recordmaking of this quality are difficult to come by today. Producers are no longer inclined to grant sidemen, however esteemed, unlimited control of anything, and certainly time is more tightly rationed than anything else. The right combination of players is now highly unlikely, inasmuch as a full rhythm section is seldom seen. Machine augmentation is the rule. Most important of all, few artists of major stature have ever possessed the patience, supportiveness, musicality, and virtuosity of Chaka Khan. I've worked with countless singers, from divas to bicycle pumps, and none has been able to gather and harness such powerful creative forces as Chaka.

Many people think that you used a 5- or 6-string bass on those recordings.

I've never used a 5-string, period. Around the time of Chaka's first solo album [Chaka, Warner Bros., 1978], I resumed the search for an effective 6-string. Remember that the first two instruments had not been successful, despite my using Number One [the Carl Thompson contrabass built in 1975, see photo, page 17] for some recording and touring. In pursuing Number Three, I began discussions with Ken Smith and later Ken Parker, but these went exceedingly slowly, so I did what I could to tide myself over and secure, however awkwardly, a sub-bass range for recording. A little common sense, combined with a willingness to experiment, led me to modify my Fender [the "Career Girl," see photo, page 17] accordingly. I raised the nut, readjusted the truss rod, and did much bridge-fiddling until the instrument felt manageable when tuned down two whole-steps.

I remember feeling rather light-headed, sitting at home the night before the third or fourth session for Naughty, modifying the only instrument I was playing at the time, rendering it unsuitable for any standard project. The rashness of my actions strengthened my resolve to keep on pushing for a true contrabass guitar, confirmed by each minute spent hearing this awesome, thundering sound from my poor, abused 4-string come roaring out of the giant Altec monitors in Atlantic's Studio A.

Was working with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, reportedly among the most demanding of artists, comparable to working with Chaka Khan?

Becker and Fagen-and also Paul Simon-approach their goals a bit differently than Chaka, but all parties, at the end of the day, want all asses to have been thoroughly kicked. Fagen, in particular, is a stickler for detail, but no more so than I am, so the only important issue is whether my detailing as interpreter coincides with his as composer. Once a stylistic approach to a song has been decided-such approach, of course, having been determined almost entirely by Fagen-the actual recording of the performance begins, and this is where the legend of cruelty to musicians originates. It's true that Becker, Fagen, and Simon split more hairs than most and never hype players: no high-fives, no reverential cursing. You've played well? Good; next song. Or more likely: Not good; do it again. Still not good; again. Still not good; go home. Many did. This kind of ferocious performance-disciplining, far from intimidating me, sends adrenaline pouring into my bloodstream. Split hairs, will you? Split this!

Becker and Fagen made neurosis and obsession rewarding and uplifting. Endless hours were spent analyzing and refining the smallest performance details without noticeably improving the music. But I must say that the two tracks I did for Steely Dan's Gaucho [MCA]-"Glamour Profession" and "My Rival"-and the two on The Nightfly [Donald Fagen's solo album on Warner Bros.]-"I.G.Y." and "Ruby Baby"-did improve my ability to constructively analyze a performance. Becker and Fagen's constant prodding, combined with their willingness to let me prod myself-even allowing me to destroy a performance they loved because I insisted on redoing the entire part-helped put titanium in my spine.

By comparison, Chaka and Arif were more like political anarchists. Unsupervised creative license was the order of the day-well, almost-but somehow discipline always seemed to settle on top of the proceedings, and a need for order, or perhaps consistency is a better word, wound up governing the proceedings. If there is a lesson in this, perhaps it is that the final creative product is achieved by processes unique to the performer, and that external forces, whether highly regimented or equally intense but unstructured, are no more than catalysts in the hands of a player determined to make a statement.

In Eyewitness, the emphasis is on group interaction. How is that different from playing in a standard rhythm section?

Eyewitness is not as hierarchical as a conventional rhythm section. The traditional melody, harmony, and rhythm assignments are deliberately less defined and more fluid, both compositionally and improvisationally. Early on, Steve Khan decided he did not want a keyboard player in the ensemble, thereby forcing increased harmonic responsibility on his and my shoulders. Critics have at times referred to the group's sound as sparse, but there is actually considerable harmonic density-it's simply scattered or distributed between the two guitars, with no assurance that the dominant harmonic direction is starting where it might be expected to. The concept of dialogue must be mentioned. It isn't simply a matter of Steve playing something with me "finishing" his idea; I may play parallel to his ideas or deliberately against them, in the manner of freewheeling, intense conversation. Often my response to what he plays is adversarial. Just as often, I will attempt to lead the conversation, knowing that his response may take the evolving ideas in a particular direction. When all conditions necessary to the making of great music are present, Eyewitness functions as a sort of zeppelin: massive, stately, imposing, and unconcerned, yet fragile in the sense that all members must continually participate in guidance or the framework can be blown easily into the side of a mountain and destroyed.

What's your opinion of the state of the bass guitar?

Let me start by expressing relief that there still is a "state of the bass guitar" in a world of sequencer-musicians and low-brain-capacity listeners. That said, I want to mention Pino Palladino as one of the best bass guitarists working today. [The classical pianist] Artur Rubinstein once stated, "Whenever a rival plays well, it's annoying. When he plays badly, it's irritating." Pino is, in the best possible way, a major-league annoyance. What an astounding talent! He takes a fully mature style and can fit it in and around any larger context, enhancing the latter while tastefully showcasing the former. Remember that performers often spend a lifetime without being able to master this seemingly simple concept.

What about 6-string players?

One person who comes to mind as having a good feel for the 6 is John Patitucci. Clearly, he plays the instrument out of a love for it and not to be well-liked. The instrument is still new to most, and unfortunately many people are playing it because they can't think of anything else to do that sets them before the world in a positive light. They usually compound this foolishness by joining the slap-and-clone wars. Others are using it as an extension of the upright, which is equally inane. You will never play the bass guitar to its full capabilities, to its ultimate level, unless you accept its ancestry.

What's ahead for you?

I'm not that far from 40, and at this stage in most people's lives, thoughts begin to touch on mortality. All around us, evidence of death begins to hit home at an increasing rate. Friends and relatives increasingly suffer the effects of accident and illness. Influential figures in the life of the artist die, often leaving a terrible void. Heralded stylistic achievements gradually become scorned, or are forgotten entirely. One inevitably begins to think of posterity. Accompanying these thoughts are tendencies to focus on more significant artistic goals. The high-school mentality of who's faster and flashier begins to lose its hold. One loses patience with the cheap, the exhibitionistic, the inconsequential. Hopefully, one also experiences a general growth of the inner self, resulting in "taste." All these things together, if we are lucky, prompt us to seek our identities in projects and forms of expression that we would have found overly ambitious or even incomprehensible in an earlier, more frivolous period.

My plans, extending now over a five- to forty-year timetable, include the development of a solid repertoire of pieces suitable for performance in both solo and ensemble presentation. These pieces include original works by commission as well as works by transcription. Two composers whose works I have been tackling for several years now are Paul Hindemith and Heitor Villa-Lobos. With the continuing improvement in the quality of the prototypes, I've been able to make, at last, serious progress. The art and technique of transcription is murderously demanding when one is attempting to remain faithful to the original score, and that's only half the problem. In the case of the Villa-Lobos, I have encountered performance problems every two or three bars, some of which have defied solution, sometimes for months. Despair is a constant companion, not always in the forefront, but always in sight. The only counter to this is a maniacal determination to see the project through. I have the satisfaction, however, of knowing that even if I don't live long enough to realize my dreams, I damn sure will make a hell of a player out of myself along the way.
Última edición por Bajísimo el 10 Abr 2006 15:25, editado 2 veces en total
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Notapor Gaston » 08 Abr 2006 22:19

Gracias por postear la entrevista, muy interesante :wink:
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