The electric bass….the instrument from which I found my identity and my passion for music.
I still remember the specific moments that made me want to be a bass player, and they all took place in 9th and 10th grade. I was a freshman in high school in September 1983 when I met Jonathan Sanborn for the first time. He and my brother were seniors, and Jon took me under his wing. He was hanging out at school listening to Marcus Miller’s “Suddenly” album. This was the first time I listened to the electric bass as a lead instrument, and it was when I also realized that I had heard Marcus on music that I was already listening to, like Luther Vandross, Grover Washington Jr. and Roberta Flack. His bass had such a pure sound, and I loved how he played slap bass with such an amazing groove. Although i wouldn’t truly start to learn the bass for another year and a half, I found music that I could totally wrap my brain around that truly resonated with me.
My second moment was when I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch Late Night with David Letterman. Paul Shaffer and the World’s Most Dangerous Band knocked me on my ass! This was the band that had Hiram Bullock on guitar, Steve Jordan on drums and Will Lee on bass. I had never heard a band that had this sound, and Will’s bass playing blew my mind, as he could play any style of music, and he always sounded flawless. An added bonus was that these guys weren’t just cool……they were super fucking cool, and I wanted to be just like them in any way that I could. It was worth going to school half awake from staying up so late, because I was getting such an awesome education in music four nights a week.
In 10th grade, we had a new student in our high school who moved to Upstate New York from Jacksonville Florida. He was a senior, and he was the new bass player for our high school jazz band. His name was Sean Tarleton, and the two of us hit it off immediately, as we were both low brass players. Sean introduced me to the bass playing of Jaco Pastorius, and Jaco’s bass playing was like nothing I’d EVER heard before. To me, there are musicians who revolutionized their instrument, like Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. Jaco turned the whole style of bass playing upside down, making the fretless bass a lead instrument, and using harmonics as an amazing way of playing full chords. (His cover of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” – holy shit!!) It was this same year that we formed a band and won our high school talent show….that night was the first real taste of playing for a huge audience, and it was something I knew I wanted to do again and again.
In the summer of 1985, I started to play electric bass….learning to play was challenging, exciting and enlightening! (And yes, as a 16-year-old playing a guitar, impressing girls was definitely a major factor.) My weekends were about hanging out with my band mates and listening to all types of music. This was when I feel like my horizons were truly broadened, as it was my love of hearing the bass that turned me on to cats like Stanley Clarke, John Entwhistle, and Geddy Lee. I also spent a lot of time going through my dad’s jazz albums, and started listening to upright bassists like Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb. I think back on this time in my life, and I’m truly thankful that I had these experiences at a such an impressionable age.
Although I majored in voice in college, I still spent a great deal of time listening to a variety of music – this is when I did a deep dive into the music of Frank Zappa, John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, while still listening to Marcus, Jaco, Will, and this “new wave” bass player in the band Level 42 named Mark King. I was the lead singer for an eight-piece horn band, and I still finagled my way into playing bass on a couple of tunes. (And we won the Battle of the Bands at Ithaca College!) It still blows my mind that this was 30 years ago, as these gigs are still fresh in my mind, as if they happened yesterday.
I realized that I was never going to be a virtuoso bass player, and my carpal tunnel syndrome (and eventual surgery) took a great deal of strength and dexterity out of my left hand. I still play, but it’s more Rock and R&B, where I can focus more on playing “in the pocket” instead of playing solos. I’m very fortunate to work with Andy Alonso and Dave Sheaffer, two incredibly talented bass players with the Cruise Control Band. I love doing gigs with either one of these guys, because even though I’m singing and playing horn, I’m still listening to what they’re throwing down, and it’s very inspiring to listen to their magnificent musicianship.
There’s a t-shirt that says “World’s Most Okayest Bass Player”….that would suit me to a T! I know my limitations when playing, but I love to listen to bass playing in ALL types of music. It was the bass that opened my eyes (and ears) to a world of music that I never would have known about. I still listen to music at least one hour a day, and more often than not, it’s jazz, rock or R&B. And I’m still “all about that bass”, and I’m sure my mom was happy I grew up this way!