Global Bass Online April 2002
by Alessandro Arcuri
noticed that often jazz musicians with a classical background, when facing
modern harmony studies, claim that they’re learning more from those studies,
rather than from classical harmony ones, often too strictly linked to rules that
are long surpassed, nowadays. Did that happen to you too?
believe that my learning course has gone the opposite way, much like the
conclusions I came to. I begun by studying jazz harmony (which I would define
“theory of improvisation”) and afterwards I took a direction towards
“cultured” music, which is not strictly “classical” music, but it’s
rather “contemporary”. I’m really interested in modern composers, even if
the attraction towards those “fathers” like Bach is strong, like in every
can’t tell if there are really two different harmonies, but I don’t really
think so. I see two different languages, with different styles, but I really
feel it’s no use to consider them separately. I believe that all the greatest
Jazz composers and arrangers, from Duke Ellington to Gil Evans, and from Vince
Mendoza to Maria
Schneider, and so on, drew from Bach and Schoenberg, and Stravinsky and Mahler,
but I also believe that 20th century composers were also influenced
by Jazz, to a certain degree.
I came to dislike is that “clustered” approach to harmony of some jazz
books; I prefer to consider harmony as a science in which the process to reach a
goal is as stimulating as the goal itself.
what those musicians you were talking about hate, is a surpassed teaching
method, rather than classical harmony in particular, and also learning programs
that force you to study a topic in a way that has no longer any practical
application... it’s no mystery that Conservatory’s programs really need to
be re-adjusted, but can we say that the cure will be better than the disease?
you think that arranging a tune can be a tough issue for a bassist, whose role
is often “limited” to a rhythmic function - even if it still is the pivotal
point of all harmony - compared to how it can be for - let’s say - a pianist?
Given the proper musical knowledge, of course, I noticed that often bass players
have a different way of thinking than pianists. Do you feel it’s more
difficult to approach an arrangement or do you think that since we are used to
live the music “from the ground up” (from the basis of harmony and rhythm),
makes the task easier?
think it’s difficult to rearrange a tune without ruining it, no matter what
instrument you play. I must tell that since I learned to use the piano (and note
that I said “use” not “play”) to write music, the quality of what I
write got better, but it can also happen that technical skills get over
bass players write differently from piano players, but all the best bassists
also play a bit of piano.
real difference I found, considering my personal experience, is that I have to
stretch more my imagination, since it’s impossible, for me, to play all the
different orchestra parts.
not saying that for a pianist it’s easier, but for me it’s impossible. I
rely on my imagination.
on your beautiful CD, homage to Jaco Pastorius, is a tribute to one of the
latest innovators on electric bass, and since it also features another big
innovator as Michael Manring, where do you think bass is heading, nowadays?
the open tunings that Manring is experimenting and the absurd tapping ostinatos
of Les Claypool, just to tell a couple of names, what do
you think can still be said on the instrument?
Do you know any other innovator, on bass, now?
think that the names are the ones that everybody already knows. I don’t know
very well Les Claypool’s work, but I think that Michael’s one is absolutely
think that him and, in a different way also Marcus Miller, are the true Jaco’s
heirs, because their sound is very different from his one, and that gives them a
very personal voice, even if the Master’s influence is inevitable: it would be
like playing Bebop and pretend not to play Parker.
Michael’s incredible... the energy that he conveys in his shows is
unbelievable, he’s an orchestra just by himself, and I’m not only talking
about his wild use of polyphony, I’m talking about his sheer sonic impact.
I’ve never seen anyone using so many different techniques without being like a
circus show, except in his case.
he’s also a man of uncommon intelligence and even more rare modesty and
kindness. It’s truly an honor for me to be a friend of his.
The covers of the Pastorius’ tunes that are featured
on your CD range from the most genuine quotes to the most radical arrangements.
In the cover of “Havona” you explain, in the CD booklet’s notes, how the
tune itself led to a somewhat “one way to the final arrangement”, whereas in
the case of Continuum you start with a very honest quote of the original theme,
and only afterwards you give more space to personal contributions that lead then
back to the main theme. Did you approach each song only with a particular idea
you had in mind, adapting the arrangement until it met what you wanted to hear,
or did you let the intrinsic nature of each tune dictate the road to follow?
The primary directive was that the music had to be as much “mine” as possible, still being inspired to the Master’s music. It’s actually a reinterpretation of Jaco’s material, not intended only as music.
I put some precise limits, I didn’t do any fragmentation or any modification to the original melodies; I wanted that the tune to be arranged had to be still recognizable, because that music does not need any “correction”, being already perfect the way Pastorius conceived it.
Still I wanted to come up with something that was “the fruit of my intellect” (just to quote the code of S.I.A.E. [translator’s note: the Italian Society of Authors and Editors]) and that I felt as much “mine” as possible. So I shifted my attention on the harmonic and timbre side.
If you notice I had deep respect to the original form of the tunes, while I had a more personal approach towards the standards. Trying to alter harmonies such as "Three views’" one would be like ruining perfection, but even when a song went under a deep reinterpretation, the original version was still quoted on the opening part (such as in Continuum)
the CD balances between the quote and the invention; rather than adding ideas
and running the risk of ruining everything, all the ideas are reinterpreted.
That’s what happens when Havona’s solo is re-introduced by the horns section, but also, looking at the whole CD’s architecture, with the introduction of “Donna Lee” as the opening tune. That’s played by Michael Manring and myself, clearly quoting the original version (note the E major ending), but rendering a whole different thing, if you consider the mood and the humor. The CD ends with Jaco playing the piano, exactly like in his first record, where Herbie Hancock plays a piano solo in the closing tune. So, this way, the whole CD is filled with the echoes of Jaco’s work.
about Jaco, there’s a well-known saying of him that goes “I know exactly
where I stole every note”. The importance of the sources of inspiration, for a
musician, is clear; but knowing how to deal with them is a whole different
thing. How do you think
a young musician could find the right balance between the imitation of an artist
he or she draws inspiration from, and the development of a true personal voice
on the instrument?
how do you convey this to your students?
my teaching method I try to “quote my sources”.
time I teach something I try to give a logical explanation in order to stimulate
the urge to keep on studying… if, for instance, I’m explaining my own
solutions to particular problems, otherwise, noticing how diverse are the
sources to draw from, I make clear how useful is a particular knowledge and how
other musicians apply it.
often cite musicians who do not play bass… it can happen that only by
imitating how Michael Brecker plays you can sound different from this or that
bassist, given the differences of approach. Often an instrument’s limitations
are the strength of another one, and the key to move forward.
When you talk about “quoting your sources” I
can’t help to notice that, for example, when you start your solo on “Havona”,
you quote Miles Davis’ “Four”, then you give the example of Michael
Brecker as another source of inspiration; I’ve seen that the horns are among
the instruments we draw mostly from, in order to broaden the possibilities of
our instrument. Do you think it’s just because they have a deeper tradition of
solo playing than electric bass (and even of double bass) or is it because they
have such different roles that it’s inevitable to find new approaches and new
ways of playing?
must admit that when I played the solo on “Havona” and I became aware of the
quoting you just mentioned I wasn’t very happy, because it seemed a bit out of
context. But then I came to think that Jaco, in his solo, clearly quoted
Stravinsky’s “The rite of spring” and I felt better, because also my solo,
then, had a philological meaning.
think that drawing from many sources (Coltrane, Hendrix, the Beatles, Bach,
Marley, Caribbean music…) is one of the greatest gifts of Jaco. You never knew
what to expect from such a guy, with such a variety of styles he colored his
music with. That’s typically jazz, after all…. Stealing from all the
“nearby” genres and making them your own… even if I think we’re kind of
losing that habit, going towards a sort of “crystallization” of the jazz
Michael Brecker, he’s one of my favorite musicians, and I think he’s one of
the most advanced modern soloists. Drawing from him necessarily enriches your
bag of tricks, both technically and harmonically. I believe that every
instrument has its limits, but each instrument’s limits can be another
instrument’s strength… drawing from the works of other bassists is surely
useful, but drawing from other instruments widens your palette and it helps
finding your own style, like it helps getting inspiration from the vocals, too.
often have this saying in my head, I don’t know who said it, but it goes like
this: “Jazz is that music where the voice imitates the instruments and the
instruments imitate the voice.”
don’t feel I could leave out one of the two hypothesis you gave, I’d even
say they’re both right, because after all music is a form of art where no past
experience must be thrown away and everything can be useful.
Moriconi, in one of his training books, says that often a musician models his
musical taste upon his technical limitations; he advises a complete mastering of
the instrument you play in order to get the most out of it. It’s also true
that if you don’t have anything to say, but you’re skilled, sooner or later
you bore everyone out; how do you think you can avoid falling in the
“technique as the ultimate goal” trap?
difficult to say; it’s such a subjective matter. The technique itself is a
complex discipline. It’s often considered a synonym of speed, but it’s a
misunderstanding you get from a superficial knowledge.
see technique as something more linked to obtaining the sound with your skills;
the ability to execute difficult passages, that is.
Jaco the bass guitar became a virtuoso instrument, like the bass community rose
up saying “we exist, too!”. It’s not been possible to conceive the
electric bass in the same way anymore.
also true that Jaco wasn’t simply a skilled player, he was a wonderful
musician, and his bass themes are still impossible to emulate (due to his
formidable chops). Every bassist knows how to play “Teentown”, but if
someone tries to play “A remark you made” the difference is clear! Not to
mention those who can play the “Donna Lee” head, but don’t know how to
comp it with a decent walking line!
think that the “trap” you mentioned can be avoided trying not to forget what
instrument you’re playing and why you play it. What’s its purpose and what
are the features that the other musicians look for in a bassist.
of my students show up with their thumb in the air, asking me to show them how
to slap, while others go crazy trying to play tapped cello suites, but they
can’t follow an F blues. They don’t want to be bassists. I can tell you that
you learn those things in the worst way, being fired again and again, until you
realize that bass is not a guitar tuned an octave below.
you play both electric and double bass, do you find that the two instruments
have two roles that, even if similar, still are different, because of their
different sound and approach, or did you discover an influence of one towards
the other, in the way you play them?
study of double bass gave me a musical and technical knowledge that the electric
didn’t. I learned how to study it in order to optimize the time I had to spend
on an instrument I hated, because it kept me apart from my true love, the
learned to listen to music that didn’t belong to the electric bass literature;
I found out that with no drums I had problems in making the rhythm clear, and I
wasn’t aware of that. I clashed with some limits I had and didn’t see, as a
boy. Maybe that was because the instruments I played didn’t challenge me
enough, or maybe because of my young age.
more limits I discovered the more I had to work to overcome them. And also the
double bass didn’t allow me to “fly”, I had to “walk”. And that forced
me to think about the music, rather than focusing only on the instrument, I
learned to keep the hands in check until I had something in my head to say. Now
that I fell in love with double bass, too, and I can think only about music, I
can choose the sound that fits better in every situation, like a trumpet player
with four different mutes. The only difference is that four mutes weigh a lot
less than four basses! It annoys me having to explain to all the people that
tell me they prefer double bass that’s not a problem of mine, but it’s
theirs… what should I do… throw away the instrument?
duet you did with the singer Diana Torto, with the collaboration of two sax
players and a cello player, is not
exactly what you could call a typical band’s line up. How do you approach such
situations from a bassist but also arranger’s point of view?
solutions... sound-wise. My worst nightmare is that people fall asleep at a
concert of mine (and that happens to better musicians than me, too)
think that you must avoid boredom putting always something new into music, using
all parameters, such as rhythm, harmony, timbre, dynamics, form and all their
combinations. All the instruments in that line up (that are seldom used together
at the same time) are used in unusual roles... imitating the missing
instruments. If you want guitar you can pluck the cello, if you want distortion
you put a piece of paper between the double bass’ strings... et voilà,
if you want tablas you use the soprano sax’s keys, if you want the brushes on
the snare you use the reed, and so on... or you drag your right hand on the
bass’ body while the left hand taps the fundamentals. That way arranging the
parts becomes like having a whole orchestra at your disposal. On the contrary,
the first times I had the chance to work with an orchestra I made everyone play
at the same time, and that produced only a single sound I could work with. I
learned a lot by working with small line-ups and trying to achieve a sound
similar to the one of a whole orchestra, and that taught me that, for instance,
in a brass section you could have something like twenty singers, no matter which
instrument they play.
seen that you are a faithful user of Italian basses and amps, is that the fruit
of a long research or did you favor our products right from the start?
tell you the truth they favored me right from the start... I’m working
together with Laurus, Mari
and MarkBass since many years... but I
wouldn’t do that if I didn’t find what I was looking for.
usually stay aside from the market and musical instruments shops, but that’s
because I’m so close to those makers that I can just let them know my needs
and have a solution in a very short time.
MarkBass there’s a special relationship because it all started when their amp
was just a gray box with big black knobs on it. Most of the early development
tests were done with my instruments, so it was inevitable that for me it would
have become the best amp around.
can visit Maurizio Rolli’s web site at: http://www.mauriziorolli.com
Rolli's CDs are also available through Amazon.com.
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