Global Bass Online February 2002
By Brent-Anthony Johnson
A native of Chicago, Kam began learning music at an early age under the tutelage of his mother, a classical pianist, and the great concert pianist, Erna Salm. In the midst of his piano studies, he was recruited by his Grade-school orchestra to play cello - an instrument he continued to study throughout his college years. Kam comments, "This was significant because it gave me experience working in all sorts of ensembles playing chamber music and orchestral music and it introduced me to the music of the great composers."
At age eleven, tragedy struck his family. His parents divorced, and his father returned to his native country, Jordan. His mother passed away two years later. Obviously, this situation greatly effected Kam, and his brother and sister's lives. Kam found himself with an uncle, and living in Des Moines, Iowa, who was leaving a successful corporate position to join the priesthood - which, he had, earlier abandoned, in order to pursue a career in corporate America.
This taught Kam the importance of life's true calling, and the dangers of betraying that calling. It's something he never forgot. Today, and every day, Kam gives glory to God for seeing him through the difficult years of his early life, and for sustaining him through every day.
At seventeen, Kam began studying commercial art at Northeast Missouri State University. There, he found himself playing cello in the symphony, bass in the jazz band, and even bass drum in the marching band! During this time, he joined the music fraternity at the college, and began playing professional gigs on bass. He left Missouri to relocate to Florida, and then he spent four more years in college at UF as a music theory/composition major. By night, he was gigging, transcribing the songs and solos of his favorite jazz artists, and learning to record on a four-track that he purchased with his tuition money!
After graduating in 1987, he relocated to South Florida to enroll in the graduate program at the University of Miami (Studio Jazz Writing). He also began a secondary career that has included traveling around the world as a musician. In addition to playing jazz, he's played in Top-40, rock, and even country ensembles over the past decade as both bassist and keyboardist.
Kam began composing and recording the material that became Native Tongue in 1990, while teaching audio at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Kam says, "I patiently set out to record the project, having no idea that I wouldn't finish it until 2002! During these years, I met many of Native Tongue's special guests while performing and recording, simply loving what they did and asking them to collaborate. I also learned to author multimedia in the mid-90's and Native Tongue became a multimedia project for me as well as a musical one. So I hope listeners will check out the enhancement on the CD!"
Here's what we chatted about...
BAJ: Good talkin' with you man, and I hope the disc is very successful.
The back of the disc features a photograph of you playing a Ken Smith 6. Was that the main bass on the disc?
KF: Yes! I played the Ken Smith six-string bass on Native Tongue, and I recently picked up a Fender Precision four-string while overhauling my bass rig.
BAJ: Good stuff! I really like the sound of that instrument, and I look forward to hearing more from you. Tell us about your composing process, and how the tunes took shape. Also, talk with us about your choice of the Ken Smith 6...
KF: Well, I guess it was listening to John Pattituci that convinced me to try more than four strings. I borrowed a Fender five-string for a few gigs and found that I liked having the extra low end. I figured, if played judiciously, a six-string could open up some new approaches to the instrument, especially from a compositional standpoint. The Native Tongue project started as a solo recording at Studio 21 in Boca Raton, FL. First, everything (including the drums) went down in MIDI format. Then I started bringing in one player at a time to replace the MIDI tracks with the real thing. As one might imagine, achieving a 'live band' sound with this approach can be elusive, but that's what I was going for, and I was lucky enough to collaborate with players who understood how to interact effectively under those circumstances.
BAJ: Talk to our readers about the tunes on the disc. Which one's are
favorites, and why...?
KF: My favorite tune is usually the one most recently written! On Native Tongue, that tune is "PURSUIT". In addition to the fact that it represents a more up-to-date snapshot of my writing, this tune was recorded from start to finish in my own studio, which made it a cakewalk when compared to the rest of the CD. Most of the difficulty and delay I faced in finishing Native Tongue was due to the fact that Studio 21 closed in the middle of production, and I was left with a box full of reels, zip disks, CD's, ADAT's... you name it! I had to build my own home studio, then re-assemble the project from all these sources. It gave me some gray hairs, but I'm glad I followed through with it.
BAJ: Whoa! You've, no doubt, taken this in stride far better than I could! Given my disposition, I'd be a hotdog salesman by now! (laughter) Are you still focusing on your career as a teacher? Or, have you all but abandoned that to support Native Tongue?
KF: Teaching at the Art Institute has been a great experience, and I plan to continue doing it because I like the environment. I would consider taking a sabbatical for a Native Tongue related opportunity, but I like being in education and having a home base.
BAJ: Good point. Stability, especially with a family (or other responsibilities) is a good thing to keep in mind! You've traveled the world as a bassist and keyboardist (sometimes doubling as both!)... tell us what you've learned through your travels, and how has that effected your writing?
KF: Mostly, I've learned versatility and adaptability. When traveling, you have to create your own sense of stability and focus, because it's easy to lose yourself in the gig. And since you're constantly on the move, you're accountability is mainly to yourself, so maintaining your own sense of purpose is the biggest challenge when working as a sideman. I've always brought along whatever tools I could carry in order to stay productive and keep composing when on the road.
There's usually lots of down time on these gigs and I try to make good use of it. I remember jamming with some heavy players on the road and learning from watching their shows. I think that has affected my writing (and playing) in ways even I haven't imagined.
BAJ: I meant to ask this earlier... Who have you been travelling with, and did any of those artists appear on the disc? While we're at it, talk with us about how you met some of the players who appeared.
KF: I traveled around the world in 1986 as the leader and keyboardist of a jazz trio. The gig was on a Greek cruise ship called the "Illiria." I've done a few other cruise ship gigs as a bassist - playing standards, and backing up shows. Also, in '96 - '97, I toured with Dennis Lee, a great showman who taught me the importance of involving an audience. That was a country gig! I met Elliott Randall when he sat in with the rock band, FUSE. I was performing with them in Ft. Lauderdale for the last couple years.
BAJ: Are you going to tour behind Native Tongue?
KF: I have already begun to assemble the band, and the plan is to do some gigs in Florida and to build from there.
BAJ: Cool! Will there be another disc from Kam Falk? What musicians are you listening to most recently, and who are your favorites?
KF: The next disc will be cut live! I want to record it at Phat Planet Studios in Orlando with my good friend and producer, Ed Krout. I hope to continue authoring multimedia and enhancing the CD’s as well. Maybe the next disc will be a DVD, as I'm getting more into visual elements now, and would like to try surround mixing. Recently, I've been listening to Alain Caron's incredible bass playing and John Pattituci's new record, "Communion," for inspiration. I was also recently introduced to Michael Manring and was floored by his playing.
BAJ: Yeah! Alain, John, and Michael are on my favorites' list, as well. Great players, all...
When you compose, what is the ultimate goal? Some write to reach into themselves, while others write to reach out to others. What are your comments about this procedure?
KF: I'd have to say that my ultimate goal is to reel in the listener with a memorable melody and to make every note count. Beyond that, I think if a composition is really working, it's conveying a feeling that transcends the performances and takes the listener to another time and place.
BAJ: Nicely said, man! Hip us to some of your other interests.
KF: Well, I love boating, fishing and cycling. Also, I had a great time spelunking (exploring Carlesbad Caverns) with my friend, Lou. But you will find me at my computer, bass or keyboard most of the time!
BAJ: Many of our readers have played similar roles as doublers on other instruments: electric and acoustic bass; bass and guitar; and even bass and keyboard. Do you feel there are benefits to doubling on other instruments? Also, do you consider your primary instrument to be bass, or keyboard?
KF: I think getting proficient on more than one instrument can be very beneficial. There's a bit of give and take, because when one divides time between instruments, it's a little less likely that he or she will become a Herbie Hancock, a Pat Metheny or an Alain Caron – someone who is immediately identified with a particular instrument. I consider bass to be my primary instrument, because I feel very much at home performing on bass. However, my musical training on keyboard has much more to do with my writing, as you already seemed to have noticed!
BAJ: (laughter). It's a great thing to have another instrumental study - beyond the bass, particularly, the bass guitar - and I appreciate that direction in any bassist. I've long preached the idea of studying keyboard as a second instrument to the readers of this magazine. When I find a person, like yourself, who follows my selfish ideal... I run with it! Wrap
me up and call me human...
Let's talk ethnic background. I believe that one's 'non-Western' heritage often plays into that person's compositions - I sight Mick Karn, Fima Ephron, and even myself (being influenced by my racial and cultural heritage) as examples of this comment. Was the music from Jordan part of your upbringing, and does is play a part in your heart's music?
KF: Actually, I am enthralled with music of all ethnicities, including Middle Eastern music. The name, NATIVE TONGUE, was really my way of saying that music is the only language we can ALL truly understand in our own way.
I love to try and zero in on what lures listeners with music of different ethnic backgrounds. Especially with instrumental music, since that's so much less obvious than just trying to understand lyrics.
BAJ: Tell us about your current recording and performance rig(s).
KF: The amp I'm using is an Ampeg B5R with an Ampeg 4X10 cabinet. My keyboard rig is an Ensoniq KT-88 with an EV 7300 amp and a Yorkville cabinet.
BAJ: Is there anything you would like to say in closing to our readers?
KF: First, I need to say 'thank you' for listening! One of the most important things I've learned along the way is not to wait for the music industry to come to me. With the internet revolution came a whole new music industry. I don't think the dust has even settled yet, in terms of how artists will make it today and tomorrow, but the old school approach of looking to get 'signed' went out the window while I was still in the midst of production. One of the advantages artists have today, though, is the fact that there's a more level playing field now, especially for those using the internet to promote their work.
The challenge to composers is to stay on top of technology without getting swallowed-up by it. Now that we're being bombarded with so many choices all the time, it's become a necessity for us to move more decisively, avoid clutter and stay focused on what's really important...making great music!
Thank you for talking with us, Kam! You’re a great musician and composer, and I think we’ll be hearing a lot from you in the future! Check out Kam’s website at: www.nativetongue.com
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