~ The Evidence...
By Brent-Anthony Johnson
As we enter a New Year, Decade, and
Century, we also find ourselves
witnessing a growing maturity in musicianship as it pertains to our chosen
instrument. It seems that as each year passes, we are reading interviews of
some previously unknown bass wunderkind in some previously uncharted part of
his planet we share. Fortunately, we also occasionally read of those players
who are shaping the future of the instrument, and whose approach to this
idea of playing bass is so refreshing that their contributions are
One player, who's made a great impression on bassists the world over, is
Matthew Garrison. Much has been said of the fact that Matthew is the son of
Jimmy Garrison, who is best known as the fantastic acoustic contra bassist
with Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones and others throughout
the1960s. Matthew brings a startlingly individual voice to the bass guitar
that includes undeniably remarkable musicianship, keen ear, and incredible
tone - the "Big 3" rules of music, if ever there were rules to the game.
In the following dialogue, Matthew and I discuss his approach to the bass
guitar; his influences; his long-standing relationship with Fodera
Instruments; and the recent release of his premier, self-titled solo disc!
I chatted with the man over the telephone on a freezing New York evening
recently. Matthew is a relaxed, and friendly human being - something
generally overlooked by those yearning for his deserved "superstar" status.
It is the evidence of true calling that exists in his being...
Let's get to the big news first! Congratulations on your first disc!
What else is going on at GarrisonJazz, and will you tour behind the disc?
Well, right now I'm very focused on getting this CD available to those who
want to partake in this adventure and it's quite difficult sifting through the bureaucracy of the music industry but well worth the effort. I'm
searching for various CD Retailers or Distributors to invest, and of course, reap the benefits of selling this CD. The response I've been getting
from folks all over the globe has been very uplifting, encouraging and the fuel behind my
persistence. I'm currently working on a new studio solo studio project and organizing several live dates in NYC to be recorded and
printed up as my second official CD. So basically there are two more CD's in the works. I'm also finishing up my first Bass Techniques manual. As far as
touring I'm going to wait until I've sold enough CD's to create a demand for a live performance.
Your playing expresses a desire to actually trigger a response in
people - empathy if you will - and a willingness to communicate with your audience. You're not just blowing people away with incredible chops. There
is also a balance that most players under 40 years of age find completely
MG: I think I was lucky in the fact that I decided to focus on harmonic
knowledge and finding a way around chord progressions first and then moving on to technical facility. I believe
technique is meant to enhance our ideas. I remember my mother Roberta Escamilla Garrison telling me how Coltrane
never left an idea undeveloped. If there was something he liked he had to learn it and find a way to express that idea and I've accepted that as the
rule. Music has been, is and will always be an extension of our life. It's our vehicle to express what words cannot say and I'm in love with music
because of that reason. I can't tell you how many times I've listened to music that has brought me to tears, made me laugh, angry, jealous, in
awe...I'm always hopeful that others may react to my ideas in the same manner.
Every tune on your disc tells a story. Which tunes are you favorites,
MG: It's hard for me to say which one's are my favorites since they all meant
something to me, at one point or another. The only reason any composition sounds the way it does is because I arranged it to sound that way. I could
have taken any tune and made it sound like the previous one if I had chosen a specific instrumentation or musician to perform it. In a way I wish I had
chosen other configurations or arrangements for some compositions for this project but it was meant to be the way it is. I favor all the tunes because
they can all be something completely different at any given time.
Tell us more about the New York Scene and your take on its benefits.
MG: There are 3 reason's NY is great: Studying, business, and inspiration... Not
necessarily in that order. Those reasons can be both beneficial or hindering depending on your needs as a human being.
Who are some of your favorite players - both those you've played with,
and those you'd like to play with in the future?
MG: John McLaughlin is by far one of the greatest musicians/leaders I've ever
worked with. Never a mind game... Never a sense of ownership... Never offensive... But very knowledgeable, giving, and compassionate... A true
pleasure to be around and to learn from. I'd love to work with Wayne Shorter, as he is one of my great heroes. Sting, Elvin Jones, The Bulgarian
Women's Choir, Peter Gabriel, are others.
Are there any bassist you find yourself relating to through listening
to them (or meeting them), and do you think it is important to listen to bassist in this age of the "super bassist"?
MG: The three bassists I can relate to the most that are in the public eye are
Gary Willis, Dominique DiPiazza, and Oteil Burbridge. Other musicians I have an interest towards at the moment are folks like Mike Pope, Tim
Lefebvre, and Janek Gwizdala. I guess it's relatively important to listen to other
bassists if you're into that world but not necessarily for inspiration. Most recordings I hear of bassists do not focus on the strength of composition,
which I think is a pity. Usually the ear of the bassist is very well trained due to the very nature of our function. We are the absolute bridges between
rhythm and harmony and that is key in composition.
You've accomplished composing music that reaches beyond the typical
"bass disc". What is your approach to composing?
MG: I come up with a melody, chord sequence, bass part and mix and match until I
come up with something that will work as an entire piece. It's actually quite intriguing and lot's of fun once I get to hear the final version. Once
I have the skeleton structure of the composition I hand it over to the true composers who are the individual musicians and see what
happens. I guess as a composer I lean more towards folks like Stevie Wonder, Sting, Prokofiev, Nik Kershaw, Zawinul, Earth Wind and Fire, Debussy, Indian
Classical/Folkloric music, and generally more experimental artists.
As you're very involved with up and coming bassist through The
Collective, I imagine that you feel teaching is a very important. Could you elaborate on this?
MG: The great thing about teaching is that I'm constantly re-evaluating my
approach to playing and I'm learning how to break it down and explain it to people. I'm also very attracted to the way human beings receive knowledge
and how they react to that information. The mind is an absolutely fascinating creature and it gives me goose bumps just seeing how it expands.
You have studied with several of the world's great musicians (Jack
Dejohnette, Dave Holland, and others). What are your insights pertaining to both teaching, and learning? Also, what are you practicing at the moment?
MG: I believe the whole process of passing on information is a very emotional
process. At some point we all realize the absolute abyss of work we are confronted with and we have to just surrender to whatever comes to us. You
can't possibly learn everything that you would like to in this short life.
Looking back on my studies with Jack and Dave makes me realize how important it is to take music seriously but not from a negative standpoint. Just enjoy
it. I just practice, and learn things that I'm interested in now. I could never run out of things to work on by just looking at my CD collection. Just
think of how much information is contained in any one CD and multiply that by your entire collection! If you think about it the majority of what you
learn, whether you're conscious of it or not is by ear
All right, man... let's get to it...! Tell me about your incredible
Fodera basses, and the other instruments in your stable. How did you establish your relationship with Fodera, and what led to the signature
5-string instrument they've made for you?
MG: Well at the moment I own 3 Fodera basses. One fretless NYC and two of my 5
string signature series models. The older one of the two is a 34" scale and the latest is a smaller more compact 33" scale. I love them to death! I have
NEVER played an instrument that feels as playable as my Foderas! I also own a Sadowsky 4 string (that once belonged to Marcus Miller), a Vektor Electric
Bassette, and my father's infamous upright bass.
I was introduced to Fodder by the "Queen of Bassdom" Danette Albetta. She invited me down to the shop when I was playing with Zawinul and we've all
been like family ever since. I'm very grateful to Vinnie and Joey for their incredible support and friendship. As far as the signature series we just
kind of sat down all together and came up with the design. Great experience for me to watch them carve out those masterpieces and observe their genius
You are also long known for your relationship with Epifani Enclosures.
The floor is open!
MG: Well, all I can say is Nick is a fabulous, hard-working, and dedicated
artist. He is a true pioneer and risk taker, which I believe, puts him way ahead of the pack. Now as far as his equipment it's just ridiculous. The
power, the projection and the creativity of his work is unsurpassed. I believe he is the kind of person that will continually grow and expand on
his already marvelous approach to sound. I'm very proud to work with him and his vision.
Humorously, I don't think I know which strings you use... What's
happening on that front?
MG: I actually play Fodera strings. Great craftsmanship, response and
durability! I wouldn't go anywhere else for strings.
I know that many of our readers suffer from something I call "Axe
Lust", and also the idea that gear makes great tone. However (and I'm sure you've heard it too!) there are players in the world who possess great gear,
but who aren't able to produce good tone! Give us a quick rundown of those things you've learned about tone, after years of playing, touring, and
MG: I've played terrible basses that sounded great and great basses that sounded
terrible.... I believe great gear is a must - in as far as facilitating one's performance, and helping an artist achieve maximum projection of a
tone that he/she has been working on for years.
As far as I know great tone still comes from ones fingers. No equipment in the world will help an artist past the hurdle of hard work and research.
Who are you playing with now, and where are you heading next?
MG: I know it sounds strange, but I'm not playing with anyone but the great
musicians that I have chosen to record with. Ever since I decided to record this first project I had to make a very serious efforts to narrow down my
field of work.
In a way it's a sacrifice but at the same time it's one of the most satisfying times in my life. The only downfall to not playing with someone
with a name is not having that immediate exposure. But, that's an issue that is overcome by persistence in this new area I'm diving into.
Where I'm heading next is deeper into the world of recording and creation. I'm not going to tour unless it's my project or if it's absolutely worth it.
I've done my share of sideman work and I've had enough of it. It's time for me to have my dreams and imagination come alive and I hope the readers will
come along and enjoy the ride. I've got a lot more music comin' their way.
Thank you, Mr. Garrison. I certainly believe we'll be hearing from you for many years to come.
Check out Matthew Garrison's website at GarrisonJazz.Com,
and request his disc through email.
Prepare yourselves for a feast of aural imagery as you hear the evidence for yourselves!
Brent-Anthony Johnson is a bassist, composer, producer, author and freelance
writer. You can read more about Brent-Anthony at: www.myspace.com/brentanthonyjohnson
this article in Spanish