Global Bass Online May 2001
by Andy Long
A cursory glance through the vast discography of double bassist David Friesen
reads like a 'Who's Who' of Jazz. With
an excess of fifty recordings as either leader or co-leader and countless
sessions, David has played with far too many artists to list, but randomly
pulling a few names out of the hat would give such players as Ralph Towner,
Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Paul Horn and Mal Waldron.
met David at a recent London solo gig and took the opportunity to gain some
insight into his life and work, as well as his approach to bass and it's
setting, both within the band and as a solo instrument.
in Tacoma, Washington in 1942, David began his life of music at the age of ten
with Accordion and ukulele, before moving on to guitar professionally at
sixteen. It was a while later that
David became addicted to the double bass, and I began our conversation by asking
him what turned him onto the instrument.
it was one instrument I never wanted to play.
Some guy came over to take my sister out one night in Seattle, Washington,
and he had a bass and he left it at our house and I thought to myself 'what an
ugly instrument, I'll never play one of those'.
They say you should never say 'never'!
I saw the bass in the service club in Germany where I was stationed in
the army and I just picked it up to try it and it was love at first embrace,
that was it! It was something I
felt very in tune with physically. Just
picking the instrument up and holding it and playing it in that position that
you do when you hold the bass violin, it just felt natural.
I felt very, very comfortable with it."
David had experience as a guitarist, he told me that he never felt comfortable
playing an instrument in that position, which is why he has never been tempted
to play electric bass guitar. As
soon as he took up acoustic bass he fell in love with the instrument and
dedicated himself to some serious practice.
it's such a difficult chore to learn how to play the music and it took a lot of
work, so there was a time when I was practicing nine, ten, eleven hours a
his days in the army David sat in with George Arvanitas, Johnny Griffin and Art
Taylor. Then later , in Copenhagen, he gigged with drummer Dick Berk and it was
there that he met Ted Curson in 1961. When
he returned to the States David began working in Seattle in a coffee-house
called The Penthouse where he met and played with the visiting giants of jazz
like Wes Montgomery and Coltrane. He then toured with Elmer Gill for a few years before moving
with his family to Portland, Oregon where he opened up a coffee-house of his
was open from 2 in the morning until 7. On
Saturday afternoons I had puppet shows for the kids and Sunday evenings I had
jazz from about 7 til 11"
the 70's David's reputation as an outstanding bassist grew and many tour
opportunities presented themselves, including the chance to work with Joe
Henderson, Billy Harper, Stan Getz and others as well as recording opportunities
with the likes of Kenny Drew, George Adams and Danny Richmond.
that time David has worked consistently with countless artists, playing live,
recording and giving clinics, a growing area of his work.
I asked him how he approaches a clinic setting in which there may be
musicians of all standards.
everyone's different in that respect. I
do work a lot with theory and things like that. I will work with combos and try to teach them how to listen,
what to listen for and how to work together as a unit so that they make music
together. I talk to students and
try to instill hope and encouragement and purpose in their lives.
Mainly I stress listening, how to listen, what to listen for and the
transition between practicing in the practice room and then the development of
how to bring that into a playing situation.
That transition is difficult and it comes with a lot of things which
involve getting over the fear of making mistakes, how do you do that?
How do you learn to accept yourself?
How do you get to use the originality that each one of us have?
How do you get to bring that uniqueness out? One of the answers is to take your eyes off yourself, it
sounds like a paradox but in music when you serve, which is listening and
responding creatively to what you hear, you give up your hold on yourself and
your identity. In other words
what's in you is automatically able to come out because when you serve you give
and giving means getting out. You
bring out of who you are and, in a musical situation, you're responding
creatively to what you hear. So I
look at the process of how to do that, and I have a lot of musical exercises
that I run down to the students that help initiate the patience and things that
you need to get that down."
I saw David play solo, one of the most powerful things visually was his stunning
Hemage electric upright. It's
striking headless design and eccentric body shape is truly original.
I wondered why I had never seen one of these beautiful instruments
before. David explained.
are only three of them, there's a young student in Dresden that has one and then
I have the original bass that I keep in America and I have one I keep in Europe.
The body's made out of cherry wood and it's got a regular bass
fingerboard made of traditional ebony and it's got a regular traditional bridge
so the string height is the same and the string length is the same.
So my office space for the notes is the same.
Obviously it's much smaller, it doesn't have a scroll, I tune it down
below the bridge, so what acts as the tailpiece also acts as the tuning device.
It's made by Herman Elacher from Hol in Tirol which is a small town maybe
twenty kilometers outside of Innsbruck."
also have an old French acoustic bass that was made in 1795 and
was used in an orchestra that Beethoven once guest conducted in Paris,
originally a three string bass. It's
my acoustic instrument, that's what I use for a lot of the jazz things that I
do. I do a variety of work, a
couple of weeks ago I was in Milwaukee doing a trio concert with Clark Terry and
Bud Shank, much more straight ahead traditional music but I still used the
Hemage bass in that because it flew for free and it works real well in that
David plays both an acoustic and an electric upright I asked him if he thought
that modern electric uprights could truly recreate the acoustic sound.
of course not that would be impossible. In
fact an amplified acoustic bass doesn't sound like an acoustic bass, it sounds
like an electric instrument and that's one of the reasons it's difficult for me
to play the acoustic these days in an ensemble, because I don't like to amplify
it, I like to hear it acoustically. So
when I go into the studio to record I put two Norman 87's on my instrument and
just record acoustically. The
Hemage bass that I have is not meant to sound like an acoustic bass, nothing
sounds like an acoustic bass except an acoustic bass.
You really can't produce that sound from an electric instrument, it
really is impossible. But my Hemage
bass has it's own type of sound which is very valid."
plays through a Walter Woods four channel stereo amplifier with a Lexicon
digital reverb and a little digital delay
unit that he uses to great effect in solo concerts.
He can also be seen to play a sort of flute, I'll let him tell you about
a Shakuhachi; it's from Japan and it's just a traditional Japanese instrument.
Back in the early 60's Jerry Holdman, who owned the coffee house in
Seattle used to play it a lot and got me started on it and it was just a matter
of playing it. It's a whole
different approach than the regular flute, although you still split the air,
it's a different technique to play it. It
took time to learn how to get a sound out of it but I like to play it and it
augments the sound of the bass, I play them together at the same time and it
adds a little more diversity in a solo bass situation."
artist like David, who has recorded so many albums with so many great players
must surely have one or two favourites? David
found it difficult to choose.
are so many, the things I did with Joe Henderson and Danny Richmond.
II don't think I have one personal favourite.
I like 'em all for different reasons.
'Voices' is one kind of playing and there's a new one coming out with
Larry Coombes and Joe LaBarbera. I
have another trio album coming out with Randy Porter and Alan Jones that I think
is fantastic, a great trio. We
never had a rehearsal and we never played the songs the same way twice, they're
two great musicians that understand the meaning of allowing each other the
freedom without the fear of condemnation, they were free to take chances and
that CD is coming out in the next couple of months on Intuition Records.
I've played with Gary Versace, a great pianist in New York, the trios
with Bud Shank and Clark Terry. A
variety of different things, it's not like I'm playing the same style all the
time. I enjoy the solo things I've
done too. So I really can't say I
have one favourite."
of his more recent albums is 'With You In Mind', a collaboration with Gary
Versace on the Summit label. Gary
is an accomplished pianist and he and David bounce off each other really well on
this album, the way in which they leave each other plenty of space for
expression within the confines of the tunes shows their maturity as musicians
and sensitivity to each other. When
I first listened to the album I was struck by it's sparse beauty and it seemed
to carry quite an improvisational flavour, but as David says,
are all compositions, they might sound more improvisational if you don't know
them but the more you listen to it the more you'll hear the melodies of the
songs. Plus there are two standards
on there 'All Or Nothing At All' and 'You, The Night And The Music'.
Gary Versace and I have been playing for a while in Portland, Oregon, he
was one of the professors of Jazz at the University of Oregon.
He's only 32 or 33 and he's just a great, great jazz pianist he's been
doing some work with Maria Schneider and Ingrid Jensen and various people in New
York. He's on a sabbatical right now in New York for the next year,
working and playing. We went to his
home, he had a wonderful Mason/Hamlin and we had it tuned each day that we
recorded, and I had my acoustic bass and we had two mikes on each instrument and
just recorded some of the things that we enjoy playing and we came up with this
CD. It was recorded on a DAT
recorder and we had a mixer and did it ourselves and it turned out really well,
There was such great communication between the two of us."
you'd like to find out more about David's work you might like to check out his
website at www.davidfriesen.net.
He tells me that he will be doing a tour with his trio next March and
that he hopes to bring them over to the U.K. as part of that, I'm looking
forward to it.
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