Global Bass Online May 2001
Bass presents the first
interview given for Jeff
Berlin’s new solo album:
There are few more quotable
bassists out there than Jeff Berlin.
Jeff is a journalist’s delight, providing wonderfully developed thoughts
peppered with just enough Hot Sauce to catch anyone’s attention. In our
previous interview with Jeff we covered a lot of area, clearing up a few
misconceptions some people have expressed about his views on playing,
rehearsing and what he felt were valid and invalid teaching & learning
methods. It was a roller coaster ride of information we felt gave us no
recourse but to offer the reader the tongue in cheek notice ‘Warning:
Thinking Man Ahead!’
In discussing his newest album, ‘In
Harmonies Way’ we find Jeff in fine form, still staggeringly funny and
to the point. This new record now points Jeff in a direction he has wanted to
head for a long time.
Harmony’s Way’ is a Jazz album. Yes, that’s correct, a Pure Jazz album. Featuring guest players that
would make any band leader drool: people like Danny Gottleib on drums, Mike
Stern, guitar, Gary Burton on
Vibes, David Liebman on Saxophone
and someone that Jeff’s feels to be one of the finest musicians he has ever
come across, Richard Drexler on
This ‘A List’ of players
has given Jeff the latitude to express himself in a fashion he feels he not
only was ready for, but he truly needed as well. In late summer last year, he
told us that he felt he was moving into a learning, practicing and playing
area he had never been so far into before. He referred to it as being
intensely demanding and rewarding at the same time.
In this interview he talks
about the fact he still finds this true and is, primed and ready for some
serious live work.
This highly creative era of Jeff’s
life however has been tempered and his resolve has been sharpened by a
personal event within the framework of his family that affected him and his
family to its very core.
His son, Jason, a delightful
8-year-old boy, whose highest priority these days is jockeying for time on the
computer with his brother Sean, faced a trial we wouldn’t wish on any child.
At the age of four, Jason and therefore his family, encountered Lymphoma.
We will discuss this milestone
with Jeff, as well as Jason’s recovery. We’ll also talk to him about his
wish to take everything this new album brings and channel it back towards the
financial impact that Lymphoma had on Jeff’s family.
Jeff Berlin is a man that that
has stared down the Beast that every good parent fears. It shook him the core
and yet, while encountering that core, he found what he was made of. The
courage he found in his son and then himself has prepared him to take on the
presentation and development of this newest direction in his career and his
how long a period did the recording go?
I first received the album, I had no clue that you were going to be heading
into the Jazz arena. Have you ever ventured into this sort of music before?
often on records, but I have in my private playing life. As a leader I am a
Jazz musician. Quite frankly, I don’t like fusion. I don’t like the term
of it, I don’t like what it represents. Jazz, to me, is an un-recognized
musical artform in this country in many areas. I wanted to represent it as
well as I could and play as well as I could play. What this session became was
some of the most musical bass playing I have ever put on a record.
this interview is being conducted, in the back ground at Jeff’s Players
School of Music, I can hear the sound of children playing. One of Jeff’s two
sons is Jason, an eight year old boy fiercely determined to make sure he gets
equal time on his Dad’s computer. The other computer combatant is Sean, his
younger brother. I can hear the wonderful chaos of these two kids both living
entirely in the moment, as kids do so well.
for Jeff and his family, things were not always so joyous. Four years ago,
Jason was diagnosed with a form of cancer known as non- Hodgkins lymphoma.
tells me that it took all that he had to remain ‘up’ for Jason at this
time. Of course the lad had very little idea as to what was wrong with him.
Jeff also told me that it was very difficult sometimes to come into the room
where Jason was and always try to have something funny or positive to say, but
that is what a good parent does.
the beginning I was totally casual, for his sake. Inside myself, I was an
ignited ball of anxiety. Yet, I would walk in and say “Jas, hey man, cool
catheter, cool IV drip thing, Wow! you look like a space man.” What else
could I do? If I appeared panicked, then he would feel this way too.
I first heard about his lymphoma, I was certain I would lose him because that
was what we all believed; once you get cancer, then that was it. Subsequently
I’ve found out that many people recover fully from it. But, having
experienced my son being affected by it, I can tell you that I can never go
back to being the same type of person after dealing with this.
quite as light of spirit, then?
knew a boy named Mario who was diagnosed with a particularly vicious cancer
when he was a year old. He fought this cancer for four years, he hated the
clinic, he hated the treatments. His last words were, “Mommy, I wanna go
home”. He meant he wanted to just go home. To his house. And he died in his
I knew this boy and I shall never forget him.
put Jason more at ease, Jeff shaved his own head like Jason’s for the period
of time that the Chemotherapy removed Jason’s hair. All so the lad would not
feel odd or disconnected.
offered me the opportunity to talk with Jason, a distinct honor considering
what they had been through together. This stuff is very personal family
business and I found it both brave and classy that they would open
up and trust a media person to ask them a few questions about the illness and
it’s affect on the family. This is the part where one treads very lightly.
called Jason over and a shockingly young voice says ’Hi Warren’.
we all sound like this at 8 years of age? A
soft soap like me sits in amazement listening to this tyke talk away about his
short and difficult life.
child has more courage than I have, mixed in with the unquestioned right to be
alive: that is all part of being 8 years old.
I asked him if he felt that he has led an interesting life. There is no need
to be too direct here…The wee guys voice pipes up…”Yeah, I know”. I
asked him if he knew what the word ‘famous’ meant, referring of course to
his dad, and in fact Jason said he didn’t know what that meant. I told him
that in this case it meant that there were people all over the world that knew
his dad and really liked what his dad does in his music, people that look to
him as a bit of a hero, in some ways like he (Jason) must view his own dad,
and how I knew his dad saw him.
asked him, referring to the bald heads the two of them sported during
Chemotherapy, whether he thought his dad looked goofy and if they both laughed
when they saw Jeff’s bald head. Jason said he didn’t but he liked the fact
that his dad didn’t shave off his trademark (my
figured it best to leave it at that and let him get back to being a kid.
told Jeff when he returned to the phone, that it was obvious that his
8-year-old has no concept at all of the wild world of music.
Every once in a while it impacts on him that he has a sort-of famous dad. One time, I played an outdoor festival and I brought him along with me. The whole time I was playing, his eyes were WIDE, you know, he was acting very funny that day, going to fetch me water and things like a dry towel. He just became a little starstruck. I was in the middle of a solo when he came out onto the stage uninvited and leaned up against me and stayed there like that for several minutes. The crowd cheered at the end of the solo. I guess he got star struck for a moment. I am pleased that his priorities are more like child priorities though.
was just looking at the incredible line up you have on this album.
have a trio plus some guest artists playing on it. Danny Gottleib on drums and
Richard Drexler on piano made up the core band. Richard is truly one of the
great gifted people I have known. I’ve been so impressed with his
musicality, plus he such a wonderful and humorous guy. He gave my song the
name ‘Reggae Ricardo’ and wrote and named his tune “Liebman on a Jet
Plane”, a real wry sense of humor. I named my tunes ‘This is Your Brain on
Jazz” and “Everybody Knows You When You’re Up & In” so we share
the same enjoyment of puns.
he worked with you before?
is the real deal. It’s the same thing with Danny Gottlieb, too. I regard him
as one of the most musical drummers I ever played with. We’ve known each
other for 25 years when we used to jam with Pat Metheny and do gigs with Pat
Martino. He’s so special and a terrific guy.
Glenn has mentioned that you and he are looking seriously into a clinic, with
Mackie and Dean.
looking into doing something together because…we are both considered rebels
in certain circles. What’s more entertaining than watching two difficult
pains in the ass on the same stage.
Yes, but only if he can be an ass as well. Seriously, we’re discussing it and I think that it would be fun to do. I have many years in education aside from playing and I try to make every event I appear at meaningful for the people who come.
to the album a bit.
listened to it a number of times now, I have developed an overview that leaves
me with the impression of some sober introspective songs.
There is joy, exuberance and an out and
out ‘rammy’ attitude there too, but there is that underlying ribbon of
solemnity. Where these songs written since Jason contracted his health
was also about the time you contacted me and said that
you were in an intense period in your life where your playing and your
practicing habits had never been more intense or more rewarding.
the music was written, I saw that a lot of it was challenging to me as a
soloist. I have always tried to aim high as a player, into what I think of as
‘Dave Liebman country’, into the land of Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny.
Because I wanted to aim high as a player, I had a lot of work to do. Even if I
fell short, I would still have accomplished more having practiced this stuff.
Some of this music is rather difficult.
raised the bar on your own playing then?
you on some level, not so much intimidated, but aware of the fact that there
are musicians out there that are further down the path in their careers. Does
that excite you or make you nervous?
Yes, it excites me and makes me nervous and I respect them and I am intimidated by them. What this means is that I hear someone like Dave Liebman put his soprano to his lips and come up with music that I would give my right arm to be bring out of my bass.
intimidation is that I don’t think I will ever be able to do this. The fun
of this is that I can always try.
And that is what I love about music.
part that puts me out on a limb is that I want to enter their territory. I
want to be able to do what they do on their instruments, but on mine.
bass, if you can play four notes in a row, you’re considered a genius in
this day and age! If you play anything slightly more than the root note,
you’re on the cover of Bass Player.
you put my solo side by side to Wayne Shorter, Metheny or Liebman’s or guys
like Mike Stern and Richard Drexler or GARY BURTON. Gary Burton is one of the
greatest living Jazz soloists in the world!
guys are the crème de la crème. Now having achieved some depth that over 40
years in music will bring you, when I hear Gary Burton, I am in even more awe
of his playing. And he is going to retire from music soon!
he is going to retire?
he’s going to quit, he’s going to do what Artie Shaw did, he’s just
going to quit. He wants to go on to something else. He had a heart problem,
he’s got it repaired, but it has sobered him up to the fact that life is
short and there might be some other things in life that might interest him.
the album there are some walking bass lines and some overlaid solo’s
(consisting of a hell of a lot more notes than four!)
that are going to be difficult doing live. How are you going to get
Either we will have an upright with us or use an Ashbury bass. Richard was the upright bassist on “This Is Your Brain on Jazz”.
heard recently that from a demographics point of view that Jazz and Blues are
selling better than they ever have before. The Baby Boomers are going back to
that couldn’t have been the motivator for Jeff in producing a Jazz album
right here and right now?
I tell you I play rock as well as Jazz, maybe better, because rock is less
challenging for me, artistically I choose to do Jazz because the varieties are
thinking of you in the role of bandleader and listening to the track on this
record entitled “Emeril Kicks It Up” (written for Emeril Lagasse, the
respected TV Chef)”, I kept getting images of Jeff Berlin as Doc Severinson.
It could happen!
the here and now,
however, plans for the touring of this album, are they in the works? And with
this present lineup?
the projected release date?
need as much money from this to come back directly to you as is possible.
know you’ve been asked this more than once, but here goes. In recording do
you use a mild chorus effect on your solos on this album to add to that great
somehow ‘fretless on a fretted’ sound of yours.
Shephard dialed in the sounds. I made some verbal suggestions and he tried to
make musical sense out of my thoughts. If I liked what he did, we kept it.
your bass somewhat ‘hot rodded’? You are a Dean endorser, but do they send
you super basses?
of people do it every day.
that contribute towards that fretless sound you achieve?
must be aware of the fact that with the filed frets, the incredible control
over your legato and the wide range of vibrato you use in your playing, you
actually come across sounding very much like a stand up bass player.
a fretless bass in some regards…
you working towards that sound as a deliberate effort or is that just the way
was a violinist and I’ve learned very well the meaning of playing in tune.
What I mean by that is that I would be a good fretless bass player if I
decided to play it.
I played a fretless instrument for ten years in my childhood (the
wanted to make the electric bass not sound like an electric instrument. It’s
simply a philosophy of mine. Many electric basses are often ‘active’
instruments, and I don’t like the sound of active instruments. Bass often
has a lot of treble and click on it, and I felt that was an artificial sound
and I tried to do away with that.
I am still dealing with an electric instrument. So I am going to have a little
bit of fret sound and I am going to have a little bit of ‘click’ sound.
your treble tone pot set to the flat position?
it is. Close.
some of your quicker parts, I’ve listened for the sound of your fingers
moving over the frets, but it is noticeably missing.
also my articulation from my violin days. Because I believe a note has a lot
of power, most everything I have ever practiced in my career was note
oriented. What I play on the record follows the same traditions I have lived
with my entire musical life. They just grew up some.
the tune “Runaway Train’ you begin the song with a sound very much like
the sound of an old steam engine, firing up it’s engines and the wheels
turning faster and faster. Did that technique originate the idea for the song
or was the song there first?
technique came first. People are so focused in on slapping, and if you want
proof of that, go to any music convention in the world and walk up and down
the aisles. Chances are you will hear practically every bass player using the
same slap technique on an active instrument, using the same transister-with-tweeter
type amplifier all dialed to produce the same bass tone with piercing top end
is the one thing in my life that I am selfish about. Everything else is negotiable
except my music. I say this as a leader, not a sideman. As a sideman,
EVERYTHING is negotiable. Whatever my boss wants, I’ll try and give it to
him. But, as a player looking for my own voice, all I have to do is listen to
what everybody else is doing and go the other direction! It’s easy!
it’s common knowledge that you can play a lot more than four notes in a row,
so are you expecting that people will being calling you a seer, saying you are
a visionary to the future, when in fact what you are doing is NOT doing what
everyone else is DOING. Simple and effective. Brilliance by default.
That’s exactly and 100% the case. I’m simplifying the experience, I know it’s not as simple as I put it, but the philosophy is dead easy to understand. People mostly play the same because this is what they know. I won’t! As soon as I know what everybody else wants to do, I turn around and walk away from it and try to find something else. But you see, most people won’t do this. Many people want instant gratification but music is not an instantly gratifying art form.
it takes 15 years before you even start getting any kind of worthwhile
investment on your effort timewise.
right, that’s what Dave Liebman said. You can get better over time. You can
gig, you can get jobs and over time you can improve. It’s not like someone
sits in their room for 15 years. You have to be gigging and playing, these are
equally important ways of learning as studying in your room.
is the lady singing on Pale Glider?
‘lady’ is Steve Shephard (at
this point Jeff starts to laugh) It’s a guy…
a guy!! He’s gonna kill me! He sang beautifully! She, who is actually a he,
is a fine jazz singer. Very convincing!
laugh when he reads this. He’s just has a high voice! I was going to go out
and get a real singer for this tune. We were sitting there and Steve says,
“You know, I could do it!”. I said, “Well, I need a little legitimacy
He says, “No, no, no, I can
we set up the mike, he hit the ‘record’ button and he did the tracks three
times and they are beautiful!
actually are! It worked. He’s gonna kill me!
you have worked this album through it’s natural lifespan, what’s next in
get ready to rumble!”
there you have it. Jeff goes Jazz, and in doing so, he follows his own musical
inner voice, harkening back to the kind of music that has always made his soul
HARMONY’S WAY is a smokin’ world class jazz album, but one that also will
be a delight to fans of premier bass playing, with solo’s and walking bass
lines that will send you back to the woodshed quicker than anything you have
heard in a long long time.
Jeff Berlin, one of the world’s finest bass players is back, long overdue, but very much welcomed.
Buy Jeff's CD In Harmony's Way @ JeffBerlinMusic.com
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