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Chris Tarry


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By Brent-Anthony Johnson



At 32-years-old, Canadian bassist, Chris Tarry, has been listed amongst the world renown jazz sidemen for the past several years. Since he graduated from Berklee College of Music 7 years ago, Chris has moved his career forward with great precision that has earned him numerous awards since 1995. Amongst his many accolades are: a pair of JUNO Awards; a pair of West Coast Music Awards; a Jazz Report Magazine Award; a 1997 Canadian Musician Magazine “Best Bassist” award; and nominated best new artist for the Montreal jazz festivals Du Maurier Grand Jazz award.

In the midst of his accomplishments, Chris remains a humble and incredibly laid back human being who knows how to enjoy his life Western Canada – where he lives with his wife and dog.  Far too few of the world’s top players understand the importance of being both steadfastly focused upon one’s goals, while also allowing themselves to take advantage of good health and good times…  Also interestingly noted, so few have accomplished what Chris seems to walk through with the ease of passing through an open door. 

Chris has worked and recorded with many of the top names in both the Canadian and international music scenes as a sideman, since his journey began in the early 90’s. Also, as a life-long student of the bass guitar, Chris has studied with Gary Willis, John Patitucci, and Charlie Banacos.  His easy disposition and availability to talk about all things bass, has led him to write The Bass Players Companion and he is currently a faculty member at the Capilano College jazz studies program in North Vancouver. Finally, his love for and commitment to teaching bass has most recently lead to the formation of The Vancouver Bass Conference – which is an annual three day workshop. Headlining the workshop, Chris and three other notable Vancouver musicians impress upon young bassists the importance of becoming a well-rounded musician. 

I met and spoke with Chris after stumbling upon his nicely laid-out website, and reading his heady resume’ and many credits! Naturally, I had to meet this guy!  So… in step with my typical approach, I wrote him an email and asked if he would be up for an interview with Global Bass Magazine!  Chris’ response was in the form of sending me his two most recent discs: his own, “Of Battles Unknown Mysteries”, and his latest with fusion super-group, Metalwood, “The Recline”.  Both discs are fantastic, and “of battles…” particularly displays Chris’ incredible sense of understatement and completely outside-the-box sense of humor!  I was hooked immediately, and called Chris at his home in Vancouver. The ensuing conversation went long as we exchanged personal information and covered a random unwritten list of subject matter.  We agreed that we would be speaking for some time to come, and I sat down at my laptop to write an interview of a truly great bassist-composer… 

BAJ:  Thanks for sending the discs, man!  They’re great, and you’re a fantastic player.  Let’s begin at the beginning…  How did you find your way into bass playing, and who are your early influences? 

CT:  Thanks for thinkin of me for an interview!  In the beginning I was a small child....wait, skip a bit.... I got into playing the bass in high school.  I wanted to be in a band more than anything and I had been playing guitar for a few months when some friends decided to start up a group.  Of course when I showed up at the first rehearsal there were like 15 guitar players, one drummer (not sure if he even owned sticks), a keyboard player (with the names of the notes still taped to the keys), the ever popular singer who couldn’t sing, and no bass player.  I don’t even think anyone really thought we needed a bass player!  I quickly decided that in order to be a part of the next greatest band ever I would switch to bass as to not miss out on any of the stardom that was sure to follow.  Actually, now that I think about it there may have even been a coin toss!

Anyway, I was hooked right away.  I found a teacher and that kind of opened my eyes and ears to what the bass was all about.  I started practicing really hard and watched my strap height move from knee high to normal height over the course of the next year or so. (The guys in the band thought I was so square!)  That group, which ended up being called “Molitov Cocktail” if you can believe it, continued on but I was being turned onto different kinds of music by hanging out with various other bass players so I started to focus a little more on jazz.  I started to gig professionally with a band called Catch 22 and that experience really taught me what it was like to make a living as a musician.  There was a really good drummer in that band and he taught me a lot about how to play with the kick drum and what a solid bass line was all about.

At that point I met a great Canadian bass player named Dale James.  He is kind of an underground bass guru in Canada and I was fortunate that he lived in the same city as me.  He actually came over one day to buy a bass I had for sale in the paper.  Once I heard him play I knew I had to hook up and learn all I could from him.  My first lesson he turned me onto Jaco and like so many before me, that, as they say, was that!

From there I dropped out of what was college at that point and worked on getting into and going to Berklee.

BAJ:  I wanted to comment before I forgot… Your liner notes inside of “of battles unknown mysteries” are completely hilarious!  I laughed harder than any other time I can remember laughing at liner notes (huh?) as I read through your notes.  Please give us an overview of your personal “World View” and how it, obviously, effects your music. 

CT: Thanks about the liner notes.  I actually spent a long time on those.  They were part of a much longer kinda stream of consciousness essay that I originally wanted in there.  In the end a lot of it didn’t make sense so I toned it down a bit and made it a lot shorter.  I think the original was a bit funnier... I think I am going to post the whole thing at my website in the next little while.

I think life and music needs to be serious, sad, dark, and funny!  It’s all a part of the human experience and with this new album and liner notes I wanted the whole thing to seem very real and give the listener the feeling that I was really pouring my heart and soul into the album and making it very visible for all to see and hear.  Part of that soul is a love for humor so I’m glad that comes across in places. 

BAJ:  What is your approach to music composition?  Also, what’s your take on co-writing with the band members in Metalwood?    

CT: I am not sure if I have a take on composition per say but I do get very inspired by a good tune.  A lot of bass players who do solo albums get hung up on what’s happening in the bass.  If the melody and changes aren’t strong or the tune doesn’t bring out some type of emotion for me it can leave me feeling cold.  A great bass part on top of a great tune is the ultimate for me! 

Composition is forever and a bass solo on a good night is just that.  It’s gone before you can analyze it so to me playing and composing are two very different things.  I want to listen to a tune I wrote when I’m 80 and be proud of the “Tune”.  I rarely find myself going back and checking out the bass line’s I have laid down because I tend to focus on the song when listening.  I also find solace in the fact that I always feel like I am improving as a bass player so the line on a particular tune on a particular day is just that.  It’s something that I came up with when I wasn’t as good as I am now, even if it was recorded yesterday.  But man that melody, that still makes me cry.

One of the things Metalwood doesn’t seem to do is co-write.  I think it’s because we all live in different cities across the country so when we get together we kind of need to have our ideas pretty fleshed out.  Brad and I do the bulk of writing but all the music is written out and just usually read down at the gig or during sound check.  During a tour everyone gradually puts their own stamp on it and the music develops.

The latest album with Scofield was actually recorded in about a day and a half.  Pretty much all the performances on that record are either the 2nd or 3rd time we had ever played the music together.

On our other albums we have done a few improv’s in the studio that get listed as band compositions just because they were created by us on the spot. 

BAJ:  How did Metalwood come together, and what has playing in a “super group” effected your career?  

CT: Metalwood came together as a kind of idea on paper in about 1996.  I was touring a lot with Ian Froman (MW drummer) here in Canada.  In Vancouver I was having a great time playing with one of the countries top piano/trumpet players Brad Turner.  The group kind of came together as a way for people who had always wanted to play together to do so.  I always wanted to play with Murley, he’s probably one of Canada’s most famous jazz saxophone players.  Ian always wanted to play with Brad, Brad always wanted to play with Ian... ya get the point.  We all called each other, booked a few gigs and a session in Vancouver.  Brad and I wrote some tunes, bought some plane tickets and recorded a record.  The recording was done in a day and it went on to win a JUNO for best jazz album that year.  That was the start of it all.  The band is now signed to Verve/Universal and has recorded 5 albums to date. 

Being a part of Metalwood has done great things for me.  One of the best things is that it has been a great way to get heard.  It’s an amazing arena to do your thing amongst musicians of that level and then have a lot of players hear it.  I am even more honored that it has inspired a lot of bassists and even weirded out a little bit when they tell me they are transcribing it.  It’s what I always wanted though.  To be recognized for something you work hard to get better at.

It has also helped my solo career in that it’s a little easier to get my own gigs and put a band on the road knowing there is a little bit of a built in audience through Metalwood.  As well you start to get a lot of calls to be on other people’s records. 

BAJ:  You mentioned that you would be taking a 9-piece band on the road to support “of battles…” !  Where are you going to play, and how are you approaching taking such a large band out on the road? 

CT: I am approaching it very carefully.  As a leader, I have never taken a band that big on the road before.  My first concern is with the players.  They are all at the top of their field in Canada and I want to make sure that the music gives them enough room to say what they wanna say.  Second, I am a bit of a logistics nightmare so I hope I can keep that aspect together.  I think the name of the band is going to be “Chris Tarry’s Collective Conscience”.  We are playing at various venues across Canada.  In fact, I have the dates right here:

April 10 Victoria @ Victoria Jazz Society venue

April 11 Vancouver @ Cap College Theatre

April 12 Saskatoon @ Sask. Jazz Society Venue

April 13 Calgary @ The Beat Niq

April 14 Edmonton @ The Yardbird

April 15 Ottawa @ The National Library

April 16 - 21 Toronto @ The Top O The Senator

They are all 2002 dates.  If anyone is around these area’s feel free to drop down and see how we are holding out. 


CT: Cap College has an excellent jazz program and I am very honoured to be a part of it.  Every semester I usually teach two day’s a week which leaves plenty of room for other stuff.  They have a great system in place that makes it really easy to make up missed lessons and the students are very understanding.  I learn as much from them as they do from me.

The VBC happens once a year so that week all the instructors just make sure they don’t book anything else.

BAJ:  Tell us about your partnership with writer/producer Shawn Pierce and the Vancouver based production company Maximum Music Ltd. that you’ve co-founded. 

CT: Shawn and I have been great friends since Berklee.  He was there studying film scoring and trumpet.  We are both Canadian so after school finished I was moving to Vancouver to be with my future wife and he decided to make Vancouver his home as well.  We started up a production company that has more recently tuned more towards publishing as Shawn is very busy in the film and television industry.  His reputation as a producer and engineer has spread around the world and now he is recording albums for some very heavy jazz cats!  It’s great to have someone of that “sonic” caliber working on your albums!  It makes everything sound so pro. 

BAJ:  Okay… let’s get to the bass stuff!  Talk with us about your approach to soloing, and also, what identifies the groove to you? 

CT: My approach to soloing is to try and tell a story.  I really dig the approach of working with what you have just played rather than thinking about what you are going to play.  What you just played should dictate what you’re going to play next!

The bass can be an awful beast when it comes to soloing.  I always tell my students that a bass solo has to be more obvious and accurate than for almost any other instrument.   This is because of the low register inherent to the instrument.  It’s harder to sound above the harmony so your ideas need to be really strong and fairly obvious.  Bass solo’s can sure sound noodley real quick if the ideas aren’t there.

The groove is a little more mysterious.  I always think of something Ian Froman said to me once when we were discussing the groove/sound we have developed together over the years....

“If I can do my regular stuff and it all works then I know it’s feeling great!”

This to me defines a great groove.  It’s comfort.  We all know what it feels like to play with people who don’t hear it in the same place.  It can be hard to move a drummer when it feels bad.  When things don’t feel right the the band tends to blame the bass player because geez, how could it be the drummer, he’s only playing “boom chic” and it’s so loud how could it possibly be wrong!

Yes, it’s only boom chick but it’s the kind of boom chick that makes you feel like you’ve been handcuffed to the bike rack during recess unable to scream for help!  The audience can feel this tension even if they don’t know they’re hearing it.  When you can go outside for recess and play all your normal games then all is right with the world and everyone is happy!... did that little analogy make sense?...not sure. 

BAJ:  What do you most appreciate in the drummers you play with most often, and do you have suggestions to our readers about what they should seek in musicians, in general? 

CT: I am fortunate I have had the opportunity to play with some great drummers.  The most important aspect is that you both need to feel the time in the same place.  It’s something I have termed the “5 guy concept”.  Let me esplain (por favor)... Have you ever been to a show where you hear 5 people playing together and it sounds great?  After a bit of asking around you find out that all of them have been playing together since they were knee high to grasshoppers! Man, does it ever sound great!

Move to a week later and you’re on a gig with the drummer from the same group.  Why does it feel so bad?  Do I suck?  I didn’t yesterday.  What’s wrong? 

Answer.  You can’t beat the power of 5 guy’s hearing it in the same place.  Find a drummer who hears it in the same place and develop together.  It will make you very happy!  You could extend the same concept to piano players.  Find one that doesn’t go for a coffee during your solo! 

BAJ:  You have a long-standing relationship with the bass manufacturer Kinal.  How did that come into fruition?  Also, give a most recent gear run down… 

CT:  I have been working on developing some basses with Kinal for a few years now.  I met him through a friend here in Vancouver.  It’s rare to find a world class builder right in your own backyard so we started in on developing some basses for me.

As far as equipment, well, that’s where the sad story begins!  I actually just had a bunch of equipment stolen!  I had spent a few years developing a really nice pedal board with a Line 6 dealy, EBS envelope filter, Boss reverb, Ernie Ball volume pedal, and a really nice SKB pedal board.  All stolen.  I also lost a small rig consisting of a 10’ Eden cab and an Acoustic Image Claris head that I was using for small jazz gigs.

So, I haven’t yet replaced the pedal board because I am still in mourning.  I have temporarily rented a SWR California Blonde for small gigs.  The Blonde isn’t actually made for bass but I am really enjoying it and I think it sounds better than all the combo’s actually made for bass.  One of the reasons is that it has a nice spring reverb in it.  I wish more companies would add some features like that as I like it for soloing.

My concert rig is an Aguilar DB359 with a 15’ and 2x10’ cabinets.  I am currently waiting for the Aguilar hybrid amp to come in and I am going to swap it for the 359.

As far as basses go Kinal and I are just finishing up a new 34 ½ scale fretted bass and I have a Fodera Emperor 5 and an old Hozono fretless. 

BAJ:  I noticed that you’re playing an Ibanez Gary Willis Model in recent photos on your site.  Is this another instrument you’ve added to your stable? 

CT:  Actually that is my Hozono!  I put that bass together about 10 years ago with help from Willis in that I used his older Bartolini pickup design.  Hozono was making bodies for Ibanez at the time so he made one out of custom woods for me.  I have recorded more albums and played more shows with this bass than any other.  I am starting to worry about it holding up on the road these day’s so that is another reason I am working with Kinal to try and come up with a replacement.  It’s basically irreplaceable so I want to come up with a bass that I know Kinal can make at the drop of a hat if something were to get stolen or broken. 

BAJ:  We are both Aguilar endorsing artists, and we both walked away from the same amp manufacturer to sign with Aguilar – unbeknownst to each other until our recent telephone conversation!  What do you most like about Aguilar, and are any of your students now playing Aguilar amps as a result of your transition? 

CT: There are a few students of mine switching.  To be honest I am still in transition because I haven’t heard their new hybrid amp as of yet.  I am so used to playing hybrid amps that this all tube puppy is a little hard for me to get used to.  It sounds great but just different.  It speaks slower at some times and faster at others.  I am starting to get the hang of it but it has really kept me on my toes.  Once I get the hybrid here I will compare and choose which one I like best.  The thing I like the best about Aguilar so far is that their Canadian distributor has been so supportive in terms of clinics and wanting to work with me.  That is a nice change. 

BAJ:  Any other gear you’re most excited about these days? 

CT: All the stuff I had stolen.  If anyone ever comes across any of this stuff please get a hold of me!

Seriously,  I have been getting into a little bit of home recording with a MOTU digital recorder that I bought.  That stuff is really exciting. 

BAJ:  What next up for your solo outings, and what’s happening next in the world of Metalwood?   

CT:  Well, I have a CD release being produced here in Vancouver by The Coastal Jazz and Blues society.  They are a great organization and always support Canadian talent.  That’s happening in Dec.  I am out on the road a few times in November with Metalwood and a few other groups.  I try and keep my website updated on all the goings on.  It’s actually a little more accurate a lot of times for MW dates than the official MW site. 

BAJ:  You’ve commented that you’re an avid reader… What kind of literature do you most enjoy? 

CT:  I have been getting into new young readers.  People like David Eggers who wrote “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”.  That’s one of the best books I have read in a long time. 

BAJ:  What do you do when you’re not playing bass, and do you have any hobbies?  

CT:  It sounds crazy but I collect watches.  I have always had a thing for vintage watches.  My most recent and best purchase is a 1969 pre-moon Omega Speedmaster Professional.  I just like to research them and try and trace their history.  For example I just discovered that my Speedmaster was manufactured in 69’ and shipped to Poland in Dec 71’.  I am now working on trying to find out how it got to Vancouver.  There are a lot of great sites dedicated to watch collecting.

I also am in the middle of trying to get into the best shape of my life.  Being on the road and practicing in dark rooms over the years led me down a very unhealthy path!  I have been working out for about a year and seen some really significant results but have just recently taken the “Body for Life” challenge.  I am 6 weeks in (out of 12) and I am now in the best shape of my life with more to come!  From 210lbs when I started out (a year ago) to 185lbs just today!  12 of those lbs. coming since I started Body for Life.  Yeah!

I also like to play golf, mountain bike, walk my dog and hang out with my wife Barb who is an opera singer/yoga teacher.


CT:  When I started touring with Froman he taught me a lot about how to tour!  He has some great touring advice.  When I am flying I never take an amp with me only my bass (Which btw I use a great travel/gig bag made by modern case called the ambassador.  It can take 500lbs of stress and is as light as a gig bag so you can carry it on your back!).  I try to get the presenters to provide almost everything I need because it gets so expensive when travelling by plane with heavy items! 

BAJ:  What’s the most happening gig you’ve played lately?   

CT:  Getting a chance to play and record with John Scofield and Mino Cinelu was a great experience.  Metalwood recently did a gig with Medeski Martin and Wood at the Montreal Jazz Festival that was kickin. 

BAJ:  Is there anything you’d like to say in closing…? 

CT:  Thanks for havin' me.  I really appreciate the opportunity to chat!

No way, man!  You're the best, and I had a fantastic time chatting with you about this stuff!


Check out Chris’ site at: and buy his solo discs and his book! Chris has a lot of important things to say to anyone who is serious about making a career in music performance adn composition.



Brent-Anthony Johnson is a Bassist/Composer/Producer who co-leads the group Sonal Anu.  The group’s premier disc, Sleep Drum will be released before Christmas 2001, and he can be reached at his website at:  BAJ currently endorses Aguilar Amplifiers, HotWires Strings, Line 6, PRO TEC Cases, and Status Graphite Bass Guitars.  






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