Global Bass Online October 2001
Walking On Water
By Brent-Anthony Johnson
In late August of 2001, I received an unexpected email from an unknown source that spoke very highly of a disc I had never heard of…! I saw a written advertisement for a band led by a bassist by the name of Craig Schoedler, that features Mike Stern, Steve Jordan, and Tom Petrosky in it’s able roster! HUH?! I had to get the disc and check it out for myself, and my response to listening to the disc produced this interview with Craig.
The disc, called "By The Water" portrays a mature bassist who owns the pocket of his compositions, while taking chops laden solos on his fretted 5-string Ken Smith BT Custom bass guitar. By the end of the first tune, "The Mystic", the listener is hooked beyond all repair, and by the end of the disc’s 6 tunes… I was hopelessly won over by Craig’s "chops with sensibility" style of playing! Even my two-year-old son was dancing around our living room and playing air drums! That’s the seal of approval I look for in all the discs that cross over my home’s threshold, and this album wins that prize above and beyond my expectations!
My next move was to grab my laptop and begin penning a story that would give the "ya' gotta hear this guy", heads up to the good readers of our humble magazine! I couldn’t help be feel like I was about to break a story that everyone on the East Coast already knows, "Craig Schoedler is an incredible bassist and composer"! You should get your place in line, now… before the line wraps around the building of the local retail disc outlet! Here’s what we chatted about.
BAJ: Hi Craig! Thanks for sending me a copy of "By The Water"! It’s a great disc, and all you guys played incredibly well. Tell us how the project started, and also tell us why the liner notes state, "Thanks again to the musicians… for helping me keep my sense of humor about the whole thing"?
CS: The project has been in the making for about 3 years. I started writing tunes for the CD back in 1998, but at that time my sons (Miles and Alex) were only 5 and 2 years old. As most parents know, those are very busy years, so I decided to wait a little to record. In the credits of the CD, I do thank the musicians for helping me keep my sense of humor, that was really directed toward Mike Stern. It can be pretty stressful recording your own disc, and Mike was really funny through the whole process. I really appreciated it.
BAJ: I’m hip to the difficulties of leading and recording your own project! Beside the Ken Smith BT Custom 5 you’re pictured with on the disc’s cover, did you employ any other instruments on the recordings?
CS: The only bass I own is my Ken Smith BT Custom 5 string. I am very happy with the sound I get from it, combined with SWR speakers. Ken really knows what he is doing, plus I think I got a great cut of woods for my particular bass.
BAJ: Do you regularly play with the Cats credited on your disc, and how did you settle upon the personnel of this record?
CS: I play with the guys on my CD as often as I can. I asked these guys to play on the CD, because they all bring certain elements to the music, and I was really happy with the combination. I think they are all playing on an extremely high level, and I was really happy with the end result as well.
BAJ: How old are the songs you recorded on the disc, and what is your writing process – where, when, how often do you write?
CS: Some of the tunes were a few years old, but there was a tune that I wrote a few days before the session. That’s why I titled it "BY A HAIR". My writing process is kind of strange, because it doesn’t seem to have any consistency to it. I write some tunes in 6 months, or I write some in 6 minutes. I just try to document things wherever I am when the inspiration hits me.
BAJ: What are the primary differences between sideman and leader in your opinion, and how did you approach the tunes on "By The Water" differently than a session, if at all…?
CS: I think that when you are recording your own CD, you start to think about concerns like lengths of tunes, keeping the disc unified musically, air play, all of which I kind of ignored when it was all said and done. I just wanted to come out with a group of compositions that made me smile. There were certain times that I felt like I should be keeping a tune a certain length, but I always seemed to go with my musical intuition. I think now that musicians are starting to promote and sell their own music on the internet (like me), you will see more artistic decisions being made---which is a very good thing. I just hope that musicians support other musicians in the process. I am excited about this next generation of the music industry.
BAJ: You also give special thanks to a number to Jeff Andrews, Lincoln Goines, and Marcus Miller amongst others… How did these players influence the disc?
CS: I had the great fortune to study with some great players. There was a 5-year period of my life that I was studying weekly with Jeff Andrews, Lincoln Goines, Mike Richmond, and Vince Fay. All of these guys are great players with a lot of different things to offer. I never studied with Marcus Miller, although I was very influenced by his playing along with Anthony Jackson. I think you can hear shades of these guys in my playing from time to time, just because they were a big part of my musical foundation.
BAJ: Your co-producer, Paul Wickliffe, isn’t credited with playing on the disc. How does that relationship work, and what is his part in your process?
CS: I was very fortunate to have Paul Wickliffe on this project. Paul recorded the session, and we both mixed it. I considered Paul a co-producer, because I would bounce ideas off him through the whole process, and he would give me his opinion, then we would compromise. Paul is a talented, professional engineer… no doubt about it!
BAJ: I was particularly taken with your solo on your composition, "For The Family". Could you elaborate on what that song is about?
CS: "For the Family" does have a lot of meaning for me. Of course it means different things to every listener. I always seem to think of it as an expression of how parents make sacrifices in their lives, for the good of the family. The tune has a sadness to it, but the fade out is more optimistic. To me it is a symbol that although people go through some tough times, family is something that preservers.
BAJ: What’s happening for the rest of the year for Craig Schoedler? Will you tour in support of the disc? Also, how will the live representation of the material change from the disc, if at all?
CS: I have recently started selling the CD on the internet. I am very happy with the support from musicians buying the CD online. I have discovered that a record label is not necessarily a must anymore. I have already started to book some jazz festivals world wide for next year. There’s no telling what might happen when performing the music live. I try not to plan too much.
BAJ: Since making the move from Delaware to New Jersey in 1995, how has your life changed? Also, how often do you participate in the club scene in NYC?
CS: Life has been very good. I try to balance music with family. I try to balance life in general.
BAJ: You site a number of projects you’re working with players like Robin Eubanks, George Mesterhazey, Leni Stern, Mike Stern, Steve Jordan, Ralph Bowen, Mike Pedicin JR., and Larry Marshall. How does a family man keep it all together, man?
CS: When you are a musician with a family I think you learn the meaning of balance, and quality time, in everything you do. Most musicians learn to discipline themselves early on… So, I think by the time they have kids, it’s not a problem.
BAJ: In 1990 you started a Masters Degree in music at NYU – after getting your undergraduate degree at Temple University. Tell us your views on education, and the benefits of having as much together as humanly possible before attempting to "hit the scene".
CS: I think a business and marketing background is very helpful to a musician of this generation. There are a variety of artists that are now able to promote themselves via the internet. This is a great opportunity for the art world to regain some power in terms of the kind of art that is to be produced and sold. I think it is still enough just to be extremely talented, but without a marketing sense, you’re at the mercy of other people.
BAJ: You have studied with many fantastic bassists such as Mike Richmond, Adam Nussbaum, Jeff Andrews and Lincoln Goines… Do you now teach up and coming players in New Jersey?
CS: Although I haven’t really pursued teaching lately, I do teach players that contact me through my site at Phillyjazz.org. Every once in a while it is great to see a teenager that really has talent.
BAJ: What will the next disc entail, and have you started recording it yet?
CS: I have a lot of compositions all ready to be recorded. I also have musicians in mind. I’m more excited about the next CD now that I’ve been through the first process.
BAJ: I understand that you’ve spent a lot of time studying bop in particular and jazz in general. Please give us a peek at your overall musical aesthetic?
CS: I’ve been playing 26 years now. During that time I’ve studied a lot of different aspects of music. I’m the type of person that likes to immerse myself in one particular aspect for a month or so. In addition to transcribing all of the great bassists like Anthony Jackson, Jeff Andrews, etc, I would also study singers like Luther Vandross, Brian McKnight, Frank Sinatra, Patti Austin---I think it is great for bassists to really try to play like great singers from time to time. It keeps you melodic and musical.
BAJ: What are you studying these days, and what is your practice regimen like on a daily basis?
CS: I used to practice 6 hours a day for 20 years or so. After my kids were born, that kind of stopped. I am fortunate enough to be playing with great musicians a few times a week now. Although I love playing bass, I do want to enjoy my kids while they’re young, so the lack of practice doesn’t bother me. I did put in years and years, so I guess that will hold me for a while.
BAJ: What are some of your other hobbies, and what artists are you listening to today?
CS: I really enjoy walking on the boardwalk. I could do that all day. I also like the beach a lot. I like to have time alone… peace. I like to follow the Sixers and the Eagles as well.
BAJ: Along with that, give us a list of your 10 most essential discs! If you have more than 10 (I know I do) that’s cool, too.
CS: My Favorite CDs are:
TALES - Marcus Miller
Odds or Evens - Mike Stern
GRATITUDE - Earth Wind and Fire
Here We Go - Larry Marshall
I Remember You - Brian McKnight
Best of - Luther Vandross
Return of the Brecker Brothers
I Will Remember you - PATTI AUSTIN
Don’t Try This At Home - Michael Brecker
Amanda - Miles Davis
The Rhythm of Love - Anita Baker
Is You Is - Marc Coleman
BAJ: Describe to our readers what part passion plays in your approach to playing the bass guitar, and what feelings go through your heart, soul, and mind as you present your music to an audience. Thanks!
CS: Once I start playing, whatever the situation, I go right into Flow, which is a state that a lot of artists go into while creating art of any kind. I find that while playing with a great drummer like Steve Jordan, it is easier to get into this creative state, because you’re not bogged down with thoughts of fighting over the time or groove. I think life experiences make a person passionate, and that passion eventually starts coming through in the form of music.
BAJ: Do you write with a specific goal in mind? Or, do you just begin to flow… and see what's around the next hill?
CS: I never write to a goal. I just write pieces of compositions and then add to them at later times. I just try to write things that make me happy, which usually involve a nice groove and a bass solo.
BAJ: Last question… Let’s pretend I’m a Martian (not too far off!), and explain the concept of "the groove" to me.
CS: I learned the meaning of groove while working with a great drummer (Bev Reese). Groove has to do with thinking of beats 3 dimensionally, instead of thinking of them as points in time. There’s a lot more than just playing in time. You can play on the top of the beat, middle, or back… depending upon what style of music you’re playing. A groove is when you play on the back of the beat. An edge is when you play on the top of the beat. Great musicians usually adjust to the type of music that they’re playing. I think that while this concept comes easy to certain musicians, it is one of those things that can take a while to understand.
BAJ: How can people get a copy of "By The Water" since it is currently not in stores?
CS: The CD can be purchased by going to www.craigschoedler.com . I am currently building a web page. My e-mail is Brantley53 AT aol DOT com.
Thanks a lot, Craig! This is a fantastic disc and I hope you receive all the success your playing deserves!
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