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       Baba Elefante


 

ĎMusical Skydivingí 

If you have a first name like Baba, itís only a matter of course youíre going to be asked where it came from. Compound that with a last name that is also slightly out of the norm and the urge will be overwhelmingÖso we had to ask.

His response?  ďThatís a name that my older brother gave me when we were young, because he couldnít say Ďbabyí, so itís been a nickname ever since. I couldnít shake it.Ē

 When Global spoke to Bunny Brunel it turned out that was exactly what had happened to him also when he was a little kid, only in his case it was a couple of little girls that couldnít pronounce his name.  

Baba:  Oh youíre kidding me, I didnít know that. I know Bunny, but I never asked him about his name. 

GB:  It was Dann Glenn that referred us to you, how do you know of him?

Baba:  Me & Dann used to teach, we started when the Bass Centre in L.A. opened up years ago. We started there along with Jeff Berlin and Dann was one of the first teachers, along with myself.  

GB:   You are playing constantly, including a regular gig in the area you live in, in the Orange County area. 

Baba:   I play a lot of Jazz, I know itís very rare to have a steady Jazz gig, but I have one. Itís in a place called Oysters in Corona Del Mar (on the Pacific Coast Highway). Itís a Thursday, Friday thing and itís really cool. Itís kind of a pick up scene where we can do what we want. We try out new tunes there, we do some open free Jazz.  

GB:  This is with the Ron Kobayashi Trio? You have also released a few CDís with Ron, including ĎExotic Placesí in `99. How is the album being received, have you captured any airplay?



Baba:  Weíre getting airplay on a couple stations, it is a small market, it is Jazz. Heís not a real big name per se, but we do some sales in Tower Records. Also in New York we get a little airplay as well. Spot markets basically. 

GB: In the trio, do you look at yourself as a band member or a sideman?  

Baba:  Whatís cool about that band is itís actually is a Jazz band but weíre all band members. We play as a band. I do so much free lancing work where I just go on as a sideman, Iím just hired for the evening or whatever or a certain concert, but thatís (Ron Kobayashiís Trio) actually a band that plays together.  

GB: So Ron values your opinion, your ideas and youíre able to suggest arrangements? 

Baba:   Absolutely!  I actually wrote tunes for the CDís.  

GB:   So you are quite at home in this band? 

Baba:   The first thing a lot of people ask me in an interview is Ďwho have you played with?í, they want to hear the big names. But some of the finest people Iíve ever played with are not necessarily quite as popular or well known. Iíve played with some so-called name artists, and these guys Iím working with in this trio are equally as talented if not better.  

GB:  Could you give us a rundown on the equipment you use? 

Baba:   I have an ĎFí Bass, itís my favorite. I actually heard Alain Carron playing one and I fell in love with the instrument. I had Bass Centre order one and when I took it off the wall and played it I told them to put it behind the counter. I told them then it was mine.  

GB:  Have you ventured into endorsements at all?

Baba: I also have a fretted bass called a Bossa that was made in Japan. I had a sort of artist endorsement with them where they put my name on the program and I got the bass at cost. I am definitely looking into another fretted bass, though I like that bass a lot. When I find an instrument I like I am not one to change every week for the newest latest thing. One of the problems is that I donít want to endorse something just because I get it for free. Iím a working musician and I have to have something that I really want to play and that I use. I also have a string endorsement with GHS.  

GB: How about the amplification area? 

Baba:  Again, if I have something that works, thatís what I use. Right now I am using an Eden head and cabinet. I also have SWR gear that I use on smaller Jazz gigs. If I do any bigger gigs, I just go through the house system. I donít do a whole lot of roadwork any more, the last thing I did was with Lee Oskar, although Lee doesnít do that much work any more. So I am in town a lot. 

GB: Itís your choice to be Ďin town a lotí? 

Baba:  Yeah, a lot of the tours that are out there right now, for me I would do better financially just staying in town. I also get to play the music I want to play, I am pleased with it.  

GB:  Aside from the authorship of songs in the Ron Kobayashi Trio albums, any plans on doing a solo project of your own?  

Baba:   Matter of fact I am in the process of doing a solo record right now. What I am gonna do on this one is Iím gonna make it using more than one band. Earlier on I did a year where I was a solo bass player just doing a jazz gig. 


GB: You just sat there by yourself?

Baba:   I would do festivals and things like that. I have a whole repertoire of jazz tunes with chords and harmonics that are set up to be played unaccompanied. I did that for a long time. Then for about 2 years I held a gig at a club with just me and a sax player. It really got me to understand the bass almost like a keyboard.  

GB: Of course the old argument will come up! Guitarists will be falling all over each other wanting to lecture you as to the fact that you are not playing ĎThe Roleí of bass player, do you still run into that?

Baba:  Well, you know, when I did that I never left the bass. I just added other things on top. So the very first thing I did was that I made sure there was always a bass line going and then I would learn how to arrange chords and harmonics around that. Occasionally I ran into that attitude, but I was usually on a blues gig. When I do those gigs, I back off and I play more of a typical bass role.  

GB:  Canít help but admire the guts to just sit there on a stool by yourself and play. 

Baba:  I had tunes worked out, I didnít use a drum machine or anything like that. I would play the melody with the bass line, then I would take a bass solo within the tune, then another solo in a higher register like a chordal guitar solo.  

GB: So how are you holding all these things together, all at the same time?

Baba:  I would just do the bass line on the bottom with the melody on the higher strings, although I did this on a five string because to me a 6 string sounded too much like a guitar and I wanted it to sound like a bass player. The mind is pretty amazing, you donít have spell out everything for people, so you can outline a chord, or you can just play a chord as a chord. You can leave the spaces and let their minds fill it in. If a singer sings a certain note, you can play other notes around that or just the right bass note, reinforce it with a short chord after that and it works very well that way. If itís a song they recognize, the audience fills it in for themselves to a degree.

What I am going to do on the solo album is use different trios and duos, Iíst not just gonna one band through all the songs. Itís going to be a group of really fine players Iíve played with. Maybe some name players, maybe some that arenít. Iíll probably use Lee Oskar for a track, doing a bass and harmonica thing.  

Baba also mentions at this time his hope to involve another bass player that lives near him, that he really admires, in the project. You canít help but notice the generosity of spirit on his part at about this time.  In a musical era where so many musicians are so desperately trying to make sure that no one gets one more gig, opportunity or credit than they do, this maturity is rare and appreciated.  We asked him if he was aware that this quality was rare. 

Baba:  Years ago, it was the bass players who were like lineman on a football team. They stuck together and it was the guitar players and lead singers that had the ego problem.  Iíve seen it develop over the years where bass players have come more to the forefront, and itís really sad, `cos Iíve seen a lot of those bass players in that competitive role which is not my way of thinking at all. Actually I plan to have other bass players on this solo album as well.  

GB:  So as soon as they have an opportunity to embrace the melodic role to some degree, they often become the same kind of jerks they have had to fight off their whole careers. Itís so human...often when a suppressed group achieves freedom, they just pick up the banner of their oppressors. 

Baba:  A lot of players are like that. But if I hire a sub(stitute) for a gig, I hire the best guy I can to fill my shoes. Then I donít worry about losing my gig. I want someone who can kick ass on the gig.  

GB:  One question, going back a bit. How did you manage to convince a club owner to hire a solo bassist to carry a gig?

Baba: It was because it started out as the sax/bass thing, so he knew I could do it. Otherwise it would be very very tough. Then from there on if I did any kind of gigs off that I would bill it as a guitar player.

GB:   As a guitar player?

Baba:   Yup, I would say I was a guitar player and they wouldnít know the difference. People would come up and say Ďhey, I like your banjoí.


 

GB:  The general public doesnít even recognize you are playing in the bottom register, do they?  How do you feel about 7, 8, 9, and 12 string basses?

Baba:  My view on that, I think, is fairly open minded. Itís definitely not for me, but all the power to them. If they can find a use for that musically and it works for them, then go for it. I know as a working bass player, four strings is enough. I play 5 strings, but you can get by and do a great job on four strings. Itís plenty.  

GB: In a way someone like Jaco would personify that. Four strings and what he did with them! 

Baba:  Thereís a thing too, where I have students that buy basses like loaves of bread. I tell them that it is so important that they understand all the sound they need can come from their hands.  

GB:  Well again, look what Tony Levin can do with his 3 string bass or just the bottom strings on the Chapman Stick. Listen to what he can pull emotionally out of one note! 

Baba:  Absolutely, you know where he is coming from. He has a sound and a very strong identity. Thatís the hardest thing to do, to find your own voice in your instrument. It has to do a lot with the notes you choose, how long you hold them down, your touch. That is the sound of you working the instrument, not the amp or even the bass itself. 

GB:  How would you say you are doing in the search for your own musical identity on the bass?

Baba:  Well I strive for that every day, I struggle with that. We have so many heroes, especially because I play fretless.  Jaco keeps seeping into it, because he held such a strong foothold. Itís hard not to, by listening to him, itís gonna get into your playing. 

GB:  We all go through that time in our playing life, if we dedicate a lot of time to our craft, where we sound like our heroes. I canít help but think that that is something all players have to work through, using their heroes to catapult them forward, but eventually coming to the day where they realize that they have to distill those heroes out of their playing and make the journey on their own. 

Baba:   Thereís no getting around thatÖitís in front of you and you have to work through that.  

GB:  Another bass magazine recently had an article on a bass player by the name of Richard Bona. Apparently this guy is just incredible, and the article was entitled ďBeyond JacoĒ. My bone of contention, or ĎBonaí contention for the lack of a better phrase, is I am so sick to the teeth of ĎEverything Jacoí. Letís get on to other things here. I canít help but wonder if Jaco himself might say just Ďmove oní. 

Baba:  I was having this conversation with someone and it was kinda related to that. It had to do with the whole idea of Jazz. The idea of Jazz was it was to be experimental, it would breathe and grow as you played it. That was the whole philosophy of Jazz, it was a form or rebellion. And now the jazz purists are not even allowing that to happen. They want it to be such that if you use electric bass for jazz, itís not jazz anymore.  

GB:  They become the very conservatives they wanted originally to move away from. 

Baba:  Yeah, they want to keep it in a box. It was never meant to be like that. And the same thing with Jaco, itís like, move beyond it, get passed it. It happened, now youíre not a purist if itís not in the bag of what he was doing. 

GB:  Makes you wonder that if he were around, if he would take a moment to smack a few people upside the head. 

Baba:  I love Miles Davis for the way he was a trailblazer in the sense that he was at the top of BeBop and then he would switch over and do something like ĎCool Bopí. Then when he was at the top of that and had all these followers, he would say ĎAlright Iíve done that, letís do electric music nowí. Same with Bob Dylan, people who were at the top of their game and then took a left turn because they wanted to grow and breathe as artists. Dann Glenn is another guy. He's doing what he wants to do. If he wasnít, if he just put out generic albums, he would be robbing the public or his audience of whatís really Dann Glenn.  

GB:   You and I both know he has the necessary chops to do a Mark King or a Stanley Clarke thing, if he wanted. 

Baba:  Heís not playing for the crowd, heís saying ďThis is what I doĒ.    One of the things Iíve had was that I have always played music. I feel like a rich man, Iíve played music now for 32 years. What a gift, if I were to die tomorrow I would die a Ďrich maní. Iíve always played music, and on my own terms. Iíve called my own shots. Thatís actually hard to do in L.A.   Itís just very competitive out here. Iíve seen some great musicians that came into town but ended up just moving out. They were great musicians, itís just that the spots are filled.  

GB:   What is it in you that decided to not go out and grab some big gig somewhere with an established artist?  Why not join a supergroup, you have the chops. 

Baba:  One of the reasons is I have to look at the long term. I could do it for about a minute, but that would be about it. I wouldnít be happy doing that, it has to be something that is fulfilling to me musically. There have been rock gigs offered, and I love rock and roll, but for me I didn't see me growing there.  

I love improvisational music, itís probably the most challenging music Iíve played. You are improvising music on the spot. I always like to have a handful of gigs in that vein, itís just more challenging.  

GB: That takes a special kind of courage.

Baba:  Youíre right about the courage thing, you are laying your ass on the line and you can fall at any time. Thatís probably the other reason I like it.  

GB:  Musical skydiving? Well, the old joke goes Ďyouíre only a semitone away from the right noteí. This must also entail a lot of theory, understanding your music and why it works

Baba:  Itís always like a puzzle you figure out. You get some new changes or you can look at the same simple changes but thereís a million ways to play over those changes. If somebody tells me on a gig ďOh, I donít want to play that tune, Iím tired of that tuneĒ, to me that doesnít make sense. Thereís only 12 notes but even with just a Major 7th chord, thereís a hundred ways you can play it. Play it hip if youíre tired of the way youíve been playing it before. All kinds of different perspectives from one simple chord.    

You can hear samples of Baba working in the context of the Ron Kobayashi Trio by going to their site atÖ


http://www.carpetcat.com

 

 

                                  

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