Around the time that my friends and I were turning 14, it became popular among our group to learn to play guitar. Up until that time I had no interest in learning a musical instrument, and had not felt particularly drawn to music in any special way. A friend of mine suggested that I try playing the bass so I gave it a try. Right away I knew it was something that I wanted to do. Something about it just seem to click for me.
Do you remember your first musical instrument? Was it given to you or you just bought yourself?
I bought my first electric bass from a music teacher in my middle school just as I was leaving for high school. It was actually a very nice bass for a beginner to learn on, and I think that made things a bit easier for me getting started.
How did you come up with the idea of play double-bass to play or create music? One does not get up one morning and… bam! How was it for you? Did you perhaps see someone use it, an uncle…? How did it happen?
I began my jazz studies at NYU as purely an electric bass player. I was new to jazz in general, but it became clear to me the more I listened that if I wanted to play acoustic jazz, I would need to learn how to play the acoustic bass. My teacher at NYU was the great Mike Richmond who is someone who is well-versed in both the acoustic and electric bass. Halfway through my second year of college I began to transition to the acoustic bass. Mike was an excellent teacher to help me with the transition. I began playing on the bass that was available to me at school, but six months later I bought my first acoustic bass which I played throughout the remainder of my college studies. Upon graduating, I bought myself a higher grade instrument as I began my professional career which I still play to this day.
Did your parents support you? Maybe they wanted you to become an accountant, so to speak. Your parents, in your artistic inclination, what role did they have? Did they help and support you, or did they have other plans or hopes for you?
I was the first person in my family to pursue a career in music, so the concept was very foreign to my parents. They were not particularly enthusiastic about my decision to begin with. Their biggest concern was exactly how I would be able to make a living. Given how difficult the music business is, thatʼs a legitimate concern. As I was able to support myself from the beginning of my career solely from playing music, I think it help them worry less and be a bit more supportive of my decision. Now they are very happy for me and the career that Iʼve had.
When did you decide to make a profession of your creativity and music? What did you do? How did you start? What happened? How exactly did your adventure take off? Did the apprentice for someone? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of? That this was your path and your life? Was there a specific event that you remember triggereing it? You play double-bass, but did you start with that or with a different musical instrument?
Once I began playing the electric bass it was something that I was very serious about from the beginning. I did not know right from the start that I would pursue a career in music, but the bass was a part of my life in a big way even then. When it came time to pick a major course of study in college, I knew for certain that it would be music. It was something that I had to do. Since I had very little experience at that point in my life, I knew I had a lot of ground to make up. I was always very serious about practicing and improving as a musician. Going to school in New York, it was very clear just how hard it would be to make a living at playing music given the high level of playing here. I was amazed to see world class bands playing for $50 a night at a club in Greenwich Village. It really forced me to double my efforts to improve so that when I got out of school I could give myself a chance to be part of that scene. By time I left school, I was practicing eight hours a day every day on the acoustic bass. I was making just enough to get by when I left school.
I continued to practice several hours a day for many years just to try to keep up with the professional standards around me. Which was very fortunate considering I had only had a few years of experience playing the instrument.
Have you ever come across negative people? Have you ever met someone in your career who told you: “Why do you bother? Where do you think youʼre going”? Someone who got you demotivated?
Surviving in New York as a musician is a very difficult thing. For one, itʼs an expensive city to live in so making enough money to stay here is always a great challenge. That fact alone is something that can be a very negative turn off for a lot of people, myself included. I have been very lucky to have been able to make a living right away as a musician once I left school, so Iʼve never had any other job than this. That has given me the time over the years to continue to hone my craft and improve. I havenʼt come across too many people who were ever outwardly negative to me or who suggested I should find something else to do other than play music. However, I have had plenty of instances of self-doubt given how hard it is to play music at a high level. Here in New York, there is just so much competition. There are so many people who play this music at a very high level, and itʼs easy to get discouraged and think that perhaps I might never be able to play as well as they do, especially in the beginning stages of your career.
What helped you through tough times? Or who did it? What motivated to keep going through hard times? if you had any?
In the end, what motivated me to continue through all the rough patches in my career was my love for music. To put up with all the difficulties of a career in music, you have to love music more than you hate all of the negative things about the business. Without it, no one would ever stay in this business. I am a firm believer that that desire has to come from you and you alone. No one can help you generate that kind of enthusiasm. You have to have a strong believe in yourself and believe that you can overcome problems even when a solution is not apparent. Sometimes that challenge is a musical one, sometimes that challenge is something else. Either way, my desire to play music is what has sustained me all this time.
When did you perform live for the first time? Did you sweat it? Were your legs shaking? How did you make it through?
The first time I played in front of a live audience was in high school. I was very nervous and the whole thing was a bit of a blur. Getting nervous is a normal experience for most people when they play, and itʼs something that only goes away the more playing opportunities that you get. It took a long time, but eventually playing in front of audience was something that I became very comfortable with. However, there are always certain experiences that can be a little bit more nerve-racking than others. I think it always depends on how prepared I feel for the performance and if the music is something that I am comfortable with or is a bit outside of my comfort zone. I think itʼs a great thing to find opportunities that are outside your comfort zone and challenge you to stretch and to grow.
Is there someone who inspired you from an artistic point of view? Even if not directly connected to the music? (Are there any musicians or people in general that inspire you now or have done so in the past? Those you would have a poster hang on the wall or that would be a screen saver nowadays? If so, how did they inspire you?)
My teacher Mike Richmond has been a big musical influence on me. Mike was someone who played music at the highest levels and across many different genres. He was someone who was classically trained when he was younger but also was on a very serious jazz track as well. Over his career he has performed with a wide variety of big names like Miles Davis, David Bowie, and The Philadelphia Orchestra. That kind of open minded approach to music was something that struck me. I try to listen for inspiration in all different kinds of music, not just jazz. I think it something that makes me a more well-rounded musician and ultimately a better player. In addition to Mike, there have been several bass players who have helped inspire me in a number of ways. Some of the names that come to mind would be Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Charles Mingus, Red Mitchell, Michael Moore, Dave Holland. The list could go on and on. Every player is an individual so thereʼs always something different to be learned from each great master thatʼs out there. For instance, Mingus is a bigger influence on me as a composer and as a bass player, although I love his playing too. As a composer Wayne Shorter is a big influence for me as is Miles Davis‘s group from the 60s with Wayne and Herbie Hancock.
Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
My style has definitely changed over the years. I think the more informed I become on jazz language and jazz ideas the more thatʼs reflected in my playing and writing. For me the progression has been from more inside playing to more modern and expanded concepts. Itʼs just the natural progression of constantly listening to other players and to new musical sources be they in jazz or from outside of Jazz. I think itʼs rather boring to settle on one style of playing. That can only lead to stagnation as an artist and stagnant music as a result. I do my best to keep my ears open for new ideas and new sounds in the hopes that I might learn something from them and make them a part of what I do.
Is there any style or trend you have not explored and you would like to? Any style of music that you donʼt normally play but you are attracted to?
I have a great respect for Latin jazz players, but I already play several kinds of music besides jazz including classical music and more popular styles of music on the electric bass. There really isnʼt any room for me at the moment to take on another style of music and really get into it. I have too much respect for that music to do it and a half hearted way, so I think Iʼll stay as an audience member when it comes to Latin jazz.
If you were not an artist, a musician… what other profession do you think you could have done?
Thatʼs a question I think about from time to time. I was someone who was rather good in school before I started studying music and I think there are a number of things I couldʼve done. Still, itʼs really hard to imagine doing anything other than playing music so in the end thereʼs never any one thing that I could point to and say thatʼs what I wouldʼve done. A career in science might have been something that would have suited me perhaps. My mother is a lawyer and she says I wouldʼve made a good lawyer and perhaps sheʼs right. I could probably speculate about a lot of things, but all of it seems like it would have been someone elseʼs life, not mine.
And one last question with which we always end all of our interviews: would you have any advice to any young entrepreneur or anyone really that would love to start his/her own business and fulfill “the” dream. What advice would you give to someone who wants to fulfill his dream? And one who does not want to be a musician? Who has a dream in a sector different from yours?
I think the best advice that I would give for someone who is starting out following their dream, whether it is in music or anything else, is that perseverance and dedication is the best and only way to succeed. Itʼs not about who is more talented, but who is willing to work harder. Talent in any field makes up at best only 20% of the final product. 80% is the hard work that you put in to make your dream a reality. When I started in music school, there were a number of people who were better players than me. By the end of my time in music school though, I went on to have a career and a lot of them did not. Was I more talented than them? I donʼt think so. But I do know that I practiced more than they did and I wanted it more as well. Whatever your dream is, learn as much about that subject as you can. Never stop learning about it. Always strive to be better and better. Keep your mind open for new ideas and be flexible. Be a student for life and you will always find your way.
ph. courtesy Stephanie Wade
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