The lowdown on playing with bass legendHave you ever been part of a mismatch? In basketball, did you ever have to guard someone who could jump through the roof? Ever been a defensive back trying to guard an all-state wide receiver?
I spent four days last week at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia at a music camp for bass players.
Friends Donovan Stokes and Inez Wyrick help with the bass program at the university. Along with one of my best friends Mark Rubinstein, jazz pianist extraordinaire, I was transformed into jazzbo camp counselor, helping young folks learn to swing on the upright bass in a trio setting.
At the camp, the kids learned orchestra parts, solo pieces, how to make strange noises with the instrument, and a few things
a b ou t ho w
these massive instruments are made. “Even a bad day on the bass is better than a great day on cello” was some bass humor we saw from one of the nerd kids.
Mark and I were also invited to be the backup for Rufus Reid, to culminate the camp and workshops. Reid is one of the deans of jazz bassists, internationally renowned who has recorded with the greats of the art form and now lends his talents to teaching the next generation. He has played with the great Thad Jones and Mel Lewis trio and pretty much everyone who is anyone on the jazz scene. He fronts his own groups and pens books on bass instruction.
And then there was me. Where Reid has played and recorded at The Kennedy Center and great halls around the nation, I’ve most recently been playing at The Ranch and Cliff’s. There’s the mismatch.
I was already nervous about performing with him, and Mark and I were allowed only about a 45-minute rehearsal to nail down about five tunes. One of those tunes had an Afro-Cuban groove, not one I was familiar w ith as the blues and polka bands I spend most of my time with never call it. There was also a chart in 7/4 time that switched to 4/4, then back with kicks and accents. Those contorted rhythms can make a country boy drumm er hurt 204526A01 himself.(Keep in mind, I hadn’t read music — save the boys beginner piano finger lessons — in roughly two decades.) Mark has done thousands of jazz gigs and he’s just an exceptional player, so he wasn’t having much trouble.
Yours tr uly, however, had about the worst rehearsal ever, and probably had Mr. Reid’s blood pressure up as our performance time neared.
I went over the tunes in my head over and over, and did pushups, squats and stretches to combat nerves. I guess I worried and fretted about it the right amount, though. With help from his cues and, no doubt some supernatural intervention, we made it through these charts with no train wrecks.
Even had a latin-f lavored drum solo in which I didn’t lose the beat or drop my sticks. And while I wouldn’t even be in his top 1,000 call-back list, it was a small victory to make it through the performance.
Man, it’s f un to play jazz. Even though I had no business on stage with Rufus, it was such an honor to play with him and perform at that level in front of a crowd. I breathed a big sigh of relief when it was over, high from the energy one gets back from a crowd and that sense of “whew!”
Sitting through four days of students play ing bass is not something easily described in words. But those low-register tones that dominated the weekend made for some high-quality memories.