Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I remember seeing Gerald Veasley at Philadelphia’s old Zanzibar Blue club several years ago. At one point between sets I could hear someone in a back room playing incredible saxophone, apparently warming up to sit in with the bassist. It was Grover Washington, Jr.
Veasley, who had an association with Washington as well as with keyboardist and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, now has a night club named after him, Gerald Veasley’s Jazz Base at the Crowne Plaza outside of Reading, Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania bass boot camp started in 2002 and organizers have since expanded the concept to other areas. Bass Boot Camp Canada is scheduled for Ontario on July 29. And Bass Boot Camp at Sea will be held during the Capital Jazz Fest Cruise from October 23-30.
The 2010 camp in Reading culminated with a Saturday night jam—a jam I sat out on because the players were going a little funkier than this veteran of umpteen blues jams was accustomed to. I used my stage fright to start an interview with Veasley where I picked his brain for tips on better bass-playing:
BBP: Let me tell you my situation. I’ve been playing blues a lot, and actually I was really intimidated last night when it came to getting up and playing the funk music. How do you transition from one form of bass-playing to another?
Veasley: That’s a great question. I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that question exactly like that. I would say to make that transition one of the best things you can do is immerse yourself in that style. And that’s not easy because we all have things that we really love and we have a tendency to go back to those things. But even that, if someone has like a real, say specialized focus or narrow focus on a particular style, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. But you, you just explained to me that, you know, “I want to try and transition.” Well, the thing you have to do is really immerse yourself. You have to spend a lot of time with those recordings. If you’re interested in funk playing, for example, then you have to listen to people like Larry Graham, go back and listen to Parliament-Funkadelic, you know some of the real quintessential funk performances, you know, and just immerse yourself in it, just really, really listen.
BBP: In general how does someone improve their bass playing?
Veasley: Number one is the consistency, that you have to set some time aside and do it daily if you can. Doesn’t matter how long, as long as it’s consistent. If you only have a half-hour, five days a week, but it’s a focused half-hour, and it’s consistent, you’ll make a lot of progress, as opposed to every two weeks you put in three hours. That’s not going to work. The second thing you can do is get great instruction. Wherever you can, not just my camp. Victor Wooten’s Bass Nature Camp is an awesome experience with a whole other revolutionary way of teaching not just bass but creativity. And then there’s no substitute for private instruction. Find a great teacher that you have a good rapport with, that is going to challenge you and push you a little bit, nudge you, but at the same time be patient with you and inspire you.
BBP: How effective are DVD’s in learning?
Veasley: I think DVD’s are very effective because you have the ability to rewind and practice a particular concept or technique. You can learn it at your own pace. You know the missing element with DVD’s frankly is the DVD can’t hold you accountable the way a teacher can. But it’s still a great tool.
BBP: Is there anything you should keep in mind from the point-of-view of theory. I remember the class that I took with you yesterday you were talking about the four, the circle you drew?
Veasley: Oh the cycle of fourths, the cycle of fourths. The cycle of fourths is an essential tool that we can use for either practicing, or more, to understand the way that music and chord progressions move. It has just a lot of various applications. In the class yesterday I was using it as a method to really learn your neck. To reinforce knowing the notes that are on the neck of the instrument.
BBP: And what are the notes again?
Veasley: Well if you start at C, it’s C, F, B-flat, E-Flat, A-Flat, D-flat, which is also C-sharp, G-Flat, which is F-sharp, B, E, A, D and G.
BBP: And also, how important is it to know the neck in any style?
Veasley: You have to know your neck. Anthony Wellington, one of our instructors, he always says that you know you will never find a saxophone player that doesn’t know the notes on the saxophone. Or a piano player that doesn’t know the notes on a piano. But we have bass players a-plenty who don’t know the notes on their instrument. And he feels that it’s really not good at all. I think it’s very important because you won’t be able to read music without knowing the notes of an instrument. It slows down rehearsal, if you’re working with other musicians if you don’t know the notes on your instrument, and yeah, it’s very basic. But that’s not to say it’s, I mean I do understand why people don’t , because you can go so far and play music on the bass not knowing the notes. Because there’s something about the bass and the feel of the bass, the layout of the bass that makes things accessible. That you could play them, without understanding them. But the understanding is where all of the growth is.
BBP: And how important is it to be able to play the bass without looking at what you’re doing? I was watching you play yesterday and you were…
Veasley: I don’t know if it’s that important to not look, but you want to get comfortable and know your instrument so well that you don’t have to look, where it’s really second nature and it’s just a part of you. That’s the ultimate goal.
BBP: And foot-tapping. How important is that?
Veasey: Foot-tapping? Foot tapping is again is more of a—I would say less of a tool than more of a symptom. So if I see folks who can’t tap their feet in time, it only means that that’s something they should probably—slow down, work on their rhythm.
BBP: Is some kind of body movement sort of helpful in this?
Veasley: Body movement I think is great, you know. My rule of thumb about body movement is, whatever helps the music. So if body movement is going to help you become more expressive, the thing is great. But, to the other extreme, sometimes body movement can be something that doesn’t serve the music. For example, sometimes bass players will have little idiosyncrasies where they’re going to reach for a note and a shoulder goes up. And they’re not aware of it. So there’s body movement that people are aware of that are intentional and there’s body movement that’s unintentional. Some body movement is helpful and some is not helpful. So when I point out something to a player like that, like “man, your left shoulder goes up everytime you reach for that note,” they’ll say “really” and they won’t even be aware of it. But I’m saying don’t change it, be aware of it. So awareness is the key to all of this. So I encourage sometimes players to look in the mirror to start to really understand, how your body relates to the music.