Bass Magazine Check-In With Chris Brubeck - Bass Magazine - The Future of Bass

As the world continues to recover from the Coronavirus, we're all finding ourselves in unfamiliar territory given the subsequent lockdown that is keeping us off of stages and confined to our homes. Luckily, there's comfort in the fact that we're all in this together, and that there are still many outlets for us musicians to keep us active and sane throughout this quarantine. We're checking in with bass players from all over the world to see what they're doing to stay entertained, healthy, productive, and safe during this trying time.

Bass Player: Chris Brubeck

Bands & Artists: Dave Brubeck, Sky King, Larry Coryell, B.B. King, Brubecks Play Brubeck, Triple Play, The Brubeck Brothers Quartet

Home: Wilton, Connecticut

Chris Brubeck Photo

How have you been passing time during the lockdown?

Well, for some context, we've lost, postponed or rescheduled 70 gigs over these months, and literally years of planning have evaporated. 2020 was the Centennial of my father's birth in 1920 and celebrations all over the world had been planned, from Royal Albert Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. Worse yet, in February the band Brubecks Play Brubeck—with my brothers Darius and Dan, and British saxophonist Dave O'Higgans—did a sold-out week at Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in London and a week of English gigs after that. Sometime on that English tour we all got exposed to the coronavirus and most of us came down with it. My brothers Dan and Darius were in the hospital for five weeks and barely survived. My wife and I had much milder cases and like many people spent weeks in quarantine. All of which to say I’ve been passing my time thanking God that no one in my family died. Gratitude, praying, communicating with family, and dealing with hospitals and recovery plans dominated my life for months. The dire situation forces you to keep things in perspective. Happily I can report that Darius and Dan are recovering ahead of the normal timeline and regaining their strength every day. The Brubeck Brothers will ride again when the world is ready for live gigs in the future.

Triple Play “Topeka Flyer”:

What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?

I’ve been concentrating more on compositional activities and record production remix projects. Sirius FM Jazz Radio broadcast the Brubeck Brothers Quartet first set from the January Jazz Cruise, to celebrate Jazz Month in April. Ultimately it came out very well, but because of covid, instead of going to a remix session and sitting next to the engineer we were remixing by correspondence. Lots of detail involved in that endeavor. Speaking of detail, nothing is more detailed than orchestration and going over every aspect of the music for every part. Notes, dynamics, accents, language to guide the players, courtesy accidentals to pre-save players from their likely mistakes, and so on. So it’s liberating to escape that minutia and just lay down a groove on the bass at home, which I’ve been doing. Usually something funky with a little jazz overlay for embellishment. From decades of experience I know that you can practice at home a lot but nothing compares to “road chops.” Only when doing a bunch of gigs in a row do you get back into peak form. I’m not playing any gigs so I’m concentrating on other aspects of my musical life. which includes practicing trombone and piano.

What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?

I’ve been listening a lot to the “classic” Dave Brubeck Quartet, immersing myself in checking out how great that group was. Each person had their legendary strengths, few weaknesses, but most importantly each musician filled a critical role to make the band an incredible, coherent musical entity. From a bass player’s point of view, Eugene Wright was not moving in a Scott LaFaro solo technique direction, nor did he come from that tradition. Eugene had a role to fulfill in the group and it’s good for contemporary musicians to check out what bass players did pre-Jaco and pre-Eddie Gomez—both brilliant musicians who redefined their roles on their instruments. “Old School” bass players who came out of the Count Basie tradition were the foundation in a quartet; keeping track of the harmonic structure, gluing the time together, and “holding down the fort,” while the other three players were freed up to explore other musical territories.

The Brubeck Brothers “Bullwinkle’s Revenge” live:

What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?

Nothing new for me, I still play my 1969 Rickenbacker 4001 fretless with Rotosound Tru Bass 88 Tapewound strings, through an SWR Electric Blue head and assorted cabinets. Despite not playing upright, I’m a traditionalist in many ways. I still love my connection with this exact piece of wood that I have played for a half century on many recordings with The Dave Brubeck Quartet, The Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Triple Play, and many others. It is an extension of my hands and my brain, and I am grateful we found each other.

What non-music activities, books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?

Since I’m not traveling though airports and staying in a new hotel every night, I’ve been making the most of enjoying time at home with my wife. We've been doing lots of gardening together. Every morning I’m eager to see what is blooming, or check out what the tomatoes and pepper plants are kicking out! I’m eating well and enjoying home-cooked food. Because I'm not on tour, I'm not grabbing dinner and beers with the boys at 11PM, after the gig—as the band’s trombonist, as well as bassist, it’s hard to eat dinner and then play a gig on a full stomach. As a consequence I'm losing weight and feeling healthier all the time. I’m currently reading a biography of Herman Melville. I recently read American Moonshot, by Douglas Brinkley. And I just finished The Compassion of Jazz, a book by Jim Cassell, my recently retired agent and founder of the well known Berkeley Agency. I learned so much about him that I didn't know while we were working together. What a cool guy who got into the business because he had a passion for jazz and tried to improve the jazz scene for everyone involved. He sure got out of the music business at the right time, as 15% of no gigs is no way for anyone to make a living! This is just one example of the ancillary avenues of heavy dues when live performances come to a screeching halt.

The Brubeck Brothers “The Duke”:

What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?

I wrote a new commission for the 50th Anniversary of the New England Conservatory of Music Wind Ensemble. Then covid struck so the great college musicians couldn't assemble to rehearse it. Next, the entire school closed so the premiere was postponed. But I know from the input and feedback from the conductor, Charles Peltz, that the piece is going to be very strong. If the colleges reopen it will be premiered next year and probably get played by many of the top college wind ensembles who are always on the lookout for new music. The classical guitar concerto, “Affinty,” which I wrote for multiple Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin, is finally out and getting terrific reviews. It’s exciting to get an orchestra piece into the public consciousness and on the radio. The album is called Afiinity, on Zoho Classix, and the piece kicks off the record with a thrilling performance by Sharon and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, with Elizabeth Schulze conducting.

What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?

My best advice is to write; even if you are primarily a bass player, think of yourself as a composer too. Maybe you can collaborate with other musicians who are locked out of their typical touring life. This ultimately should help you create some sort of income stream to survive lean times like now. Although this is an unprecedented world-wide assault on the arts. Never in my life has the entire planet been simultaneously screwed and all concerts brought to a halt. It’s a good time to write, and in my case as someone who has basically been on tour since 1969, it’s a good time to lay back and reflect on your life a little bit. I've even listened to a few of my recordings from some time ago and found myself satisfied that I liked what I was hearing. Usually I’m so busy traveling through airports, doing sound checks and gigs, plus writing new compositions on high-pressured deadlines that I don’t often stop to listen to anything I’ve done, unless it’s the current project I’m mixing, editing, or composing. If the covid virus and subsequent touring ban continues it might be time to think about writing that book I’ve said I'll get to someday. I’ve had many beautiful adventures with some truly great people in my life, and this of course includes many gifted musicians.

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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi