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: Leo Traversa
Bands & Artists: Tania Maria, Bobby Sanabria, New York Voices, Hendrik Muerkens, Eileen Ivers, Marc Wagnon, Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band, Don Byron and Steve Kimock
Home: New York City
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I've been very fortunate during this lockdown to have a place in the country to go to with family, so it’s actually been okay. Of course I miss my gigs, traveling, and teaching but I set up a little studio, taught myself Logic, and for the first time in my career, I’m recording music and working on my first record. That’s something I’ve procrastinated about for many years and may have never accomplished if not for a pandemic! One of my oldest friends, bassist Gary Haase, and another old friend, A.T.N. Stadwijk, have been helping me with production. Right before the lockdown, I joined a group called Bronx Banda, a diverse group of musicians led by Arturo O'Farrill. We were supposed to play concerts in the community but because of the lockdown, we had Zoom meetings, composed, recorded, and made some videos. Being involved in Bronx Banda inspired me to do some writing and record original music. I’ve been doing lots of projects with friends all over the world and some online clinics and teaching and oh yeah, I got married on Zoom to my amazing wife, Kaoru Shimizu, with friends and her family in Japan looking on.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
Most of my practicing is focused on whatever I’m going to record. I started picking up my guitar again and recorded some parts on that. I’m trying to play my Ampeg Baby Bass more often, too. I find it hard to focus on a practice routine when there’s no show to practice for, but I always manage to do a fair amount of playing and try to keep my hands in shape. Yard work in the country is not helping with that!
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 enjoying some of the bass webinars and chats online. George Farmer’s bass chat is always great, and Steve Bailey at Berklee has been putting together some insane groups of bassists for Zoom events. Marcus Miller also has a fairly regular online chat. I love all kinds of world music and I listen to alot of African bassists. Ettiene Mbappe always blows my mind. One of the last shows I saw was Alain Perez from Cuba, with Issac Delgado. There are some amazing young bassist out there, like Henrik Linder, Joe Dart, Mohini Dey, and others. But I never get tired of listening to the old guard: Jamerson, Rainey, Jemmott, and the New York greats who followed on their heels, like Marcus, Anthony Jackson, and Will Lee. I'm also a huge fan of Anthony Tidd from Philadelphia, from his work with Steve Coleman to his album with Quite Sane, Child of Troubled Times.
Leo on Peter Eldridge’s “Fool No More”:
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I bought a good interface for the first time, an AXE I/O, by IK Media, and bought some good JBL studio monitors. As far as bass gear, my most recent basses are a Sire 5-string and my Ampeg Bass—my second one. My next move is to get another bass from Roger Sadowsky. My 2004 Metro is just an incredible working and recording bass. I love the Olinto Basses that Mas Hino is making out at Labella's The Guitar Shop NYC, in Brooklyn. I had a chance to play Lee Nadel’s Olinto subbing for him at Waitress on Broadway this year.
What non-music activities, books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
I’ve always been kind of active in sports. I play tennis with my wife, I ride my bike, I swim when I can, and my goal is to play basketball again 2021. I just got Chris Washburne’s new book Latin Jazz: The Other Jazz. Chris is one of the foremost authorities on the history of Latin music and Latin Jazz in NYC so it’s an interesting read. As a sci-fi freak, I sprung for the CBS and Disney streaming channels so I could watch Star Trek Discovery, Picard, and The Mandalorian. Marvel was bought by Disney so all the Marvel movies are on there too. I watched Hamilton on Disney, as well, and that was great. I dug Perry Mason on HBO, and I watch a lot of documentaries. Otherwise, I mostly watch sports and the news, which became very difficult in 2020!
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
That may be the most difficult question. The strangest thing about this pandemic is the uncertainty about the future. I hope my regular gigs with people like Chris Washburne, Bobby Sanabria, Mary Gatchell, KJ Denhert, Renaissance, Ty Stephens, and others will continue; along with my teaching at Columbia, The Collective, and Carnegie Hall, but at this point, who knows? My first production will be out soon, an Afro-Brazilian version of Gil Scot Heron’s Winter in America that I’m going to use to raise money for Stacey Abrams’ and Lebron James’ organizations to fight voter suppression and make sure people get out to vote in November.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
It's not easy. It bothers me when I think about young musicians who are just getting out of music school or who just moved to New York City and are trying to get their careers going. It saddens me that the beginning of their musical careers are suddenly put on hold like this. I’m not sure what I would have or could have done in that position when I was a young man starting out here. The music industry and the restaurant industry are being hit the hardest, with live music pretty much shut down completely. My advice would be something that I wish I had heeded earlier in my career. Stay up on modern technology! I just learned how to record music now, 40 years into my career, and never developed the computer skills of many of my peers. I’m glad I concentrated on playing live music but it would have been nice to have the technological ability to record earlier in my career. Like any other skill in music, whether it be reading ability, knowledge of styles, techniques, teaching skills, or technology; the more you know, the more opportunities you'll have to work, and in these times, that's crucial.
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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi