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.
Bassist: Ben Allison
Bands & Artists: Lee Konitz, Ted Nash, Michael Blake, Larry Goldings, Solo artist
Home: Greenwich Village, New York City.
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
Like many musicians, all of my gigs, tours, and recording sessions have been cancelled through the summer and into the fall, so I’ve had to figure out new ways to be creative. Last year, the ten albums I recorded for Palmetto Records reverted to me, and I’ve been devoting some of this downtime to remixing them. It’s an opportunity to dive back into the recordings and put a new stamp on the sonics, which will affect how people experience the music. I’m also finding gems that haven’t been released yet. My plan is to re-release these albums over the coming year or so, starting this summer.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
Usually, in order to keep my mind sharp and fingers limber, I write tunes—sometimes just melodies, sometimes complete scores with lots of parts. Or I transcribe tunes from records. During lockdown, I’ve been trying to write every day. I recently discovered Soundtrap, which is a good tool for collaborative composing. It’s like Logic, but the session is live online, so it’s easy for the musicians I’m working with to add sections. For most of my life, composing has been an exclusively solitary practice. It has suddenly become a collaborative one. Working on new tunes with other musicians is one of the things that has helped to keep me sane and connected.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
I’m obsessed with Italian singer Mina these days. I’m working my way through her 150-plus albums knowing I’ll never get to most of them. I especially dig her early recordings from the mid-1960s into the 1970s. She reminds me of a flamenco singer or a blues singer in terms of her emotive tone, but with a pop flair. She sings with a fearless energy that reminds me of Shirley Bassey. Some of the arrangements are very cool, especially those by Ennio Morricone, but some are cheesy. I even dig the cheesy stuff because she’s so good. I wonder if Lady Gaga has been influenced by her?
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I continue to play my 1840 Prescott and my 1980 Precision. I’ve been finding ways to turn my New York City apartment into a recording studio of sorts. I’m doing this out of necessity and I’m not really enjoying the process. I look forward to being able to record in a real studio again with the great engineers I’m used to working with.
What non-music activities books, shows, movies or workout recommendations do you have?
I recently finished The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, by Peter Beinart. It thoroughly and convincingly describes how the idealism and arrogance of some of America’s foreign policymakers over the past century have led to poor and often disastrous policy decisions, the consequences of which still haunt us today. The lessons of the past, especially related to militarism and nuclear weapons feel particularly pressing now.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
As of this morning, I have five new tunes completed and ready to record. I plan to write at least two more in preparation for an album that will include my usual quartet, plus a string quartet. Hopefully, we can record in a studio before the end of the year. But, if that’s not possible, I’ll find another way.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
The two essential keys for me during this time have been to stay creative and to remain connected to my family and the music community. My advice to my fellow musicians is to do what you always do: Find ways to create and stay in touch.
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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi