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: Jamaaladeen Tacuma
Bands & Artists: Ornette Coleman, The Golden Palominos, David Murray, James “Blood” Ulmer, James Carter, Solo artist
Home: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
Passing time? I’m still trying to find time. As always, the projects and ideas are coming faster than the time. I’ve been busy going through archive material, recordings, videos, and composition notes. I’m finding hidden gems that need to be completed and released. I’m an avid documenter of my work; there are recordings and videos of countless concerts to go through. The pandemic has given me time away from the road to review and dig into all the material I have accumulated. As an improviser I had no trouble switching gears when shows and tours cancelled. I did what many musicians did: I moved things online utilizing live streaming in social media. I’ve been producing live stream broadcast events which has been an incredible learning and creative experience. My approach has been to create a variety show of sorts that maintains the improvising spirit of the festival. This gives the musical artists a chance to stretch their boundaries, while making it entertaining to the audience in a fresh way. What is exciting to me is I’ve been able to incorporate my passion for design, style. and fashion into the production. The audience has responded to those parts of the show. I look at these streams as a complete show experience, not necessarily a “concert” in the traditional sense—a lesson I will take when we are able to gather in venues again. The audience deserves a high quality and multi-dimensional experience, which I always understood, but this has taken it to another level. An additional aspect of live streaming is the chats that go on during the event. This allows us to connect with the audience; we get feedback or “applause.” The audience can communicate with us and we feel something like the relationship that happens during a live concert.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
Under normal circumstances, I do not have a traditional bass practice routine at home. I spend so much time touring and performing live that when I did have downtime I used it to relax and replenish my body and mind with other creative stimulation. I always try to maintain balance and have a well-rounded life. Since the pandemic hit, I work every day but it’s not a "practice routine," it’s more about formulating new musical ideas and working with new musical equipment for producing music. I am in listening mode with a healthy regimen of improvising and instant composing.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
I always hearken back to the 1960s and 1970s bands I heard at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, as a teen. Bass players like Val Burke, Keni Burke, Ronnie Baker, Curtis McTear, Louis Satterfield, and Doug Rauch, and bands like Five Stairsteps, WIllie & the Mighty Magnificents, Delfonics, and the Moments—all the music with positive human messages of love and unity. I’ve been checking out the work of producers like Thom Bell with Gamble & Huff, George Kerr, Patrick Adams, and Curtis Mayfield; the producer in me finds alot of inspiration from these iconic maestros.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
With live streaming comes a host of technical video and audio considerations. I’m blessed to have friends and colleagues that work professionally in the media fields who have consulted with me on the technical side to ensure my live streaming game is on par with my creative output, and making sure the sound is great. I’ve been working with some new digital mixer and recording devices by Zoom, and pedals by Aguilar and JAM Pedals, a company from Greece I recently discovered. I’ve been experimenting utilizing my Aguilar amps in different ways, depending on the platform I’m using to record for a broadcast. Basses that I’ve been infatuated with lately are my 1951 and 1954 Fender Precision Basses, 1960s Kay Speed Demon Bass, 1972 Fender Jazz Bass, my original 1980s 4- & 5-string Steinberger basses, and the Dipinto Bacchus Bass. I would love to get my hands on a Jen Ritter bass. I think they’re gorgeous, out this world, and right up my alley. My birthday is coming up!
What non-music activities books, shows, movies or workout recommendations do you have?
We just came out of our month of Ramadan, with nights filled with reading from the Quran, prayer, and Youtube Videos from the EMAN network. I’m a huge movie buff, and going to the movies is something I miss the most. Thankfully the online content and vintage movie and vintage TV show apps have been keeping me content for now. I’ve been discovering some interesing series and documentaries, like Godfather of Harlem, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, I Called Him Morgan, The Last Poets: Made in Amerikkka, and Ornette Coleman Made in America. For exercise and fresh air, I’ve been enjoying walks in some of the beautiful parks we have in Philly, like Bartram’s Garden and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
To be honest, not much has been planned for at this moment. I’m taking my time and observing how this is all evolving, Many promoters don’t even want to talk about bookings as there is too much uncertainty. Especially in Europe, bringing in traveling musicians is not in the picture right now. I had a booking at SummerStage in Manhattan that will be rescheduled for summer 2021. I was in discussion with a promoter in New York City and Philadelphia about a wonderful project called Samul Nori Red Sun, with two long time collaborators: Mr. Kim Duk Soo and Wolfgang Puschnig. It’s a a traditional Korean drum ensemble fuzed with jazz and American black music. We will be working on re-establishing that as soon as we can. A film project that was put on hold will be starting up shortly. I’m reaching out to U.S. venues, especially in Philadelphia, to try to find a way to support them while they’re closed—they need our support as much as we the musicians need theirs. I’ve been blessed with very positive relationships in the music business. Everyone is set back, but if we work together we can all come up together.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
As always, concentrate on being the best human being you can; put that before the music. Learn to be good to your family, to your neighbors; find satisfying community work. Performing, improvising, composing, and being in a band is about communication and giving of your heart and soul, and listening carefully to the others onstage. If you’re not a human being who knows how to care for others, listen, and communicate, you will never be able to reach all your musical goals. For me, Islam as a way of life keeps me balanced and focused on my spiritual side, and it helps me strive to be a better human being. Islam has helped me survive the business of music. It helps me stay connected to the creator of all things. And it helps me accept with gratitude and patience the ups and downs that come with life. We have lost many of our mentors and peers because of Covid 19; Maestro's Henry Grimes and Wallace Roney, to mention just two. My prayers are with all those around the world who have experienced great loss and sacrifice during these times. Overall, despite the changes and challenges the pandemic restrictions brought to my life, it has been positive. With restrictions, we are forced to be more creative in our work, in how we deal with others, in how we express ourselves, and connect with others. As an artist this has pushed me into a positive direction.
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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi