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: John Goldsby
Bands & Artists: WDR Big Band
Home: Cologne, Germany
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I’ve been pretty busy during the lockdown. The nice thing about being forced to stay at home is that I’ve been able to practice all kinds of new and old material. Usually, I’m practicing music for an upcoming project, but at the moment I’m practicing what makes me happy—some classic bebop tunes, beautiful ballads, and original compositions. I like to alternate playing a song on the bass, then on the piano, then back to the bass. After working as a sideman for almost 50 years, it is daunting and humbling to be confronted with the luxury of being able to play anything I want, however I want to play it! I’ve been teaching online at the Conservatorium Maastricht in the Netherlands, where I’ve been a visiting artist for several years now. I’m totally inspired by the students and my fellow teachers—it’s a great program with a lot of diverse, creative energy. The switch to online teaching has been a bit daunting for me, as it has been for all teachers and students around the world. Some things seem better with online lessons: There is a strong focus and intent when two people are playing and communicating into the camera. On the other hand, there is a lack of the physical presence of two people in a room, talking and making music together. I think in several years, everyone will be used to online teaching and learning, just like we embraced social media and the immediacy of the internet in the past couple of decades.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I’ve returned to a daily practice regimen of 57 Studies [Storch-Hrabe] and 18 Studi in Tutti I Tone[Billé—18 Studies in all Keys]. These are a couple of my favorite classical etude books. I play through the etudes with the bow, trying to achieve a good classical arco sound, but I also play through the exercises pizzicato, while adding some jazz rhythmic phrasing.
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 digging a lot of diverse music lately. To name just a few tracks, I’ve been inspired recently by these:
1. I’ve always been a George Mraz fan. I love this version of “Cinema Paradiso,” which also features an overdubbed bass choir orchestrated by the man himself.
2. What else should I do in lockdown at home? I watched Breaking Bad in its entirety, which is where I heard this funky version of “On A Clear Day” from the Peddlers: Here
3. Trilogy 2, with Chick Corea, Christian McBride and Brian Blade; I think Chick always brings out the best in Christian! [Here]
4. Blue Soul, a new album just dropped by guitarist Dave Stryker and the WDR Big Band, led by our principal conductor, Bob Mintzer. I’ve been playing with the WDR Big Band for 25 years now, and I’m still grateful to have this amazing gig where we collaborate regularly with world class players and arrangers. [Here]
5. I remember having a bootleg album on a cassette many years ago: Miles & Coltrane, The Final Tour. Now that the album has been reissued and remastered, I’ve been checking out the music again. It’s amazing to hear—especially because John Coltrane was ready to leave the band at the time, go his own way and redefine jazz in the ’60s. You can hear it in his playing—he’s really exploring and stretching. The band is on fire, and Paul Chambers strikes a mean groove with the impeccable Jimmy Cobb. [Here]
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I’ve been dabbling with my TC Electronics Ditto pedal, which lends itself to ridiculous, bass-heavy, real-time looping. The pedal is dead simple to operate, even for a non-technical guy like me. I recently scared the living heck out of my wife when I was jamming with the looper, and left it on downstairs—thumping away with some kind of multi-track bass madness—when I went upstairs to ask her something. She screamed, insisting that she thought I was a “bad man” coming through the bedroom door. I’ve learned to turn the looper off when I decide to walk around the house doing other activities.
What non-music activities books, shows, movies or workout recommendations do you have?
I’ve been keeping a low profile and living a nice small life—walks in nature, hanging out with my wife, cooking good food, playing the bass, and reading books. I had some health problems in the fall, but the pandemic and self-quarantine has forced me to take even more time to recover mentally and physically, and think about the things and people I truly love. I feel much stronger, healthier, and more focused than I did eight months ago, so I’m digging just focusing on the day to day. A few of the books I’ve read recently include: Front Row At The Trump Show, by Jonathan Karl, Talking to Strangers, byMalcolm Gladwell, and Sympathy for the Drummer: Why Charlie Watts Matters, by Mike Edison. If you want a great perspective on the history of modern rock and jazz drummers, this is the book for you!
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I’m recording in trio, with video, at the WDR concert hall this summer in Cologne, Germany with the WDR Big Band rhythm section—drummer Hans Dekker on drums and pianist Billy Test. We’ll be keeping our two meters of social distancing between the instruments! The hall is beautifully tuned, so hopefully we’ll be able to hear everything without monitors. I’m an advocate of setting up the rhythm section as close as possible, but in the pandemic era, we have to be open to working in different ways. For musicians in Germany, the WDR Big Band has just released the WDR Big Band Play Along app. This is an app for all instruments in the big band. You get the notated charts for a selection of big band arrangements, and then use the built-in mixer to mute my bass track and play along with this world-class band. Due to licensing agreements, the app is Germany-only at the moment, but we’re working to offer it in app stores worldwide. I’ve been doing some online Q&A sessions for Discover Double Bass, and we have the next session scheduled in a couple of weeks. I feel like this is a good way to give something back to all of the bassists who have read my articles, books, and checked out my recordings and videos over the years. It’s inspiring to have contact with bassists from around the world who want to check in and participate in the digital hangout.
Discover Double Bass, Q&A: Here
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
I always remind my students that music is not a contest. There is nothing that you absolutely have to be doing with music other than enjoying what you hear and what you play. Once you find the music you love, you’ll find more and more energy to devote to mastering that particular style and genre. If you’re committed to becoming a better bass player, the best advice I can give you is: Play the bass every day. That might sound simplistic, but you need to spend time with the instrument and with the music you are learning. Practicing fifteen minutes a day, every day, is better for your development than two hours of hectic bass playing every weekend. Find music that is challenging to practice and play, but not so difficult that you are frustrated. Learn to read notation and a world of new music will open up to you.
For more on John: Click Here
Read all 100+ Bass Magazine Check-in Features: Here
All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi