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 Montagna
Bands & Artists: Alan Parson Live Project, Todd Rundgren, The Turtles, Solo Artist
Home: Brooklyn, NY
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
The first two weeks were tough. My wife and I were both ill with what we now believe to be a mild form of the virus, and there was also a death in my family, which was non-COVID. After realigning myself physically and emotionally, I’m committed to using this sudden “enforced downtime” for artistic and spiritual growth. I’m “just busy enough” with writing, practicing, restarting creative projects that were on hold, and staying connected with my dedicated young students on Zoom. Otherwise I’m simply counting my blessings and getting back to the core of who I am as a musician, father, husband, and human.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I’m revisiting basics like scales, arpeggios, and intervals through working on them with my students. I’m embracing the challenge of developing structured lesson plans, to break these concepts down in a way that they’ll understand. With my own playing I’m focusing on maintaining my stamina, both physically and mentally. When things normalize and I’m back on the bandstand I want to be focused and sharp, and never lose the groove. As my wife said to me, even though we’re “locked down” I still have to be “locked in!”
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
After two months, a stack of discs three feet high has accumulated next to the CD player in my kitchen! I’ve been playing everything from my familiar favorites like Beatles For Sale, Sonny Rollins’ East Broadway Rundown, and Wendy & Lisa’s Eroica, to stuff I haven’t spun in a while, like the Boston Symphony’s recording of Sibelius’ Symphony #2 and Dio’s Holy Diver. It’s 360-degree gumbo, as Quincy Jones would say. At night I do deep listening with headphones. Donovan’s Sutras got me through a bout of chills and fatigue that first week. And when the great producer Hal Willner passed away, I spent an evening with Another Hand, the album he did with David Sanborn. I strongly recommend Sanborn’s excellent web series Sanborn Sessions for some highly charged, inspired collaboration and conversation. I would also direct my fellow bassists to the Berklee Bass Department’s Facebook page; my alma mater has been presenting Zoom chats hosted by chairman Steve Bailey and performance scholars Victor Wooten and John Patitucci. Featured guests have included Anthony Jackson, Marcus Miller, Oteil Burebridge, and Billy Sheehan, and there have also been “surprise visits” from the likes of Ron Carter, Will Lee, and Chuck Rainey. These “virtual hangs” often run for at least two hours, and are always a source of infinite wisdom and essential positivity.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I’m keeping it pretty simple and familiar, using my beloved Spector Rebop DLX 4-string for nearly all of my playing, recording, live streaming, and teaching. I’ve done some “isolation collab” tracks thru my trusty Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver; after 25 years that box has never let me down! I’m also reacquainting myself with axes in my arsenal that haven’t made it on gigs for a while, like my Gibson EB-3 and my “signatures” 1965 reissue Fender Jazz Bass.
What non-music activities books, shows, movies, or workout recommendations do you have?
Every morning starts with lower back and hamstring stretches (maintaining the physical therapy regimen I started before the lockdown), splashing cold water on my face, grinding my coffee beans, and reading that day’s email from the dailystoic.com blog. I also recommend Ryan Holiday’s book, The Daily Stoic, for 365 insights into “the art of living,” handed down through the millennia. I try to meditate for 20 minutes at least once a day to give my brain a much-needed rest. And I can’t seem to do without my beloved Honeymooners episodes!
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I will waste no time in getting my group, Montagna Band, on a stage as soon as it’s safe to do so. I’m refining my Paul McCartney Bass Workshop, a clinic presentation examining Macca’s role as an architect of our instrument’s vocabulary. I’m also working on a Smithereens tribute CD, and continuing interviews and research for a book I’m writing—stay tuned for details.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
We cannot underestimate how unnatural and unfamiliar this situation is. None of us have ever experienced anything like this in our lifetime, and there is no guidebook on how to handle it properly. It’s a massive psychic burden for too many people, and mental health will be a priority in the coming weeks, months, and years to come. As musicians and artists we have always been ambassadors of goodwill. But right now we have an enormous responsibility to engage in radical self-care. Our minds, bodies, and artistry have remained strong and resilient. I firmly believe that music will return stronger and more necessary than ever, and we must be ready to serve the greater good when that day comes. Falling into a downward spiral of negative self-talk and existential dread serves no purpose for anyone. If you’re safe at home, with food in the fridge, and breathing on your own, you’re winning. Remember what’s important, and never forget who you really are.
All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi