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: Michael Manring
Bands & Artists: Michael Hedges, Will Ackerman, John Gorka, Yo Miles, Solo artist
Home: Oakland, California
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
I've been very fortunate in several ways, and my heart goes out to those who are suffering during this crisis. My family and I are completely healthy so far, and we’ve been enjoying this time together. I’m trying to remember when was the last time I’ve been in one place this long. I think it’s been 30 years! I'm also lucky in that, although all gigs are canceled, my work schedule is completely full. As soon as the lockdown began many people contacted me about playing on their recording projects and it’s been wonderful to work on a wide variety of music. Many people have also contacted me for remote lessons and that’s been a pleasure, too. When students ask about a particular subject, it gives me a chance to think about it in depth and I always find that inspiring. I have a long list of ideas to work through! I've also released a new solo recording, Small Moments, and many people have gotten in touch me to ask about it and the accompanying mini documentary my friend Andrew Westhoff made called, “Sound Visions.” I’m grateful folks are interested in it!
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I’ve had to reduce my personal practice time these days because there have been so many recording projects to work on. I do, however, make a little time every day just for my own personal musical development, and in that time I work through the sets of exercises I’ve created over the years to focus on technique, tonality, rhythm, intonation, and harmony. I also try to save some time to go over solo repertoire, and every day I do ear training, solfege, sargam, and konnakol.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
I occasionally study with the amazing William Allaudin Mathieu, and I’ve been enjoying listening and studying his first string quartet, his guitar piece “Lattice Work,” and his solo piano composition, “The Magic Clavier.” Some other folks who’ve been on my playlist lately are Mysore Manjunath, Malcolm Braff, Morton Feldman, Easley Blackwood, Terry Riley, Gyan Riley, Ted Greene, Jojo Mayer, Dusan Bogdanovic, Douglas Alonso, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, Bill Withers, Rajesh Vaidya, Chris Dave, Nate Wood, Tigran Hamasyan, Marco Minneman, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Adam Deitch, Isaac Albéniz, Eugene Blacknell, and the wonderful Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society lectures by Bruce Adolphe.
What bass gear have you been playing and trying out?
I haven’t had much time to try out new gear lately, but I’ve been enjoying the new version of Logic. A few months ago I got the Boss GT-1000 processor and, as I always do when I get a new programmable box, I wiped the memory and I’ve been building up all the patches I need to play live.
What non-music activities books, shows, movies or workout recommendations do you have?
I wish I had more time for reading, but audio books and text-to-speech help a lot. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the Dīgha Nikāya [a Buddhist scripture], Philosophical Investigations, by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Neither Ghost nor Machine, by my friend Jeremy Sherman and, as always the Riverside complete Shakespeare. Normally, traveling disrupts my regular workout routine, so it’s been nice to be able to be a bit more consistent with it. It’s nothing special, but I enjoy it. I continue to do yoga and meditation every day, as I have for 30 years, and I certainly recommend both. I find they have many benefits for music practice. In terms of film, I’ve been on a bit of a Tarkovsky and Parajanov kick lately. Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice is a beautiful film.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I hope to have the opportunity to perform some of my solo music from my new release. I’m playing in a lot of trios lately; we have a new recording coming up from the Komaga Trio and one from Acoustic Groove Experience. Another trio I work with is Stringsongs, and just before the lockdown we were about to start work in a trio with [drummer] Scott Amendola and [guitarist] David Torn. We had gigs planned for all these, but we'll have to see! I wonder how much the music world will change from this experience? Things may never go back to quite the way the were, so I’ve been thinking about how I can participate in what may be a new paradigm in a meaningful way.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
Solitude is often a positive experience for artists and I’m hoping this will be a good time for folks to reflect and consider the things that are most important in their lives and their music. I find I have to limit the amount of news and social media to which I expose myself these days. It’s critical to stay informed, but in the current information structure of the society, I think intelligent editing is equally critical. This period has been interesting to me because we bassists typically only play with other musicians, but in this situation we are finding ourselves playing mostly solo. I’ve learned a lot from solo playing over the years and I feel it’s actually made me a better ensemble musician, so I wonder if my fellow bassists will experience something similar. When we play solo we are responsible for all the aspects of music, including those we typically relegate to our collaborators. Playing solo gives us a chance to focus on not only all the conventional concepts: melody, harmony, timbre, and—perhaps most crucially for us bassists—rhythm, but it also impels us to examine what may be less obvious elements of musical expression, like form, narrative structure and flow, vocabulary, musical rhetoric, context, and reference.
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All check-ins compiled and edited by Jon D'Auria & Chris Jisi