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: Yolanda Charles
Bands & Artists: Sting, Robbie Williams, Hans Zimmer, Mick Jagger, Paul Weller, Squeeze
Home: London, England
How have you been passing time during the lockdown?
At first I was resting once the initial preparation for lockdown was done, and I enjoyed about a week off chilling with my kids and sleeping more than usual. Then I found I felt better about not being able to play with other musicians or go out by getting busy with some ideas I’d had in mind but had no time for previously.
What have you been working on in terms of your bass practice routine?
I’ve been working on playing through [John Coltrane’s] “Giant Steps” for awhile. At first I just used it as an exercise to navigate my way around the neck without using my familiar patterns and habits. The first thing I did was slow the tempo down to a manageable speed—60-100 bpms—and create “rules” to follow such as: Only play the root and 3rds of each chord, and only from 5th fret to 12th. You soon discover what habits you have—say always playing root-5th patterns at particular points. Luckily, I broke that habit. Using those changes is great because you have to remember the sequence, which has all of those quick key changes, so you can't get lazy. Then I’d mix it up by only playing the 5th, 3rd, or root of each chord, or starting the chord with only the 3rd or 7th. It forces you to think ahead about what note you need to play and it breaks your normal “go to” options. Now I’m at the point where I’m developing my soloing on the piece because I have greater fluidity and options come more readily to my fingers. I also typically practice the piece with my eyes closed and force myself to visualize the fingerboard, so that I’m genuinely navigating by ear and the familiarity of the harmonic positions, as opposed to the typical bass player thing of doing the four-finger-grid approach.
What bass gear have you been playing the most lately?
I acquired a mix of instruments this past year due to the variety of work I do. From Fender I got my first 4-string fretless, which is a lovely, all-black Jazz Bass. I also received a new Ultra Jazz 5-string, which I used for local club gigs and with Level 42’s Mike Lindup, who is recording a new solo album. My main bass is my Elite Jazz Bass 5-string, which I used on the Hans Zimmer dates last year. Rick Turner sent me a Renaissance 4-string semi-acoustic fretless last year, as well. They are beautiful sounding instruments and feel lovely to play.
What music, songs, recordings, artists, bass players have you been listening to as a source of comfort and inspiration that you can recommend?
I signed up for access to the Montreux Jazz Festival free live concerts catalogue. I’m really loving all the amazing performances—so inspiring! A friend turned me onto George Harrison recently, so I’m absorbing his brilliance a lot at the moment. My funk R&B soul and fusion playlists are long and on constantly. Always Herbie Hancock, James Brown, Bob Marley, and Stevie Wonder. Also funk-based hip hop with bands like Lettuce and Dumpstaphunk. Dancing and singing along a little bit every day, just because you know, happiness and joy?
What non-musical things have you been doing to stay busy?
The beauty I see everywhere I go on my travels has inspired me to study for a diploma on the enviroment. I often go into nature when I can. Right now I’m reading Charles Eisenstein’s “Climate—A New Story,” which I'd highly recommend. I love Jaqueline Carey, which is a bit racy, but well told fantasy adventures. Stephen Donaldson is back on my list to read during the lockdown. I’m a bit of a bookworm. I take walks when I can and I do some fitness/dancing to get the heart thumping. I stay connected to my friends, spending way more time online since the lockdown; we’re supporting each other just by being available for a chat. I miss them, but feel closer to them all somehow.
What projects do you have coming up when the world gets going again?
I was about to start touring with Sting this April and now it's all on hold with no idea when we’ll resume. It feels surreal and it was upsetting at first, but I’m resilient and taking it on the chin. It'll all resume when the time is right and the work I’m doing in the “great pause” as I call it, will benefit my future endeavors.
What advice can you offer fellow bassists for staying positive and keeping morale high?
Think about any ambitions you may have and explore trying to realize them at this time. For example, take a look at your playing and find ways to improve. Stay in touch with other positive people and be available to others to give support. Giving to others makes you feel good. But when you need to take a break, take one! Turn off your phone, sleep in, call in take-out, and relax maybe once a week. Finally, this one might not be popular, but I stopped drinking as I feel now isn't a good time to indulge. I think it’s helped my focus, productivity, and my general health. I awaken refreshed after a good night’s sleep. It’s been the best gift through this. I feel so much creative energy and purpose. That’s been my remedy.