Berklee Bass Department Chair Steve Bailey pulled off some last-minute holiday magic in putting together the department’s popular annual holiday video and accompanying track. He explains below:
With our great assistant chair, Sandro Scoccia, on sabbatical this fall I had resigned myself to not doing our annual holiday track. As August slipped into September several colleagues asked, “What is coming this year?” My reply was, “We are taking a year off, as with Sandro gone, I am doing double-duty and won’t be able to devote the time and energy.” However, on Sunday night, October 27th, I was flying back to Boston from a project in Austin to prepare for a Berklee visit the next day with the legendary Ron Carter. It had been gnawing at me that we (I) had “given up” this year, so I texted Victor Wooten and asked what he thought about me asking Ron to lead off the 2019 Holiday Track. Vic said, “What song do you have in mind,” and I said I had no idea.
I then emailed Ron, asked him if he would like to participate and he replied that he had seen department holiday videos over the last several years and he would be happy to participate. So with that yes, the track was born
The next day, before we went into the performance hall to present the Ron Carter Bass Line Construction clinic, we wired up in my office and I asked Ron to play choruses of blues with me standing on the sideline calling various keys and modulations. (hand signals, really, as the U87 was “hot”). Ron’s choruses heard here and the ones still in the can are textbook-perfect harmonic structures combining tensions, releases, and groove—and groove.
Three days later “Ready” Freddie Washington was in town with Steely Dan, and he stopped by to visit a couple of classes. I put up another office session and asked him to just groove in A, and the funk sections were born out his jam
John Patitucci came in on his lunch break a few days later and started doing his magic for a few minutes, throwing in tons of holiday and Christmas melodies. Janek Gwizdala was next, just blowing over what was already there.
Soon after, Lee Sklar was in town as the Wes Wehmiller Scholar and we had a bunch of time to hang, so while recording a song that we wrote together many years ago, he generously offered to take a turn.
Tool was in town at TD Garden and Justin Chancellor (and drummer Danny Carey) came over before soundcheck and did a clinic. Just after the clinic, Justin, Lee, Danny, and I got to spend about 18 minutes together in my office “studio.”
Victor Wooten came in next, finding just the right musical moments to add—which gets more difficult as the track starts filling up. Victor is a master at finding just the right part, chord, melody, slide, harmonic, or in some cases, nothing! It takes courage to play nothing, sometimes. I then added some chords and a few more melodies and licks, where there was room.
Then came the drums. Billy Kilson is one of the great player/educators in the percussion world, and he has a way of swinging that is incredible. He and Ron sounded like they were in the same room, breathing the same air.
Finally we needed some funk and our great Berklee President, Roger Brown, came in and reminded us of what he did long before he was a college president or business entrepreneur. He slammed hard!
Throw all of that together with some photos and performance video from the year, and we’re in mid-December, and I have to get this out the door! We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.
Even though he is the most recorded bassist in jazz, very few bass players get to feel what it’s like having Ron Carter “driving the bus.” We are all honored for the opportunity.