It’s the 4th day of the International Society of Bassists’ bi-annual convention being held in the Creative Arts building on the lovely San Francisco State University campus. I grew up in San Francisco, living here from 1963-1977, so a lot of old memories are churning around as I walk around the campus and city. I can hear my mom talking about how one of her professors, S.I. Hayakawa (not yet a university president or state senator), told one of his class’s black students, “I can understand how you feel. I, too, am a member of a minority,” to which one of her more enlightened classmates chimed in, “Yeah, some of my best friends are semanticists!”
And there was the 7-year long Summer of Love, with some of the finest new American music springing up everywhere: The Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Tower of Power, Cold Blood, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana. Darius Milhaud was at Mills College, Pauline Oliveros was at the San Francisco Conservatory and Seiji Ozawa had turned the San Francisco Symphony into a hotbed of controversy with his appointing Elaine Jones to the tympani chair. Local jazz musicians like John Handy, Woody Shaw, Charles Lloyd, Joe and Eddie Henderson, Charles Moffett, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Pepper, Denny Zeitlin, and Cal Tjader were touring the world and educating the younger Bay Area musicians about their music. I was playing with Bobby Hutcherson at The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society when I first met Michael Formanek, who introduced himself with the profound question, “What kind of strings do you use?” Now he is professor of jazz bass and director of the jazz orchestra at the Peabody Conservatory at John Hopkins University. I saw his lecture/demonstration, “Microbeats and Macrobeats,” this morning. It was a concise and direct explanation of how he approaches negotiating difficult tempos through metric subdivisions and displacement. After that, I went to see another American bassist, Bertram Turetzky, and his wife, Nancy, perform a “Tribute to San Francisco,” featuring works either composed for him by Bay Area composers or to the words of the beat poets who plied their craft there when the bassist was a young man. The Turetzkys framed their program with Spectra and Primal Balance, two works composed for them by Richard Felciano. I can honestly say that I didn’t want the last piece to stop, it was that beautiful.
I’ve mostly heard American bassists or bassists from the Western Hemisphere. Robert Black realized multiple bass performances with pre-recorded material stored on a computer. John Clayton and his pianist/son, Gerald, played an inspired and inspiring set that closed out the second day’s festivities and followed Brazilian virtuoso Fausto Borem. Expatriot and crossover bassist Barre Phillips presented a spoken/performed biography that inspired me to take a lesson from him the following day. I wanted to hear Martin Wind perform with my high school buddy, guitarist Bruce Forman, but I was called for a gig at the last moment with one of San Francisco’s finer pianists, David Udoff. We played at a restaurant, Bix’s, owned by one of the Beiderbeckes. I also missed Brian Bromberg because I thought I was going to see bassists Mark Dresser and Barre Phillips perform together, but someone gave me the wrong address for the venue. I went to Savannah Jazz on Mission Street instead and heard bassist Chris Amberger, one of the Bay Area’s best who, coincidentally, was a founding member of the group of “free” improvisers at the legendary 501 Canal Street scene during the 1960s in New York.
After lunch, I went to a panel discussion that included Turetzky, bassist/educator Douglass Mapp, and producer/engineer Steve Treager (husband of bassist Chris Kosky) called “Do I Really Sound Like That,” which dealt with the difficulties that arise between bassists and sound reinforcement specialists. The discussion seemed to take on a circular presentation as the performers seemed to misunderstand most of what the engineer’s explanations of how he tries to apprehend the performer’s sound before he turns on any microphones. While nobody became hostile, there was quite a bit of confusion about whether or not the panelists were in agreement or not about whether the sound-man is a partner in the process of making music or not. I wish it had gone on longer than 45 minutes. My feeling is that not only is the sound engineer a partner, but should be included as such in improvisational music making. Would this be opening a can of worms? Comments, please! And thank you very much for your comments to last week’s blog on reasons for improvisation in musical performance. They were fascinating.
So, I’m looking forward to the last two days of the convention but I’m looking forward more to getting back to New York to perform at the Stone on Tuesday with Alt.Timers, the group I’m in with Denman Maroney and Bob Meyer and at Miles Café on Thursday with Cynthia Hilts and Scott Newman. I’m getting itchy fingers from not playing!