by Beverly J. Packard
Having witnessed the development of Gerald Veasley's home away from home at the Jazz Base in the Sheraton Hotel, Reading, Pennsylvania, the energy of the live CD recording and CD release party, it's time to recap a treasured moment: a long talk with this nearly always smiling, easy going, among the most masterful bass guitarists in jazzdom.
The CD, appropriately titled Gerald Veasley: At the Jazz Base! was officially released last week (July 26th) by Heads Up International. Hopefully you have your copy and now you can just 'sit...back...and relax,' Gerald Veasley style, and listen to what he has to say about the events of the past year -- and more -- when I spoke with him in June.
Included are pictures from the CD recording session itself, the CD release party, and the 50th birthday party celebration.
BJP: Hi Gerald! It's so exciting to talk with you, and of course you know how I love the Jazz Base.
GV: You're a big supporter!
BJP: Thanks. You know you'll see our smiling faces there this week for the Chuck Loeb show, and you have such a great summer line up for the club.
GV: Yes, I'll be there with Chuck Loeb, in fact, I'll be sitting in with the band on a few numbers. A little later in the summer we'll have Jaared, and Nick Colionne, and in September we have Acoustic Alchemy.
BJP: This is a very exciting time for you, and for your fans in Reading with the Jazz Base – that place is only getting better and better. What is it that gave you the vision for it?
GV: I won’t take full responsibility. It was a lot of things coming together. It was the Sheraton seeing an opportunity, as they had seen success with their comedy club, and of course, John Ernesto -- he threw his marketing expertise behind the idea, as well as the generous volunteers who come down and give of their time, Stage Right Productions. A whole host of people put this thing together, and then the artistic name given to it. I also thought it was very important that Reading have an outlet for jazz; it complements what happens there once a year with the Berks Jazz Fest.
BJP: It's so great that we have this year round……it's exciting to be able to learn a lot about the music and the artists. How do bands get to play there? Do you contact them or do they contact you by now?
GV: People are contacting us. They contact me, or John Ernesto. There are a lot of people who are looking for places like this. It's great for regional acts, to give them additional exposure, it’s great for national acts coming in on a Thursday who are playing New York or Philadelphia on the weekend. So it gives them the opportunity to play on a Thursday night in conjunction with their weekend shows.
BJP: The Jazz Base has been called the House of the Flying Vee . I saw on one of your CDs that you have something called Flying Vee Music. I just have to know, where did the term Flying Vee start?
GV: Friends of mine had a band together, one of the first bands to help me get off the ground a bit as a performer and a songwriter, Reverie, and that was one of the nicknames the guys in the band had for me.
BJP: I like that. You are the flying vee, that just fits. You just fly up there in the clouds when you play.
BJP: I'm enjoying the new CD so much. It was so much fun being there when you made the live recording and it’s great to listen now and be transported back to that night. It was a great night, it just makes me want to ‘sit back…and relax..’ How was that different for you as compared to other CD recordings?
GV: Live recording in itself adds a whole other dimension to the recording process. First of all, you’re able to be much freer in your approach, playing in an environment that is much more natural …it’s what I do mostly, perform in a live setting, so the live recording allows you to be in the environment where it’s most comfortable as a performer. Part of the reason to do a live recording was also to showcase the band: Pete Kuzma, Chris Farr, Will Brock, Eric Green, Pablo Baptiste -- of all the bands I’ve had, it's coalesced into a group that is fresh, spontaneous, and super funky. We're a really tight band. I really wanted the recording to document what that band does live.
BJP: That is a really good band. I love your band. They all bring something really unique and they're so fun to watch... Will Brock, jumping up and down…they're really into it.
BJP: I took one look at the expression on your face on the cover of the new CD and I said to myself, ‘yep, that’s Gerald all right, that’s that 'bliss with the bass’ look that I know. I’m sure that came after some serious head-bobbing….
GV: laughing, I’m sorry about all those expressions!
BJP: That's what we love about you, your expressions, we love to see them! And during those times, I just can't help wondering ‘where you go’ when you’re playing. What are you thinking and what brings all those wonderful smiles I love to watch? Part of it is interacting with the band, I know, but you're just -- up there somewhere, I mean, where do you go.....?
GV: It's hard to describe, but just imagine the most natural moment --when you lose yourself in it. Maybe it’s playing with a child, or playing a sport you like, or like being with your friends and someone tells a good joke -- moments like these when you forget about yourself, forget about being self-conscious, forget about things you’re attempting to do, you're just enjoying life at the moment……that’s what it’s like for me. I’m lucky enough to have a career that allows me to enjoy those moments.
BJP: It’s a good thing for you, and a good thing for those of us watching, because we get to go there with you.
BJP: Someone mentioned in your liner notes on one of the CDs that you have such a tender touch and melodic lyricism not usually associated with the bass guitar. That is a great way of saying what I’ve always thought about your playing. And the song ‘Forever’ really shows that melodic lyricism, I love that song! That’s one of my all time favorites.
GV: Mine, too..a bass is a very multidimensional instrument, it has colors to it……bass players have been exploring it. I always wanted to have that kind of lyricism, and express myself melodically……It’s most difficult to express yourself rhythmically, be very funky, have a groove, when you play rhythm and blues, and gospel, I have that, too…..but through the years I wanted to express this other side of myself, I wanted to express myself melodically. You know, how sometimes you are more forceful in life, or sometimes you want to just kick off your shoes at the beach, relax or you want to be tender with a loved one. All of that can be in the bass line. At a certain point, I realized, why not have all that in the bass guitar?
BJP: Is that easier with a six string?
GV: A six string not necessary to do that, but for me, it opened up more possibilities.
BJP: When did the six string bass come into being?
GV: There are various opinions on how it came into being, but the six string as we know it today was probably developed by Anthony Jackson, he is credited with that, and he's one of my favorite bass players. He had a lot of great recordings…
BJP: Is it true that the top two strings on the base are the bottom two strings of the rhythm guitar?
GV: I think Fender had a base like that……same notes as on guitar, then an octave lower. But the modern day six string
has the range extended in both directions, as opposed to a four string. This became important to bass players in the 80s….because with the advent of synthesizers and synthesized base playing, you didn’t have the same kind of limitations, so you had all these great recordings that came out with low, low notes, like you could get on the keyboard, and bass players thought, I could do that, too, if I had the range.
BJP: I know there are many musicians in your past that you’ve admired and learned from and that helped you grow into your own identity as a musician. Can you talk about some of the ones who influenced you the most, like Grover Washington, Joe Zawinul...
GV: I had the opportunity to play with Grover Washington, of course, one of the most influential saxophonists of our time. He developed a unique style, I’m not sure exactly how he started that, but he had a traditional side, very grounded and well schooled, but he had both elements -- a very soulful, natural side, with great freedom of expression, yet a deep understanding of music, in a traditional way….and besides that,he had a great voice on the instrument, which is when you have someone where you don’t have to hear the whole song to know it’s him.
GV: As for Joe Zawinul, he became a household name……very grounded, part of the Miles Davis band, with that super classic album Bitches Brew……On one of the first electric jazz records, he was one of the main composers and players on In a Solid Way , then developed his own band with Wayne Shorter which was a legendary fusion band, called Weather Report. I listen today to any one of their 12 or 13 records – they sound just a fresh as when they were made. He was adventurous and didn’t care at all about the critics, what anybody thought about him as a musician or his band. Working with him close to eight years, I learned a lot about staying true to yourself. It was a great training ground, a great place for musicians to be showcased, such as Jaco Pastorious and Omar Hakim.
BJP: And Ornette Coleman, who advised ‘don’t do fret ideas, but rather musical ideas?’
<GV: Ornette Coleman was one of the most daring musicians of the twentieth century, no exaggeration, and he had no problem offending people (not intentionally); he really freed up jazz from the normal and conventional form. One of the conventions is like, playing cliches, comfortable habits on an instrument. Ornette was not concerned about conventions, he had a tendency to go out of his way to defy usual expectations…I was pleased to be in his presence. I love being able to think about music and challenge some of the ideas. For example, somebody asked me the other day, wow, there are not that many bass players out there that are leaders....why not? It's a convention, and in some ways, it makes sense that the bass is the supportive instrument in the background. But you have bass players out there now who are really formidable on their instrument and have a lot of personality, so why not be leaders?
BJP: You’ve said that blues is the mother of all this music that you and many others are performing. Can you tell us how you think about the various categories we often use to describe music today, you know, is it jazz, straight ahead or smooth, is it fusion, R & B, is it rock-fusion, etc?
GV: It’s natural to think about categories, natural to think about style…..I can use the example of martial arts. There are many styles, including Japanese, Korean ... but a brilliant teacher, in addition to teaching you how to be true to a style, will also stress that in a ‘fight’ you want to be able to be flexible..
BJP: ... to customize it to the moment?
GV: Yes, if two opponents are each fluent in their styles, it will be the flexible one, who is more elusive and has more mystery, who will be in the best position to give a response.
BJP: That's a great comparison....
You’ve said in the past that being a sideman for others is something you always want to continue – that it’s a way to support other musicians, and that it’s also a way to help influence the atmosphere that is so critical during the recording process. You seem to have such a calm, steady, consistent nature and along with your talent, it seems other musicians would love having you around.
GV: I try to make a contribution. It's important to bring something, everyone brings something different. Sometimes, it’s in the personality, or sometimes you want someone to trouble shoot, bounce ideas off. As musicians, we spend so much time isolated – we do so much in a private manner, so we’re missing that feedback from others.
BJP: Can you talk about a couple of experiences you’ve had? I’m thinking of the dueling bass ‘Deeper than Deep’ that you did recently with Jerry Brooks of Special EFX, for one.
GV: That was a lot of fun, a lot of fun! Of course, Chieli, he’s like a brother, we have a great rapport. It wasn’t exactly dueling, of course, more like sharing stories, like when you play with someone else, and you say, ‘Hey, did you hear this story?’ And they answer with another story of their own. And Chieli, he didn’t showcase himself, he just let us have a go at it!
BJP: So it wasn’t an argument, but more like a conversation!
GV: Exactly, and that’s my nature. I just wrote an article about that – about competition – about the idea of getting caught up in comparing and competing in what we are doing, and how it’s a dangerous thing to do. That’s not to say the musical conversation can’t be provocative, like in a real conversation, but when you’re playing with other musicians and you think competitively, you set youself up for disappointment.
BJP: I notice that so much about this genre of music – there seems to be so much cooperation and so much give and take with each other. And just as it is in life, when your main goal is to make yourself stand out, it never works.
GV: Yes, it’s a tricky balance, because you don’t want to lessen your standards, and you want to be excellent, but not for the purpose of showing up someone else, on a musical level; you’re not trying to outshine someone else, you just want to express who you are. The same way in conversation, each person has his own story, and it’s beyond ....measurement. It’s all valid. As Grover Washington used to say, “Everybody has something to say.” I like that. In my whole time with Grover, I never heard him say, I promise you, not once did he ever say something negative about another artist, or even another person, -- not once -- because he realized that even if a person wasn’t very accomplished on his or her instrument, what he brought by way of his life experiences, or his love for music, was important. Everybody’s bringing something to the table. If you and I are having a party, we got it all covered -- somebody brings the casserole, and someone else brings a bottle of wine, and whatever it is, it’s personal. As artists and as people, we have to fight that inclination to be competitive and critical.
BJP: And how about your work with George Jinda?
GV: Yes, I played a lot of projects with him, and then he had a band that he formed, called World News……I don’t even know where to start, talking about George…
BJP: I wish I had known him and seen him play.
GV: People think that George had a gruff exterior, but that was all phony, he was the sweetest guy in his heart…..and he was just so wonderful and helpful to me, recommending me, at the drop of a hat, to other people and for other projects, even when he wasn’t involved in the projects. Most of the time he wasn’t involved in the project. Yeah…he was…a lovely person. And he was smart, very smart business-wise, I learned a lot from him.
BJP: It would be interesting to see what he would have gone on to do.
BJP: It seems to me you and your music are motivated by a celebration of life – of your own, of those you’ve lost, of other musicians, of your fans, of everyone you meet. I know that you’ve had losses of key people in your life – for one, your Dad, when you were a junior in college, who was very supportive of your music. And you had the loss of people like Grover Washington, and George Jinda. You seem to be able to reach down to the core of yourself, and bring out this love of those you lost in your music –You seem to transform those losses into something beautiful.
GV: It’s interesting – I don’t know that I’ve ever fully thought it out like that…it’s been a great vehicle for me to do that…
BJP: And a good example is your 'Celebrating Sipho,' a tribute to the South African bassist..
GV: Yes, Sipho Gumede. I think it’s my chosen manner for dealing with things like that. I hope it’s working…
BJP: You seem to have a strong faith and an understanding of how to deal with tough things in life..
GV: I don’t think it’s the way, it’s just a way. It works for me ... And it’s what draws me into this profession as well, realizing I have the power to do that. I want to be a part of that on the supply side of that, if you will, not just on the consumption side.
BJP: I think you do something very special because of your experiences. It may not be something an artist has in his head when he’s creating, but it’s kind of obvious, and it truly helps those who are watching – there’s just something about the way you do that.
GV: I appreciate that….you really have a lot of insight into what I do, which I genuinely appreciate ... your taking the time.
BJP: I love the people side of this – you know I love the music, but I also love the people side of it.
BJP: I know you have a very special birthday party coming up……a number some of us don’t like very much...!
BJP:And you're going to do some of your celebrating at the Jazz Base, is that right?
GV: Yes, my dream is to have 50 musicians that night!
BJP:Oh good, that sounds like a lot of fun!
BJP: Is there anything you want people to know about you that they might not know, like what you’re doing when you’re not composing or playing or teaching? You’re probably playing with TJ...
GV: Oh yes, TJ is more and more important to me. Kids grow up so fast. I don’t want to look back and say that I missed important milestones because I was too busy.
BJP: That’s another nice thing about the Jazz Base, isn’t it, you can include the family.
BJP: In a former interview, you mentioned despite some of the difficult parts of traveling, that you’re still enjoying travel because of the destinations. That reminded me of your opening night at the Jazz Base, when you said, in the way that only Gerald Veasley can say, that we should ‘sit back and relax’ ‘enjoy the journey’ and that we ‘don’t need any luggage’ – and you deliver every time, Gerald, we ARE happy to travel with you because you truly do take us to great destinations, and I’m sure all of us are looking forward to all the future destinations that you create for us!
GV: That’s wonderful, Beverly, it’s those kinds of comments that, when you’re having a bad day, you can look back on those comments and know that you’re making a difference.
BJP: You are. You definitely are doing that. And even though I’m still relatively new at all of this, you’re one of the people who has made it so fun and interesting for me to learn about the music.
BJP: Is there anything you want to say before we end this interview?
GV: You covered it, really. One comment I would add is that I wrote on the CD jacket……that this CD is for all those people who liked hearing the band live and wanted to take that with them. No offense, as TJ would say,
BJP: And they got it.
GV: It’s for those people, our friends and fans.
BJP: It's been great talking with you Gerald, thank you so much for the time, and I'll see you at the Jazz Base!
GV: Yes, see you Thursday night!
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo Credits: Michael PackardPosted by Beverly J. Packard at August 5, 2005 3:28 AM