May 23, 2024

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Interview with Bruce Gertz: Music has the power to heal and create community: Video

Jazz interview with jazz bassist Bruce Gertz. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Bruce Gertz: – I was born in Providence, Rhode Island grew up in Cranston, RI. We had music in the house between the top 40 radio and records playing. My parents had myself and my four sisters take piano lessons. For me being 6 years old it wasn’t something I was passionate about at the time. My older sister was already playing Mozart nicely as I recall. When I was age 10, I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. That sparked my interest in playing guitar. My parents found a local teacher who made house calls. He sold us a cheap guitar and we began lessons. After some time, it appeared I was going anywhere on guitar and my parents didn’t want to pay for any more lessons.

JBN.S: –  What got you interested in picking up the contabass and guitar?

BG: – Soon after that we moved to another neighborhood where I met a friend who was taking guitar lessons at a music store. He raved about how great his teacher was. After pleading with my parents to try again with the new teacher they agreed. As I tended to gravitate to the bottom 4 strings on guitar it became apparent that I was more interested in the bass and in recognizing this my teacher convinced my father to agree to my getting a bass on the condition that I practice on the bottom of the guitar with bass books and make reasonable progress. I was very motivated to learn bass. It was at that point when I first realized my heart was into the bass. Looking back, I also recall enjoying the low bass notes and how I could feel them through the big speaker in my parent’s radio. I worked hard and earned the loan to get a Fender Precision Bass, took a job loading trucks for my Dad’s water filtration business. I paid off the loan and then got a real bass amp. I had been using the cheap guitar amp before that. Eventually my friends and I formed a group and rehearsed or jammed regularly. My friends and I were playing the music of our time in the mid 1960’s. It was mostly Rock and Blues. When I got a driver’s license we loaded up the station wagon and drove around finding venues and playing gigs at parties and dances. I only played the fender bass at that time.

JBN.S: –  What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the contrabass and guitar?

BG: – We expanded our band to include a horn, singer and later two more horns. The horn players were listening to jazz and they turned the rhythm section onto the jazz recordings that had upright bass. And that’s when I heard Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Sam Jones, Jimmy Blanton, Milt Hinton, Jimmy Garrison, Reggie Workman, Richard Davis, Percy Heath, Eddie Gomez and many more great bassists. The sound of the contrabass was extremely appealing to my ears. Not owning a string bass, I learned some bass lines and solo fills on my Fender P bass. Eventually after going to college for a year to study Geology and receiving number 3 in the Vietnam era draft lottery, for which I ended up getting out on a health deferment I decided to go to Berklee and study jazz like one of my sax playing friends. There I met Rich Appleman, John Neves, John Repucci, Steve Swallow, Tony Texiera and Bill Curtis. My first teacher there was John Neves. His experience was that of real jazz magic. John was referred to as the Ron Carter of Boston. He had been the house bassist at the Newport Jazz Festival in the 1950’s and also at the Playboy Club in the 1960’s and 70’s. Neves played with everyone from George Schering, Maynard Ferguson and Wynton Kelly to Sonny Stitt and many others. In the 2 years that I was John’s student he took me under his wing and taught me how to listen. This would prove to be a very powerful and ongoing lesson that I still work on and will continue to do so. Listening involves hearing yourself in relation to others and knowing when to be silent or not.

JBN.S: –  How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

BG: – It is through listening and playing a great deal that a musician finds a voice to work with and develop throughout a musical lifetime. As you strive to achieve the sound you hear inside your body finds ways to make that sound. The callouses on your fingertips, the muscles in your forearms and hands, all the way to your stance and balance. It is essential to learn pitch with a bow to bass because it is then that the true pitch is clearest. The sound of an instrument is best projected when the pitch is accurate and focused.

JBN.S: –  What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

BG: – Practice routines change as you grow. When first studying the bass it’s important to learn correct technique for physical wellbeing and articulate playing. Early studies include classical methods and fundamentals such as arpeggios and melodic exercises. Positions and shifting techniques are necessary along with ear training. Everything must eventually be put in steady time and rhythm at various tempos and in all keys. A good place to start when building a practice routine is to set reachable goals and work toward them with patience and conviction. Always begin slowly and build up speed. Once you have reached those goals it is necessary to set new ones and this is never ending. For myself it helps that I am a composer and love writing new exercise challenges that are unique to my aspiring style of playing. Challenges may include finding comfort in non-comfort zones such as improvising across bar lines in syncopated, odd time signatures.

JBN.S: –  Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

BG: – As far as harmonies and harmonic patterns go I’m very open minded. As I further develop my craft I enjoy exploring all the colors of chords and melodies. Contrast is a tool used with light for visual artists. Sonic color and brightness or darkness are the comparative elements for music. My tastes are broad and I guess my preferences change with each piece.

JBN.S: –  What do you love most about your new album: <Sun Songs>, how it was formed and what you are working on today. Next year your fans like we can wait for a new album?

BG: – What I love most about my latest album, Blue Cube is that the group is a very comfortable unit where the balance between listening and speaking is a one of total compliment to one another. The tracks are all live. These musicians have a long history of playing together. I’m proud to say that it was given 4 stars in the Dec. 2017 Downbeat and listed in the best of 2017 in the Jan. 2018 Downbeat magazine. In Dec. I released Tone of Spirit (solo bass) and in 2018 I have lots of new projects on the burners.

JBN.S: –  Which are the best jazz albums for you this 2017 year?

BG: – I like too many albums to list but for 2017 I like Christian McBride’s big band, Pat Metheny’s new record, John Scofield and the Hudson Project with Jack DeJohnette and John Medesky and Larry Grenadier. I listen to the radio and Pandora and hear lots of great new music all the time. I have two stations on Pandora, Bruce Gertz Quintet Radio and Bruce Gertz Quartet Radio. There music that is in a similar genre to mines is mixed with my tracks. They play some amazing records besides mine.

JBN.S: –  Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

BG: – These days it’s harder than ever to remain positive in a business where so much sonic art is being given away on the internet for free. Royalties for great jazz are tiny. If you truly love music and cannot live without making it then there are a number of areas that support one another while possibly generating income. Gigs can provide some basic income. For gigs you need a car and a good mattress. Those are two places where you may end up spending a good deal of time. If you’re a composer like me you can publish songs and write exercises that can be published in books which generate more royalties. My experience is that the more material you have published with the proper press, the better chance of getting paid. Teaching is a great way to earn a living and stay current with your own work. Every little amount adds up in the end.

JBN.S: –  Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

BG: – Jazz is a business today. It is much smaller than Pop and other styles but it remains a business. People are still making albums, videos and film scores. There are many Jazz Festivals, clubs and concert venues in The U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and around the world. Also new educational jazz programs and online apps for practicing jazz are being released almost daily.

JBN.S: –  How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

BG: – Much of the music people listen to is half a century old. That includes the Beatles, Elvis, Muddy Waters, Stevie Wonder, Chicago, Tower of Power, James Brown, Jimmy Hendrix and so many more. Jazz is actually older than pop having its roots in blues African and European influences. Rock and funk and pop all came from jazz. To get young listeners interested in jazz it only needs to be heard. If the radio played jazz I believe young people would like it and more of them would peruse learning the language.

JBN.S: –  John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

BG: – For me understanding the spirit is a lifetime pursuit for all of us. When I’m fully engaged in a musical situation with like-minded players the spirit is there. It also comes to me when I’m fully listening to music without distractions. One can intellectualize music or just keep a quiet mind and take it all in. As artists we do listen with our minds and analyze when sometimes it’s best to just listen and feel the music. John Coltrane is one of the heroes of jazz. Listening to him is certainly hearing a spirit speak.

JBN.S: –  What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

BG: – I’m generally an optimist however the world politics and climate concern me a great deal. Money is the root of so much that is wrong in today’s world. To me the earth is a spirit unto itself It deserves to be respected and not poisoned in the name of money. Music has the power to heal and create community. The world needs more music and more music education. That would make a huge positive impact.

JBN.S: –  What’s the next musical frontier for you?

BG: – My next project is being conceived with other artists and I imagine it will follow my development to the next plateau.

JBN.S: –  Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

BG: – There are similarities in all music including World, Folk, Classical, Jazz.

JBN.S: –  Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

BG: – I listen the radio. There I can find Jazz, Pop, World, Classical, Jazz, Ethnic etc. Lately I’ve enjoyed listening to my LP’s after not using that medium for several years. As I grow as a musician an old album can offer me things I did not hear in previous years. This also applies to all listening. The more experience you have the more details become clear.

JBN.S: –  What’s your current setup?

BG: – My current set up on my 1880 Czek 3/4 size upright bass is a standard set of Thomastik Spirocore strings, a German carbon fiber bow and a Fishman Full Circle Pickup. I use Phil Jones Bass amps.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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