Cabaret, variety and the joy of artistic cross-pollenation.

I just got in from playing a cabaret show, organised by Moot, an urban spiritual community, with a particular fondness for the arts.

This was the second of their cabaret evenings I’ve played at, and once again the line up was hugely mixed in terms of artistic disciplines, but all of really high quality. There were 4 musical acts (me, two singers with guitar and Foreign Slippers, a comedian, a performance poet, and a dramatic monolgue. Last time there was also a guy playing contemporary classical works on a giant marimba… a really great mix.

steve lawson at the moot cabaret

In the UK, there’s an old tradition in performance called ‘Variety’, not just the concept of ‘having lots of things’ but an actual school of performance where the performers were multi-disciplined – they had to be able to sing, dance, play at least one instrument, act, tell jokes, compere, etc. etc… It’s why old timey british comedians often turn out to be great musicians or dancers (Bruce Forsyth being top of the shop – a stunning tap dancer and really lovely piano player too.) I guess the US equivalent was Vaudeville…

It was a relatively low-brow kind of show, the variety show, but it did mean that people going out weren’t going to watch two similar bands play for ages and ages, they got to experience a range of culture.

Cabaret, as a term, has slightly more cultured connotations than variety, but is still largely a kind of nightclub type show with a range of entertainers.

I rarely get to play on bills as diverse as this. The main other places where it happens are at Greenbelt (obviously, being an arts festival), and at Jenny Roditi’s ‘salon’ events at ‘The Loft’ in Crouch End – I’ve had a couple of really wonderful gigs at Jenny’s, particularly the time I played for about 15 or 20 mins with just one loop box and a bass, not processing or toys, but shared the bill with some incredible and diverse musical talent and a couple of story-tellers.

Artistically we need this kind of inspiration – this evening I followed Bart Wolffe, doing a dramatic reading of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary Of a Madman – he did an incredible job of portraying the descent into paranoid delusion, which started out kinda funny, and got incredibly dark. So dark that I couldn’t just go straight in and play what I was going to play. I did a much more dissonant twisted improv thing to start with just to respond in some way to what I’d just seen… I’ve no idea what the audience thought of it, but it felt like a much more appropriate transition into what I do than just dropping straight into one of my tunes…

So for the audience it was a fantastically mixed evening, all high quality stuff, and a huge range from funny to deeply tragic, romantic to cutting and sarcastic.

And for us as the performers, it was a chance to cross-pollenate. For me to get to respond to Bart’s performance, to listen to the cadence of the poetry, to hear the other musicians, and to play in a gallery space surrounded by amazing art, it’s pretty vital stuff.

Somehow we need to engineer more such spaces… any suggestions how? :o)

Billy Bragg/KT Tunstall at HMV – the value of screwing it up…

I went to a fabulous lunchtime gig yesterday – Billy Bragg and KT Tunstall at HMV on Oxford Street. I had no idea why they were doing it before I went – I assumed it was as promo for the iTunes festival that’s coming up, where both of them are on a bill with the wonderful Leo Abrahams.

As it turned out it was as promo for Q magazine’s top 100 greatest british pop/rock albums or some such bollocks. Q magazine used to be good, but is now, sadly, largely unreadable shit. Endless top lists of either journo picked or reader-submitted stuff, rehashing the tired and nonsensical line that they greatest bands in the history of music are Radiohead, Oasis and Nirvana (nothing against those three in particular, though I not a big fan of any of them, just that it’s pretty pointless saying it in every other issue…).

Anyway, what it meant for the gig was that Billy and KT did a whole slew of great cover versions, most of which neither of them knew particularly well. Peppered in amongst more polished versions of songs like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ (KT, complete with looped vocal harmonies), ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone (Billy’s Buzzcocks tribute) and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (both of them together) were really ropey versions of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

But here’s the thing (as Trip might say), the rubbish performances were at least as affecting, engaging and entertaining as the ones that ‘worked’ – there’s something really magical about seeing musicians over-stretch themselves and not take it too seriously, not getting to precious. Billy Bragg has long been not just one of my favourite songwriters and guitarists (he is, as I’ve said before, a guitar genius, IMO) but one of my most favouritest performers, speakers, writers… he’s just great, and his sense of adventure in trying songs that he doesn’t know the right chords to etc. is just wonderful.

And KT Tunstall was always utterly mis-labelled as part of the Blunt/Morrison etc. crowd – she’s been playing live for over 10 years, playing folk clubs, coffee shops, festivals, learning her craft, and no doubt spending night after night playing requests that she barely knows and getting away with it. That Sony manage to strip away all the energy, vibe and magic from her performance on her records is both sad and a testament to her strength of character that they still manage to be far better records that the rest of the ‘nu-acoustic’ crowd can come up with, but in a situation like this she really shines. She has fun on stage, she reaches for things, she’s willing to look a bit of a muppet and as such draws everyone in.

Here are some pics that Sarda took of the gig – damn, he’s getting good at this photography business!

Anyway, the lesson is – take risks, have fun, and don’t be afraid to look a bit of a berk on stage, it’ll make you look far more human, engaging and funny to your audience…

For reference, you might want to watch mine and Lo’s version of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ –

(and here’s a link to one of the songs they did – Don’t You Want Me Baby – but be warned the quality is REALLY bad.

Bluffing…

I just watched the following video on Myspace – a hilarious clip of Fred Armisen going for an audition that he clearly has no place being at –

And it reminded me of when I did a very similar thing, albeit slightly more unwittingly. Back in about 1996/97, I had just moved back to London from Lincoln, and was just about eking out a living teaching (still driving back up to Lincoln one day a week) and living in a house where I was sharing a room as that’s all I could afford.

A friend of mine who had just left a gig as an on-stage musician in the west end told me that they were auditioning for the role of Buddy Holly’s bassist in ‘Buddy!’ the musical, and suggested I go for it. He seemed to think that the fact that I’d spent less than 10 minutes in my life with a double bass in my hands, couldn’t really sing and had no clue how to do an american accent wasn’t going to be a hindrance and that I should go for it.

So I went round to a friend’s house to try her double bass, did about 15 minutes and thought ‘that’ll do’. And then worked out two songs to sing, which were (I shit you not), ‘Looking For The Heart Of Saturday Night’ and ‘I Fought The Law’, both with electric bass accompaniment (despite there being no electric bass in the show).

The audition itself, fortunately, was a one at a time affair, not a big casting call. So I went in, onto the stage, with two blokes sat in the audience, plugged in my bass, and played (well) and sang (terribly) my two songs, then they said ‘can you play some double bass for us?’, so I picked up the double bass that was on the stage. It had action a mile high, and felt like a different scale length to the one I’d tried. I played a couple of really shitty rock ‘n’ roll walking basslines – I must’ve sounded like some 12 year old in a music shop, trying an instrument he’d never played…

They called me down to where they were sat, and gave me a script to read ‘it’s a southern US accent we need’. So I launch into it, trip over the words, get the emphasis wrong, and worst of all drift from really appalling new york jewish accent to californian surf-bum and back to ridiculous cowboy. The kind of american accent that makes Dick Van Dyke’s cockney sound like he grew up in Plaistow.

Thinking back, I’m surprised they didn’t either laugh or punch me in the face for wasting their time.

The only other time I’d ever felt quite so HOPELESSLY out of my depth was my audition for Salford University when I was 18. I’d driven down to Manchester the night before, so Martin and I could go and see Ocean Colour Scene at the International 3 [side note – this was before their first album came out, and they were, in all seriousness, one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen – hard to believe given the terraces rock they morphed into later…] – we slept in the car, and drove into Manchester the next morning, where I bought my first ever jazz records (a Coltrane live in Europe album called ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, Mingus Plays Duke and a Bill Evans Trio album called ‘Autumn Leaves’ that was actually an edit from ‘Live At The Village Vanguard’…) then went out to Salford for the interview.

I got there and there was a guitar player sat outside the interview room playing King’s X tunes. He was, to me then, amazing. I was REALLY bad at working out songs off records; I had no ear for it at all. So hearing this guy play all this stuff was the first point at which I thought ‘hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have rated myself quite so highly on their pre-audition questionnaire’.

Anyway, I was eventually called in, played my two solo pieces, REALLY badly – mistakes, out of tune, everything that could have gone wrong short of pissing myself did. They then did an ear test, and I had no idea how to pick out intervals, didn’t know what a compound interval was, bollocksed up the reading test… by this point I half expected then to invoice me for an hour of wasted time… I was asked how I thought it went and said ‘frankly, shit’, and they smiled and said ‘we’ll let you know’.

…fast forward 15 years, and I’ve done two masterclasses at that same uni. So maybe one day I’ll be playing rockabilly slap upright on a west end stage, you never can tell…

A quick thought on youtube piggy-backing…

It’s the middle of the night, so I’m going to make this quick as I really ought to be asleep, but I was just re-reading my post from earlier, and realised in didn’t get back to talking about the cover versions thing.

Firstly, the marvel that is Cdbaby report that the artists selling most on their download service are those recording cover tunes – you pick up custom from people looking for the real song, and finding yours by accident.

This happens LOADS on youtube. There are DREADFUL versions of songs – one drunk dude with an acoustic guitar and a toy camera playing oasis songs – that have had thousands of views. I’m guessing most of those views were about 6 seconds long, but that’s because he couldn’t hold their attention (which after all is the currency in the new economy). But, if you have good cover tunes on youtube, you can piggyback the searches for the person who did the song first time round.

(as an aside, it would be great if Youtube allowed for the uploading of publishing details for songs on youtube, and did a revenue sharing deal with the WRITERS of the songs that get used in such a way… It’s all publicity for the ‘real’ song, but it would seem fair to pay mechanicals on the videos…)

anyway, so much of life online is about piggybacking, but it’s worth giving some thought to the difference between piggybacking and hijacking – if what you’re doing impinges on what someone else is trying to do, that’s hijacking (for example, posting inane non-comments onto people’s myspace pages advertising your gigs, without any reference to them – the online equiv. of shiny colourful junkmail, and a right pain in the arse). Joining in with a thread on a forum about something related to what you’re doing, and posting links as an example would be a more netiquettish way of piggybacking. (of for that matter, posting a myspace comment inviting a particular person to a particular gig, and actually referring to them by name… what a suggestion…)

Anyway, worth thinking about with youtube – there are all kinds of options, including commenting, posting video responses, cover tunes, intelligent tagging of videos and of course the extra-youtube dissemination of info about the vids on forums, myspace, blogs etc…

damn, this was longer than I’d planned – time to sleep…

in the mean time, watch this –

(BTW, I ended yesterday as the 70th most viewed musician on the whole of myspace for the day – that sounds quite good, doesn’t it?)

evolution, transformation and the element of surprise!

So, if you remember back before I went out to the States in December, I did a couple of days improv record with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds, genius guitarist/keyboardist and drummer, respectively. We had two days in a friend’s studio, where we just played and listened, the played some more. No written material, no overdubs, no retakes, just playing great music and seeing where it went. I was looping and layering a lot of different sounds, and played my 6 string fretted bass more than I have on any other project

When I left to to Stateside I took the rough mixes with me – Lo. and I spent a lot of time listening to the in our various rental cars, really enjoying the open sprawling freewheeling vibe of the sessions, but knowing that they’d have to be edited for any kind of release.

Before I left, we’d said that we’d have a listen and talk more when I got back. Then I get a excited call from Patrick this morning saying that he and Roy have done DAYS of work on the stuff, editing and adding some percussion AND overdubbed the genius that is Mark Lockheart, on soprano and tenor sax and bass clarinet on a few tunes. So I change all my plans for today (which were mainly admin-based and tidying) and head over to Patrick’s to hear what they’d done.

Wow, just, wow. The work that had gone into shaping what was there, adding minimally to it, taking out the bits that didn’t, and in one case splitting one massive improv into two separate tracks. Mark’s wind parts add so much to the overall mix (especially one passage where he and I are soloing at the same time that gets really euphoric!) – hearing the music evolve from the raw unedited unmixed state, and transform into what it now is was such a delight. It’s also hugely exciting to be working with musicians who are so excited about what we’re doing. Patrick and I commented on Roy’s unique approach to drums on so much of this, where he’s playing the kit like an improvised melodic line, but without it being a ‘solo’ per se, just so inventive, to which he replied that this was the one setting where he could do that, to feel so inspired.

Apparently Mark Lockheart rang Patrick after playing on the tracks, really excited about the sound of the stuff too!

So, from here we need to finish the mixes and get a rough master together for us to listen to, and to use to get some gigs – it really shouldn’t be difficult to do, with what we’ve got. We’ll hopefully be doing some trio shows and some others where we get Mark to come and play with us too. It’s really exciting, and I hope I can get a sneak preview of it for you before too long…

Watch this space!

California part II

NAMM was over as soon as it began. It was definitely one of my favouritest NAMM shows ever. Getting to play all the Looperlative demos (and a Modulus demo) with Lo. and getting to hang out and play a lot with Claudio was just great. Having set times to play at Looperlative made the days much easier to plan, and thanks to a food intolerance, we didn’t make any trips over to Subway (about a 45 minute round trip), so stayed nearer the convention centre for food and coffee, thus giving us more time on the show floor.

As usual, the magic of NAMM was in the lovely peoples – the rest of it is 100,000 music gear makers and sellers lying to each other for a weekend to the atonal accompaniment of slap bass, poorly executed paradiddles and 80s guitar shredding. Thankfully, in 10 years of visiting NAMM, I’ve accumulated a circle of friends and acquaintances so lovely and so numerous that there were quite a few I didn’t get to see this year, or saw for such a brief time that it was actually more frustrating than not seeing them at all! So for those of you that I missed, I’m REALLY sorry. Hopefully we’ll be out in CA in the summer for some stuff – watch this space…

It was a really great NAMM for Looperlative, partly because most of the ‘competition’ were conspicuously absent from the show, but largely just because in its third NAMM show, the product has proved itself, there’s a solid user base who swear by it, Bob’s proved he can do the customer service and support required for a product in that market and price range and a lot of people are realising that to get a dedicated laptop looping set up that’s stable enough for stage usage, fast enough for low latency audio, and especially if you want to use it for processing your sound too, costs a heck of a lot of money. The software part of it may be a free download, but trying to run a looper on a laptop alongside all your other stuff and expect it to not crap out on you on tour is asking a heck of a lot from your gear… 2008 could end up being an amazing year for Looperlative…

In other gear news, Accugroove launched a new amp, that sounded great, and certainly bodes well for the hopefully-finally-on-the-way powered cabinets…

From NAMM, we spent a day in and around LA with Claudio and Alex Machacek – who inevitably found that had hundreds of friends and musical acquaintances in common. Alex gave us a copy of his new album, Improvision, a trio record with Matthew Garrison and Jeff Sipe. Really amazing stuff.

Then it was the long drive north to Oakland for a couple of days with Michael Manring, before our last gig of the tour at Don Quixote’s in Felton, near Santa Cruz. Things were looking really great attendance-wise before the show – threads on discussion boards with folks arranging to meet up at the show. Then the weather went to shit, and a snow and ice warning quite understandably curtailed the travel plans of quite a few people. And yet we still managed to pull a decent crowd, and played some of the most satisfying music I’ve been a part of in ages. I started the show solo, then Lo. joined me for a duo set, then after the break was Michael solo, then he and I duo, and finally a trio improv piece. The improv stuff both duo and trio felt really really great, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the video and hearing the recordings that were taken on the night… we’ll see if there’s anything useable in there… Also worth a mention is that the soundman at the venue, a guy called Lake, was one of the finest club engineers we’d ever worked with. A really friendly guy, with great working gear, and just fantastic sound! It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard Michael have, and the on-stage sound was amazing too… it makes all the difference.

And then we flew back to Ohio, and both Lo and I fell ill. Proper ill. Fever and shaking ill. Yesterday was a wash-out – having hardly slept on an overnight flight, I slept pretty much all day, and then all night too. Feeling much better today.

So tomorrow we drive to New York, and I fly home on Wednesday – feel free to email me now if you want to sort out teaching stuff for when I’m back! :o) It’s time to start booking some UK gigs now too.

free MP3s featuring Nels Cline…

My other latest recent musical obsession is guitarist Nels Cline. Best know these days as the guitarist in Wilco, he’s nevertheless been a mainstay of the LA experimental/free/out/weird scene for decades, as well as guesting with some big name dudes like Mike Watt (his guitar playing features heavily on Contemplating The Engine Room by Watt – an amazing album)

Anyway, there are a few free downloads on last.fm that feature him – first, there’s The Darkness Of Each Endless Fall by Stueart Liebig – Stig is an outstanding bassist from LA, and I just bought this track yesterday from eMusic, but on clicking on his name on last.fm just now, discovered I could’ve got it for free… So you can, and then go and buy loads of Stig’s music cos it’s amazing.

Also on last.fm are four free downloads from The Scott Amendola Band, featuring Nels. Again, I downloaded both albums from eMusic, but you can get tasters of them from last.fm, then go and buy them on emusic!

And lastly – same as before, I bought it on emusic before discovering the freebies – some of Nels’ own trio, The Nels Cline Singers, whose music is all instrumental, just in case the name throws you.

Get stuck in – you can get about an hour or so’s worth of free loveliness from that lot on last.fm. Seems like their label, Cryptogramaphone have free tracks from all their artists on last.fm – i’d recommend Jenny Scheinman, Alan Pasqua and Nels’ solo stuff as well, but it’s all worth checking out. Hours of spikey goodness.

End of year eMusic round-up…

So, end of December, time for everyone to do their end of 2007 best music lists… I’m just going to offer the stuff I got off eMusic, and a few of them were released in 2006 even though I didn’t get them til 2007 – with the way digital releases go, things released on CD one year might not end up being available for download until early in the next year anyway, so there’s a little ambiguity about what a ‘release date’ is these days…

Draw Breath – Nels Cline Singers – LA-based avant guitarist keeps on melding ‘out’ weirdness with amazing tunes. This new one is no exception.

Line By Line – John Patitucci – John continues to grow as both a composer and player on this beautiful guitar-led album of introspective jazz and beautiful chamber music. My favourites of his since One More Angel.

Double Talk – Theo Travis – push comes to shove, probably my favourite album of the year. Theo just gets better and better, and here his band are just amazing. It’s no wonder he’s so in demand right now… Look out for our duo live album some time in the next 12 months….

Shine – Joni Mitchell – seems like a very personal record, much smaller in scope than anything she’s done for years, a beautifully understated return to the recording world. Now let’s hope she tours…

The Antisocial Club – Alan Pasqua – anyone savvy enough to put Jimmy Haslip and Nels Cline on the same record HAS to have it going on. A beautiful album of spikey post-miles jazz, and the kind of project that Jimmy excels at, even though people don’t think of him as an out player…

You’ve Got To Laugh – Nik Kershaw – when are people going to wake up and realise that he’s one of the finest songwriters of the last 25 years – how long can one man’s reputation be defined by his mullet of two decades ago?

Sermon On Exposition Boulevard – Rickie Lee Jones – mad freewheeling gospel album, sounds unlike anyone else that I can think of. In a good way.

These Friends Of Mine – Rosie Thomas – really a trio record with Sufjan Stevens and the wonderful Denison Witmer, Rosie’s yet to record a bad song, let along a bad album. Now when is Sheila’s first album coming out?

Rock Garden – Ty Tabor – Ty finally allows himself to really rock out without the rest of King’s X.

Strange Conversation – Kris Delmhorst – as with everything she does, it’s full of great tunes and great words.

there you go, no Radiohead, no Britney, no Arctic Monkeys, no… whatever, you can go and read about their tedious nonsense elsewhere… :o)

busy busy busy

It’s all go here!

We’ll start with last weekend – two gigs, Saturday/Sunday.

Saturday’s was a gig with Lobelia in Brighton at the Sanctuary Cafe, opening for MAP – that’s and Peter Harris – both incredible acoustic guitarists, writers of sublime melodies and fantastic performers. Also on the bill before us was a marvellous singer/songwriter, Conrad Vingoe – as well as having one of the most rock ‘n’ roll names ever (not much chance of that domain name being taken), he writes great songs and has a gorgeous voice. All good. ‘Twas a small crowd, but the venue was intimate and sounded good, the people lovely and a fine time was had by all… I’ll put photos from it up on Flickr soon.

Sunday’s gig was back at Smollensky’s with Luca Sirianni, this time with Sophie Alloway on drums. The gig with Luca is becoming a fairly regular thing, and a whole lot of fun – the chance to play a lot of pop/latin/jazz tunes, do some interesting arrangements, get funky and get paid (a bit). Luca’s a fine guitarist, who does enough ‘dinner jazz’ gigs to know just the right kind of things to play, but also likes to stretch out, improvise and have some fun. It was the first time I’d played with Sophie, and she was a treat to play with – not having come the usual ‘3 years at music school’ route, she plays with the maturity of a player who’s been gigging twice as long as she has, because she learnt on gigs. One of my main gripes with so many drummers is the don’t listen well – they establish a beat and stick with it, instead of letting the grooves grow and expand. Sophie listened really well, and also – crucially – understood the space a drummer has to occupy in a trio. As usual, I hit my stride about half way through the second set, but that’s the price I pay for not playing with drummers often enough…

…Though that’s not the case right now – I’m in the middle of a really fun recording session with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds – if you saw the last Recycle gig, you’ll know this is a pretty special trio… We spent most of yesterday setting up, but got about 20 minutes of amazing music recorded last night, and will spend much of today on it as well… except the time that I’m teaching – thanks to my going away for Christmas and January to the US, I’m having to fit in as much teaching as possible before I go, partly because lots of students want lessons before I go and partly because I need to earn as much as I can in order to be able to pay my rent, and renew my car tax in january…

in between all that, I’m booking things to do in the US (masterclasses and gigs in California), sorting out my tax return (spending a lot of time buried under piles of receipts) and somewhere this week, I need to fit in a few hours to record some tracks for an italian electronica project that I’ve been meaning to record some stuff for for over a year, and HAVE to have done before Christmas…

Add to that regular trips to the post office to send off CD orders for the new EP and people ordering other stuff as christmas presents, and you’ve got yourself one seriously overworked Stevie.

Roll on Ohio…

Steve Rodby interview from Bassist Mag, Aug 1999

Steve Rodby was, without a doubt, one of the nicest people I got to meet when writing for Bassist mag. Along with Michael Manring, Lee Sklar, Jimmy Haslip and a handful of others, he was one of the interviewees that inspired me as much by his personality, grace and enthusiasm as by his wise words and exceptional playing. His thoughts on soloing in this interview were particularly enlightening…

He’s also, bizarrely, one of the most underrated bassists on the planet. I’ve had the ‘who could replace Steve Rodby?’ conversations with loads of great bassists the world over, and no-one has yet suggested another player that does everything that Steve does as well as Steve does it in the Pat Metheny Group. His jazz upright playing is exemplary, his bowing beautiful, his rock and pop electric playing makes him sound like he’s spent the last 40 years studying nothing but great rock/pop bass playing. He’s a proper low-frequency master of all trades. So here’s the interview – again, frustratingly, it’s an edit of a very long and involved conversation that I wish I had transcribed… maybe I’ll have to start an ‘in conversation’ podcast – could be a fun project for NAMM… Anyway, have a read of this, then go and listen to any of the PMG albums that Steve plays on, and be amazed at what a great player he is. One thing to keep in mind is that when Richard Bona joined the PMG, he joined as a singer. That’s how good Steve is :o)


For 20 Years now The Pat Metheny Group has been one of the biggest selling acts on the contemporary jazz scene. It has consistently filled concert halls and arenas the world over, and produced a series of critically acclaimed albums that have touched on almost every imaginable area of contemporary music, from Latin to industrial, drum ‘n’ bass to avante garde and freeform improv.

Since 1982 Steve Rodby’s upright and electric bass grooves have driven the band’s sound, helping to define the style that is now instantly recognisable as the PMG.

Bassist collared Steve for the low down on all things Metheny-esque while they were in London earlier this year for three nights at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

SL – You started out as a Classical bassist, but made the switch to Jazz fairly early on. How did that come about?

‘I always thought I’d be a classical bassist. My father is a classical musician, so that seemed the obvious direction. I went to college to study, but I don’t think I was ever quite at the level where I would have landed a really good orchestral post.

‘Very early on I started playing pop. When I was in college I got a couple of calls for studio work and I took to those sessions extremely well. Because orchestra playing was kinda boring, I played this game with my self when I was a kid where I would imagine that there was a mic in front of my bass recording every note that I played and that someone was going to say “Rodby, come in here!” and then play the tape back and say “What were you doing there”'”

‘So when I finally got in the studio, it was a fairly stress free process as I’d been playing for imaginary tape recorders for years!!

‘I also started to play electric bass, and made the switch to playing pop easily as that’s the music I was listening to all the time.

‘I finished college got my degree in classical bass, but by half way through college I was playing fairly regularly on the Chicago jazz scene.

‘My big break came when the great bass player Rufus Reid, who played in the house band at the Jazz Showcase (prestigious Chicago jazz venue), moved to New York, so the gig was up for grabs. The owner of the club seemed to like the way I played, and I ended up playing five nights, three sets a night with all these amazing visiting musicians like Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Joe Henderson. The drummer in the house band had played with Charlie Parker and the pianists were all 30 years older than me and knew so much about music. And here I was this nerdy college kid with a classical background and all I had going for me was my ear and a feel!’

How did you learn all the tunes?

‘When I first started playing bass, my dad bought would play guitar and we would play duets. To teach me a song, he would write the roots notes and bar lines down, with no information about what else to play, so I had to improvise from the very beginning.

‘On the gigs, I was doing the same thing – following roots and knowing instinctively what the rest of the notes were. The piano players would play the first few choruses very clearly until I had it. I learned on the bandstand rather than in the practice room or out of books. I never really studied as much as I wish that I had.’

How did you first hook up with Pat?

‘I’d met Pat at various jazz camps when we were younger, and had stayed in touch. He was looking to add acoustic bass to his band and was auditioning players. My name came up so he called me and I went to NY and auditioned. Shortly after that he offered me the job.

‘When I met Pat I was an unformed nobody from small town Illinois, who didn’t even know what chords were, and he was already the future of music – he was 18 and had it all figured out. He was so far ahead of the game it was unbelievable. But when we played there was something about the style of the music that I felt that I could understand that I couldn’t account for – It may have been similar backgrounds and a shared love of pop music, the Beatles. It just made sense. I used to listen to the first couple of PMG albums and say to myself – ‘that’s my music’. It really was my dream group.’

Was it intimidating to work with Pat after the succession of great bassists that he’d already worked with?

‘Mmm, not really. The only thing that could have freaked me was Pat’s relationship with Jaco. Not only because he played with Jaco, but he REALLY played with Jaco. Bright Sized Life was one of the best records ever made. The next time I saw Pat after he met Jaco he said, “Oh man, I just heard a bass player that is going to change music. He sounds like John McLaughlin and John Coltrane only better – and on bass!!” – Pat doesn’t say stuff like that lightly!

‘Once I heard Jaco I just said “forget it, I’m not even going to try!” I was one of the few bassists on the planet who loved Pat and Weather Report but didn’t get a fretless and transcribe Jaco’s licks. I’ve never transcribed a bass solo in my life! Hearing Jaco also kept me away from playing fretless. So I thought if I’m going to do anything, I’ll play acoustic bass and I’ll play fretted pop style bass. Playing acoustic bass with Pat gave me a lot of freedom because what I was doing was different to what Mark Egan, Jaco or Charlie Haden had done. That’s my way of being able to sleep at night, otherwise I would have shot myself a long time ago!!’

How did the group develop such a distinctive sound?

‘In the early days of the band, I think we had a feeling that we had to do something different from other bands, so we had a load of do’s and don’ts – don’t do fusion, don’t have a back beat. And then we spent a lot of time avoiding music that may have sounded borrowed. But now we’ve finally got to the place were we can play Happy Birthday and it’ll sound like us. So we can now do a tune like the opening track on Imaginary Day that sounds sorta Chinese, maybe a bit like Gamalan Indonesian music, but it still sounds like us.’

Live, on the standard, ‘How Insensitive’, you take the first solo that I’ve heard you play. Is this a new area for you?

‘For years I took some really bad solos, and then we started doing this tune and I began applying myself to soloing again. That’s the next thing to think about. Not just soloing, but maybe making a solo record. I’ve spent so many years not paying any attention to it, but now that I’ve finally started to do my homework, I’ve found a real satisfaction. I’ve managed to get beyond the plateau that I was on. I’m moving forward as a soloist, so maybe now’s the time to do my own record.’

What have you been studying?

‘Well, I’ve finally begun to realise that at the technical level – playing melodies and chord scales, playing faster, higher – that you need to be able to do it 20 times faster than you’ll ever need to in a song! My problem was that the fastest the highest the hardest that I ever played was in this little solo during the gig. I was always trying to reach so far over my head and it didn’t really work.

‘So I realised that I had to put in the time, getting my technique up to speed. Same with the chord scales – there is a set of musical materials that you need to know – with this chord, this set of notes are your primary musical material – you can do other things, but you need that reference point.

‘These are the things that beginning sax or piano players learn very easily, but bass players don’t seem to take to so well. Fancy bass soloists tend to learn a bunch of hot licks but often don’t learn the fundamentals of music. So I’m finally taking the time to learn what the chords are and be able to play them at soloing speed!

‘A great bass solo has to be a high quality melody that would sound like a high quality melody if it was played on another instrument. You’d go, “well, it’s down kinda low on the piano, and he’s playing a little slow, but that’s a great melody!” Most bass solos on any other instrument would sound kinda weak.

‘I have a million miles to go, but that’s what I aspire to, that’s what I’m going to work on for the next 20 years. I’m sat up there playing for myself and for the audience but I’ve also got Pat and Lyle, two of the finest melodic improvisers around, sat right behind me! I’m not going to get a smile out of them by playing fast, but my playing good strong melodies.”

Pat Metheny on Steve Rodby:

When you’ve played with the most highly respected bassists on the planet, the must be something pretty special about the guys that you keep in your band for 15 years. Here’s what Pat has to say about Steve –

‘The kinds of things I need in any musician who is going to be in the group, regardless of their role in the band, is a certain musical insight that includes, but hopefully transcends, a deep sense of what has happened on their respective instrument, particularly over the past 60 or 70 years of popular and improvised music, combined with the musical skill and vocabulary to sonically render their conception of what just what that history implies into a personal sound. Steve Rodby has the ability to do just that and so much more, and that is what makes him the perfect bass player for this band. His background in classical music combined with his extensive jazz playing and studio work has made him an exceptionally well rounded player with a genuine musical curiosity that transcends style. His relentless pursuit of just the right part, played with just the right intonation and sound are well suited for the basic musical aesthetic that our band aspires toward.’