Jeff Berlin is one of the most respected and admired bass players around. In addition to his solo albums, “Pump It” and “Taking Notes”, he has played with such luminaries as John McLaughlin and is a renowned teacher. His latest release, “In Harmony’s Way”, is a real jazz CD in his words. Jeff worked his heart out putting together the recording. He is very happy with the results and he isn’t afraid of saying so. Jeff spoke to Abstract Logix before he left for his long anticipated tour of Europe and Australia with the great pianist/bassist Richard Drexler and long time friend, drummer Danny Gottlieb.
AL: At some point in your youth, you decided you were going to stretch the limits on your instrument.
JB: Music is a very emotional part of me. In a way, the decision to seek out new ways to play bass was made without my control. Actually, it wasn’t a decision, it was a need. I was always investigating, experimenting and spending a lot of time practicing and listening to everyone around me. I felt that by making changes and doing things differently on my bass, I would continue to grow as a player and make thing sound different than other bass players. Melody is infinite! Because of this, there’s no reason that any of us should sound the same. But the change in your playing comes over time and little bits of daily improvement. You know if you had a floor full of dirt and if you start picking up a little bit with your fingers everyday, after a month, you are going to see a difference. That’s how you get better in music, a little bit each day. It is the little things that matter in the long run.
AL: You have a new CD.
JB: It is a great jazz record and it excellently represents this 49-year-old person’s vision of music. On this record, I am playing bass better than any other electric bass player in the jazz genre! I am trying to join a world of soloists who are not bass players because, in general, bass players are terrible soloists. I want to join the ranks of those guest soloists who are playing on the CD like Gary Burton, Mike Stern, and Dave Liebman. “In Harmony’s Way” is only available through www.JeffBerlinMusic.com. I’ve been touring with Richard and Danny to promote it already. It is very difficult to perform this kind of music in America than in Europe or Japan where more people are actually listening. That says something, doesn’t it? You could be the best musician on the planet and not many people would have even heard of you. . I am nearly finished recording the next CD called “Lumpy Jazz”. It’s primarily a trio CD because Richard, Danny and I have gotten quite comfortable playing together.
AL: Discuss the Players Music School?
JB: When my son was diagnosed with cancer, I quit playing music to stay home with him while he received his treatments. I started the school to make ends meet. Now that he is cured, I can play music again, but when I am not on the road, I am at the school. It is a unique music school in its own way. Anyone can come and join for the different courses. You do not have to even know a single note before you walk in. The only thing I request is practice. We spend one day at a time and provide one on one attention to everybody. We have students who play in all kinds of settings. The only thing I teach is jazz education because I feel that it gives a real strong musical foundation. We ease students in slowly rather than blasting them with tons of work. If they can take more work, then they will get it. We try to individualize our approach with our guys and nearly 100% of them learn reading, soloing and comping skills in the first six months at the school. It’s really great to see how well they grow. It is a neat program and it works. Write www.playerschool.com for information or a catalog.
AL: How do you approach the issues of technique and improvising in the school?
JB: There’s little emphasis on technique because you don’t need it if you don’t know what to play. The more you learn how to read, solo, and practice written music, the better your technique gets because now you have a reason to develop it. Musical ideas and technique go hand in hand. The better your musical ideas get- the more technique you will develop. Improvisation is learned in pieces. You might get a couple of chords, say, D-7 and G7. You will be shown how to solo over these chords. As you solo over these and other musical chord sounds, your improvisation skills start to become easier to use. It must work because everyone at our school can solo, even the beginners.
AL: Why does there seem to be a problem in America?
JB: The recording industry tells people what to listen to and buy. Over 99% of recording artists are vocal oriented stuff. No one is interested in instrumentalists. Most of today’s popular rock bands play like shit. The whole thing is quite negative. There was a time where you had musicians like Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce who were quite popular but musically brilliant too. You see less and less of that, unfortunately. No more Jimi Hendrix’s on the horizon because the record company won’t let them in. If Hendrix wanted to be in the music industry today, he’d be working as a salesman at Guitar Center.
AL: What rig are you using?
JB: I am actually looking for a new bass since my relationship with Dean Guitars ended I’m looking for a simple, flexible 4 string bass. I never liked a complicated instrument. I hate active sounding basses, and I have no use for any guitar over $1,500. I made a career playing instruments priced around $750-$1,000 and they sounded great. At the end it is really the musician that performs and makes the sound, not the instrument.