Tag Archives: bassist

Gary Karr

Gary Karr: Life on the G String

Gary KarrGary Karr’s career as a double bass soloist was launched in 1962 by Leonard Bernstein, in a Young People’s Concert at Carnegie Hall, which was viewed on television by 7 million people. Gary Karr gained legendary status for his virtuosity and inimitable lyricism, infectious sense of humour, and pioneering spirit. In 1967, he founded the International Society of Bassists. The Local 247 (Victoria, BC) member continues to perform and record at age 75. Emotional, surprising, and entertaining, his story appeals to fans, musicians, music-lovers, and biography enthusiasts.

Gary Karr: Life on the G String, by Mary Rannie, Friesenpress,

Joseph Conyers

Joseph Conyers: Taking Community Involvement to the Next Stage

Philadelphia Orchestra Assistant Principal Double Bassist Joseph Conyers of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) leads the opening Project 440 seminar in Carnegie Hall’s inaugural NYO2 program at SUNY Purchase during Summer 2016. Project 440 presented programs in social entrepreneurship and college preparedness for students.

Joseph Conyers, assistant principal bassist for The Philadelphia Orchestra, is committed to community engagement and a belief that all young people should have music in their lives. Proof that actions speak louder than words, he is a cofounder and the director of the nonprofit organization Project 440, music director of the All City Orchestra of Philadelphia, an adjunct professor at Temple University, and on the national advisory board for the Atlanta Music Project. He also works closely with the Curtis Institute of Music and the Sphinx organization and is on the artist roster of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center.

“The things that drive me most are: I love music so much and I know how music can change and help people in so many different ways, whether it’s psychological, emotional, or physical, it empowers,” says the Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) member.

Conyers spoke by phone from Seoul, Korea, on a break during The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Asian tour. Like much of what he does, Conyers views these overseas tours, his sixth with Philadelphia, as a service. “We represent our country and Philadelphia,” he says. “The universality and connectivity of music comes to life. In a lot of ways, I feel fulfilled doing my civic duty as a musician.”

Conyer’s mother, a classical music enthusiast and amateur singer, noticed he had an instinct for rhythm. She signed him up for piano lessons at age five. Conyers chose the bass at age 11. He recently celebrated his 25th year on the instrument, which he selected for its size and boldness. “From my very first lesson I was trying to do things like vibrato because I wanted to show that the bass can sing,” he says.

Conyers has fond memories of growing up in a nurturing environment in Savannah, Georgia, that allowed him to grow as a musician. That’s why, after he heard about the Savannah Symphony going bankrupt, he knew he had to do something. Along with two other musicians who grew up together, Blake Espy of Locals 77 and 661-708 (Atlantic City, NJ) and Catherine Gerthiser, Conyers founded Project 440 (P440) to fill the void in music education and engagement left after the Savannah Symphony pulled out.

They soon discovered, despite their combined networks of contacts, it was challenging to find musicians with the right skills to work with the kids. Rather than be discouraged, Conyers saw an opportunity. They changed the program’s focus and moved it to Philadelphia when Conyers relocated to the city, which he saw as an ideal place to begin program expansion and development.

“Musicians weren’t engaged in their communities in a constant and substantive way. A lot of orchestras were going under and we felt that, if we train musicians at a young age to think of their communities as part of their musical experience, we could change that,” Conyers says.

Today, P440 is based on a three-prong approach that uses music as a tool to empower young people. The focus is: College and Career Preparedness—exploring career paths and skills that music can lead to; Entrepreneurship and Leadership Building—ideating and creating what their lives can look like in the future; and Community Engagement—serving the community through music.

“Most of the people we work with will never become professional musicians, but they will become better people through music,” he says. Currently, P440 works with the All City Orchestra of Philadelphia, which showcases the best young Philadelphia school musicians. But big things are in store next year when all students involved in music at Philadelphia schools (about 20,000) will have access to P440 programs.

Not only is P440 showing results, but even more exciting is that it’s part of a city-wide initiative to provide young Philadelphians access to music education. The Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (PMAY) consortium, funded by a $2.5 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, brings together 10 organizations, including The Philadelphia Orchestra, to build a pathway for students in underrepresented communities (URCs).

“If we can change the narrative of why music is important for kids, especially in urban centers, it can give them opportunities and create thought processes that they might not have ever encountered before,” he says.

Eventually, says Conyers, programs like this will also help create more diverse professional orchestras by “casting the net wider” in terms of young exposure to classical music and training. “Music is a language and languages are best learned when you start quite young,” he says.

Despite his strong love for music, right up until he was accepted to Curtis Institute of Music, Conyers wasn’t sure music would be his career. “I always had two loves—music and meteorology,” he explains. “I had a plan B in my head, but getting into Curtis changed the direction of my life. I went all in with music and had a wonderful time at Curtis.”

Before graduation, Conyers had joined Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) and began doing freelance work. It didn’t take him long to realize the benefits of AFM membership. “I did some gigs just starting out that were pretty horrible,” he says. “When you are in school, you don’t realize the power of this collective, the role it plays, and the history behind it. The union has allowed for the comfort and prosperity of many musicians. It’s neat to know I am part of something that enables me to work at a comfortable level and get an honest wage.”

Following college, Conyers became principal bass with the Grand Rapids Symphony. “That was a fantastic town and I learned so much there,” he says, recalling his experiences. When the symphony asked if he’d like to be a soloist at an upcoming concert he thought for a few seconds and then answered with his own question: “Can it be a commission?”

“The repertoire for the double bass is limited to about four standards that all bass players know. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to add something,” explains Conyers. He asked his friend, John B Hedges, to write a piece.

Prayers of Rain and Wind is a complete reflection of my life—my favorite composer [Brahms], my mother’s favorite hymn, my love for weather, even the sound of my church and church choir are in the second movement. Every time I play it I feel like I’m bringing a little piece of Savannah and my upbringing to a different audience,” he says.

Conyer’s next position, with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, was like moving back home. But he didn’t stay long. When a bass spot opened up with The Philadelphia Orchestra, the first bass opening in 16 years, Conyers knew he had to audition. 

“From the first time I heard the [Philadelphia] orchestra play [as a freshman at Curtis in 1999] I was spellbound, just completely wrapped up in the sound and I felt it was something I wanted to be a part of,” he says, though he thought his chances were slim. “Lo and behold there was an opening; I went in and my life was changed forever.”

He says that working with The Philadelphia Orchestra and his mentor Hal Robinson of Local 77 is a dream come true. “It’s surreal; I’m pinching myself on a regular basis. There are no words to describe the joy I feel being able to make music with this ensemble on an almost daily basis,” he says.

Today, Conyers is proud of his chosen home city and his orchestra’s commitment to community. “The symphony orchestra can’t save the whole education system in the city, but it can be a leading voice in that conversation of how we can provide points of opportunity in communities and help bring others to join a coalition,” he says. “I see this as a huge opportunity for orchestras. Symphony orchestras can impact the greater community, and for me, that’s super exciting.”

Rick Robinson

Rick Robinson: Classical Music Delivered to the Masses

Rick Robinson

In 2011 bassist Rick Robinson of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) set out on a mission to bring classical music to the masses.

Just after the 2010-2011 Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike, and during an especially difficult time in his life (including the death of his father), longtime DSO bassist Rick Robinson of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) says it seemed like the time to take a risk. “You’ve got one life to live. I decided I should take it all the way.”

He left the orchestra to work full-time with his own production company, CutTime Productions. Robinson, a Kresge fellowship winning composer says he’s focused on “demystifying the huge classical tradition for broader humanity.” He aims to change the way classical music is presented for the lay audience, utilizing nontraditional settings—casual venues, cafés, clubs, restaurants, classrooms, and festivals.

The ensembles include CutTime Players (a mixed octet), which performs full and abridged symphonic masterpieces and CutTime Simfonica (with strings and percussion), featuring abridged openings of symphonies and Robinson’s own compositions, blending urban pop with neo-classicism. He calls it “an on-ramp to Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms, the music I love so much.”

What makes these programs unique is that Robinson and his musicians are willing to play in noise—in bars, clubs, and restaurants. “That’s a deal breaker for most symphony musicians,” says Robinson. “We play lively music to show that aspects of dance are in classical music. We pass out toy percussion instruments to the audience and ask them to join in. We talk about the development and the significance of instrumental music.” And then there are the burning questions, Robinson says, like, “Why is it called classical in the first place?” and “Why do you guys wear tails?”

Classical music can be adaptive, Robinson insists. In its reconstituted form, it can be spiritual and spontaneous all at once. Instead of centering on the art in the concert sanctuary, CutTime centers on the audience. “Once we focus on the audience, it doesn’t matter how precisely we play. The excellence comes from whether we can draw them into the music,” he says.

In the 25 to 40-year-old crowd he has a particularly captive audience. “In the orchestra world we learn to serve knowledgeable audiences within our arts bubble, which I realized was kind of a church-like experience. But I started thinking, what about everybody else? How are they being served by classical music? Some people hear better on their feet or with a drink in their hand, eating food, or with friends and family.”

“Jazzing up Mozart can make it more relevant,” he says. “The industry has always referred to this as ‘dumbing down.’ But we need to get beyond dumbing down to smarten up for a new audience.”

Robinson grew up in Highland Park, Michigan, in a fourth-generation musical family. His mother played the piano and sang. When he was 10 years old, his older sister and brother took him to a chamber orchestra rehearsal led by Joseph Striplin, one of the first black musicians to play in the Detroit Symphony. “When I first heard Brandenburg No. 3,” Robinson says, “I cried. That’s when I decided to take up cello.”

By eighth grade, he had changed to double bass. After Interlochen Arts Academy, Robinson went to the Cleveland Institute of Music and then New England Conservatory to study with Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) member Larry Wolfe. In 1987 Robinson won the Haddonfield (NJ) Symphony Concerto Competition playing Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2.

Following school, Robinson became principal bass of the Portland Symphony Orchestra in Maine and assistant principal of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, led by John Williams of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 9-535.

In 1989, Robinson returned to his hometown to become the second African-American to hold a chair in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. That’s when Robinson began adapting solo works from other instruments.

“The AFM is a major partner of DSO musicians, particularly through negotiation times, and especially during the six-month strike of 2010-2011,” he says. “The Detroit Federation of Musicians has shown it’s flexible to the changing times we’re all facing, with audience decline and reprioritization of foundation grants. The union—particularly the collective bargaining agreement—of major orchestra musicians is critical to maintaining benefits and working conditions.”

Robinson hopes to train and hire hundreds of resilient musicians in what he calls the new classical tradition. He says, “Bringing this fine art into a commercial ecosystem will bring balance to the force of classical music and change the conversation.” In the meantime, Robinson says, he’s having fun—a lot of fun!

Chuck Rainey

The Heart of a Bass Legend: How Chuck Rainey Found His Groove

Bass player Chuck Rainey has graced the recordings of the best musicians and the biggest hits of the last 50 years. His epic discography, with bass line credits on more than 400 albums, is legendary: King Curtis, Louis Armstrong, Mose Allison, Donald Byrd, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Quincy Jones of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), Aretha Franklin, Allen Toussaint, Roberta Flack of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC), and Steely Dan. 

Whether it was the bass in the organ he heard as a kid in the 1940s or the upright bass in the big bands, each decade delivered a sound Rainey of Local 47 would eventually try to duplicate. Slam Stewart, Keter Betts, and Charles Mingus all inspired him. As a bass player in the Motown era, he learned all the top-40 songs, especially the bass lines of the prolific James Jamerson. “When I play, I’m a part of everybody I’ve ever heard,” Rainey says. 

Chuck RaineyRainey was classically trained on the trumpet and viola and was a brass major in college, playing the baritone horn in the school’s popular brass ensemble. Today, he can confess, “I always wished I was the tuba player.” He was raised in Youngstown, Ohio, a steel town that buttresses Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Back in the day, it was a regular route for many entertainers, especially bluegrass and R&B acts. “I got a chance to hear it all,” he says.

In the ’60s, he picked up the guitar and, after a stint in the military, he started playing with local bands. He spent a year in Montreal, playing with saxophonist Sil Austin before moving to New York City in 1962, where he played with the great King Curtis. In 1965, Curtis and his All-Star band opened for The Beatles on their US tour. The side band members knew little about The Beatles.

Rainey says, “To us, it was just a better paying gig and an opportunity to travel across the US in large music forums.” It was not until the fifth or sixth show that he was able to hear them perform. “I was amazed with their harmony. George and John were great companions during the tour. Both spent a lot of time visiting with us on the tour plane—talking, playing cards. We remained friends for years after the tour.”

In 1972, Rainey made a move to Los Angeles to join Quincy Jones’s big band. There, he established a reputation as a top-notch studio musician. “Your character, personality, how you handle your ego—all those things make a difference [as to] who gets hired and who keeps a job,” he says. As a young up-and-coming player, Rainey understood the need to be open and adaptable. He saw plenty of musicians get jobs, only to be replaced quickly because they were not able to handle themselves in more structured settings.

Rainey cofounded the Rhythm Intensive clinic in 2014 and has written several bass-playing textbooks. In his new book, The Tune of Success: Unmask Your Genius (with drummer John Anthony Martinez) Rainey draws on education strategies he uses in his workshops. The scope of the book is vast, covering chord theory and shapes, octave exercises, and walking bass lines, and includes every genre and style—R&B, funk, country, Rainey’s preferred thumb-slap technique, and his signature lock-and-groove style.

In his clinics at bass camps, in high schools, and arts schools, he says, “I encourage kids to listen to everybody. They need to be inspired by somebody.” It’s in this setting that the generational divide is most apparent. Players of Rainey’s generation wanted to help each other out. In hard times, especially, they were generally happy just to be making music together. Nowadays, he observes, “A lot of people want to be superstars, to have instant recognition.”   

In an industry dictated by cultural whim, Rainey offers simple advice for new musicians, particularly would-be studio players: “Show up. Be there so people can see how you play, how you talk, how you act, what you’re bringing to the table. That’s how professional relationships are formed, how friendships are formed. You can see the person you’re working with, get a feel for their playing and personality.” He adds, “The union is like a club. They protect you, but you’ve got to show up.”

In 2011, Rainey suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his left side. He could not afford to be impaired, he says, so he needed to find a way to rebuild his muscles. Six months later, he could speak without slurring. After four years of physical therapy, which included practicing meditation and Hatha yoga—a ritual he continues today—and through sheer grit, he made a full recovery. “The body is a wonderful machine,” Rainey says. “If you have the mindset, you can find a way to resolve a lot of issues—by trusting your body. I pressed on and regained my strength.”

Rainey says he owes his recovery to the health insurance he got through the union, which he’s had since 1962. He began his career with Local 72 (Youngstown, OH), which at the time was the “black union,” he explains. From there, he went on to Local 802 (New York City) and Local 47.

At 76 years old, Rainey has seen his name become a brand. He has compiled educational videos, and has developed courses for the Musicians Institute and Dick Grove Music Workshops. He still enjoys teaching master classes and has been a visiting instructor at almost every major university in Europe. For eight years, he has been involved with the Billboard Live/Japan tours, as part of a “dream team” rhythm section with Marlena Shaw. For the last 10 years, he has been an instructor at Victor Wooten’s Center for Music and Nature outside of Nashville, Tennessee. 

“As long as you have a mindset to like something, you never stop learning,” Rainey says, sharing one of the tenets he has observed throughout his life. “You play and do what you’ve got to do and finally, one day you realize you’ve made it. In my mind, it was always the love of music. It was a journey.”

Ray Brown Legendary Jazz Bassist

Ray Brown Legendary Jazz Bassist

Ray Brown Legendary Jazz BassistWritten as a tribute to Ray Brown, Ray Brown Legendary Jazz Bassist, includes 18 transcriptions by Matthew Rybicki of Local 802 (New York City). There are performance notes, photos, and a foreword by Local 802 member and bassist Christian McBride. Transcriptions include: “Autumn in New York,” “Custard Puff,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Easy Does It,” “Gravy Waltz,” “Have You Met Miss Jones?” “How High the Moon,” “I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande),” “I’m Glad There Is You (In This World of Ordinary People),” “Killer Joe,” “Love Is Here to Stay,” “Mack the Knife,” “Minor Mystery,” “Moten Swing,” “Night Train,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” and “Tune Up.”

Ray Brown Legendary Jazz Bassist, transcribed by Matthew Rybicki, Hal Leonard Corporation, www.halleonard.com

Nathan East

Nathan East Will Be Inducted into NAMM TEC Awards Hall of Fame

Bassist Nathan East will be inducted into the NAMM TEC Awards Hall of Fame by the NAMM Foundation. The induction will occur during the 30th Annual NAMM Technical Excellence & Creativity Award show on January 24th in Anaheim, California.

East has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry including: Daft Punk, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Beyoncé. and many more. He has over 2,000 recordings making him one of the most recorded bassists of all time. He worked with Clapton on the multi-Grammy award winning Unplugged Album, and played bass on Daft Punk’s Grammy winning album “Random Access Memories.”

You can read our cover story on Nathan East and get a deeper look at the extraordinary bassist.

For more information and tickets visit www.nammfoundation.org