Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger!
When Jeff offered
to help with the launch of this magazine back in July, the thing we immediately thought of was, of course, an interview. Hey, it's what we do!
Jeff is refreshingly opinionated, brutally honest and endlessly quotable. Not afraid to call crap 'crap', but just as quick to help a friend, a collegue or an up-and-comer with his or her playing and career, Jeff naturally polarizes readers and players alike.
He is either intensely liked or disliked, doesn't lose sleep over either position, but he is always respected. Though he may not say what you want to hear, if you are not careful, you might just learn something in the process.
Jeff's newest release, In Harmony's Way, was half a year old, and so it seemed we were at a loss on what to talk about. The usual route of 'new release/let's talk' was not part of the equation.
However, Jeff was beginning the European leg of his tour for the album and offered to write a 'Notes From the Road' that he could submit once he was back.
As luck and life would have it, that is not the way things turned out. Thousands of miles later and with a lot of time to think whilst whiling away the hours heading to gigs, he contacted our office and offered to talk about some of his favorite subjects, including Jaco clones, endorsements, tablature and education. All sounds tame, but not with Jeff! In one of his emails setting up this interview he laughingly warned us to "get ready to duck!"
So hang on, it's gonna be a bumpy ride but you're gonna love it! Assuming your ready to duck of course!
Bass Inside: Are you still in touring mode for the album?
Jeff Berlin: I am in the position where I probably will never have a Hit Record, so I will never have to tour to promote that album. But I could probably tour the In Harmony's Way until about the year 2012! Because of the fact that the CD is what it is. It's a Jazz record that's continually and steadily attracting attention. That's what kind of takes the pressure off. I have no obligation to anybody to sell or promote or try to make a 'hit' out of my CD.
`Cos it's never gonna happen anyway! What I can do is be a musician wanting to go out there with two like-minded musicians to spread their wings, go out and play our asses off. Literally baring our souls. We take live playing very seriously. For us, the show is everything.
Danny Gottlieb is our drummer, and the other day he called me up and said, "Let's go to the Players School (Jeff's teaching college for musicians of all levels and styles) and jam, let's just play! For guys our age, playing is religion. So we are just so excited to plug in an amplifier, to get behind a keyboard or a snare drum and just play!
The joy of it is that though I am 49 I am more into it than I have ever been. I get to wondering if this can be limitless. Every year I get wanting to play more and more. My group is playing better and better, it's almost cathartic. It's simply out of our hands.
So that's why we could tour this CD up until 2012! I will probably do this CD and the next 5 CDs this way.
Bass Inside: So the next album will probably be a lot like this current one?
Jeff Berlin: Yeah, like this but reflecting 2002-2003 playing. Speaking just for myself, I am playing better now than I was playing even as recent as last year.
The last time we spoke you told me that you felt that your practicing regimen has never been better, that you were playing things you were never able to play before.
That has not let up; this is the longest period I have ever had in regards to continuous practice and growth in my bass playing. You know what it's like...? It's like a dam breaking! The pressure has been building and then when all of a sudden, that dam finally breaks, it's an astonishing powerful outflow. That is what my playing has been like.
Like most of us experience when we first start to play. Every minute on that bass, morning, noon and night.
Well, I have that feeling now because for the very first time in my life, it is effortless whatsoever. I can sit there, have a smoke, have a drink and then put my feet up. Watch Friday Nite fights and solo my nuts off! It's weird. It's honestly truly strange. I have never been in this particular place.
Just goes to what I have always said. "If you do the right things, something good is gonna come out of your music." Eventually for everybody, you're gonna get something back.
And I have no shame in saying it with the biggest grin on my face that I am tearing the freaking frets off the bass, man. I'm literally in a zone of bass playing where I've never been, I am not gonna be shy about saying it. I am so honored and thrilled about what's happened to me as a bass player.
In one of your interviews I read you talked about following up on some therapy and that it had really helped. Usually there is a negative connotation to this, but the therapy you've gone through this last little while has cleared you out of a lot of stuff, so it's flowing a lot with all the encumbrances that we carry around.
Therapy is the greatest, most meaningful experience of my life because it helped me unburden a lot of bad luggage. It helped me to become peaceful inside, it helped me to go with the flow.
I mean, I know that in the last several weeks touring as a leader you can imagine all the weird stuff that can come down on you, all the shit that interrupts the flow of an even day.
And I just literally went with it and corrected it one error at a time, one mistake: miss the flight - let's get the next one. Amps don't work, make `em work. All the things that used to drive me in a fury are now nothing.
It's like, it'll work, so what's the big deal? It'll work or not. What can you do?
How's your son doing these days? (Jeff's son, as at our last interview for my previous magazine, was being treated for cancer. Jeff used all the profits made from this release of his most recent CD to cover medical bills, also another benefit of not having to support a record label.)
My son is doing fantastic. He is cancer-free, running around like any other kids, jumping from bed to bed at 10 o'clock at night! We can't slow him down and that warms my heart.
So keeping your hand on the business of selling the CD and the touring has paid off as well?
Well, it paid off well enough that I was able to cover Jason's medical bills.
Are you planning any more touring in this next half year?
I just got back from Mexico, after the most astonishing gigs there. I am doing a video and I have agents in Europe and America trying to book the jazz festivals.
I know we are a new group, I am not signed to a major label, but when we play, we slay people. I know I have a good 'rep' as a bass player, so that is slowly spreading the gig. We are becoming 'Somebody'.
Let's talk a bit about some of the equipment you are using these days. When last we spoke you and Dean were getting along very well. Is that still the case?
Very much so! Glorious instruments! I have been playing this bass now for two years and I am still utterly knocked out with it. My entire playing history has been pretty much centered around 3 guitars. One I referred to as 'the Blonde', one was the Peavey Palladium and now this (the Dean). The Blonde got stolen or I would still be probably playing that. Peavey and I have parted ways. Peavey has very good-hearted people working there, to this day. Good solid lovers of music, very nice people.
I had a problem with the Artist Relations guy, who was subsequently fired. But they are good people and they stand for quality. But after we broke up, I got with Dean guitars and they built me an astonishingly effective and beautiful instrument and I am very happy with it. I am a loyal guy, I don't like to jump around. I like to just stay put.
Are you still with the same amp configuration?
I am in negotiations about amplification right now. I had an interesting experience, you have to wonder about the thinking of some Artist Relations people. For over a decade I have been using the Crate amps. I took them out looonnng before I had a relationship with them. I always felt they were very beautiful amps. When I got with the company they sent me on some clinics, I went to a meeting at the end of the year and found out they sold a whole lot of amps directly because of my clinics. Then I was rewarded for that by being dropped by the company!
Now I understand and accept fully that any company can operate and work with anybody they want to. I think they were putting their eggs more into the Ampeg baskets. They have Ampeg. They perhaps wished to do that.
But a couple of months ago I had contacted the Artist Relations guy. So I told him "I am doing some gigs and I want to use your amps. Are you interested?" He said, "Sure, I would love to." I told him I was doing some gigs in Europe and then in L.A. I said, maybe you could supply some amplifiers there (L.A).
But he wrote back and said, "Well, what I mean was that I will loan you an amplifier if you ever play in St. Louis, where the company is."
So I sat there and thought about this. To tell you the truth, I was in awe...I was in awe of the kind of thinking process here. That he basically did not wish me to use his amps. It was the only thing I could think of and I was in awe about this! I thought, "Well, okay, I will just use other amplifiers." I am just impressed with that decision by the head of Artist Relations to not even loan me an amp. It wouldn't even cost them much so that I could demonstrate all the equipment in a live situation there. And he said, "no", so when I thought about it later, I was still in awe about this.
You know I have always had great relations with companies, I just don't always understand their Artist Relations people.
While we are on a roll here, let's talk about another one of your favorite subjects...Jaco Tribute albums and songs...
(laughs uproariously) You have to stand in awe - that's my quote for the day!! - of bass players, good bass players, capable, talented, intelligent, hard felt musical bass players who cannot get the monkey of the idea of Jaco Pastorius out of their lives.
I am astonished at the continuous supply of Jaco records, "this song is for Jaco" "this is Jaco's birthday", "this is Jaco's whatever". If I hear one more version of 'Continuum' or one more version of 'Teentown' from a bass player not accepting that the man has been dead for 15 years! It is time to MOVE ON!!!!!!!! Seek out something in your musical life that comes from you!
I don't claim to know what Jaco would have wanted, but I do know that we bass players have put entirely too much emphasis on his contributions. I said years ago, you are gonna lose sight of your own perspective.
Fifteen years later, we are still mourning him. I feel that the mourning should be left to his family and friends now. But we as bass players get off that goddamn Jaco Pastorius bandwagon and move on! Find something in ourselves. We did not become bass players so that we could become 'Jacophiles'.
You have to find something for yourself. Even if a musician can't create something new, at least seek it out. Look for it. Don't so willingly and slavishly go into somebody else's territory. The funny thing is that a lot of people don't seem upset about this.
I once saw a picture of 30 bass players jamming on some Jaco tune...I thought, "I could never do that!" I know that some guys will take offence to this, but sometimes what a guy needs is a slap in the eye to get moving. Find something for yourself.
Dammit, where's the beef!?!? Just `cos I went to therapy doesn't mean things don't make me mad!
Next time (and you can be sure there will be a next time) we talk to Jeff, rest assured there will be opinions, things said that are as funny as hell, and he will once again say things that will make your blood boil, but he will certainly entertain you, and he will cause you to think.
We look forward to it.
Listen to an excerpt of This is your Brain on Jazz from Jeff's Solo Album In Harmony's Way, and check out his website (download RealPlayer).
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