Blog #5: A Place for Bass

For the latter half of my 40-year career as a professional guitarist and bandleader, I have considered myself more of a composer than merely as a player. I have recorded over 70 original compositions, many of them for small ensemble multi-horn & percussion formats. My formal music education, culminating with a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) program at The Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, greatly informed my compositional skill - if I was a good writer before attending college - I am certainly a better one since! The featured album herein is a good example of how far I've come as a composer.

During the outset of Covid in 2020, I spent many solitary hours at home with my guitar. I wrote and arranged music for specific formats such as: Solo classical guitar arrangements of traditional Xmas songs; A program of 2-guitar + rhythm section arrangements inspired by Great American Songbook standards titled, “Swingin' Axes” debuted here:

But the project that I am most proud of which came out of Covid, so to speak, was a jazz-classical fusion duet of upright bass and guitar. My recordings up to that point in time included one duet album (Two's Company, Three's a Crowd alternating pairing the guitar with a pianist and a vocalist, but I had never recorded a guitar-bass duet, nor had I ever thought of composing something specifically for that format . . . until then. 

Guitar-bass duos are the “go-to” format for local gigs, because with a good bassist playing time, I feel I can play anything and everything; with the support of a walking bass line I am free to solo and syncopate because the bass line provides the necessary steady rhythmic backdrop. The two acoustic instruments compliment each other sonically, and are usually softer and less boomy in some rooms than electric instruments like keyboards. Practically speaking, they do not take up too much floor space in playing venues. Duos are relatively inexpensive and offer the most ‘bang-for-the-buck’, in my opinion, for venue owners wanting quality ambient music.

Given all the benefits of the guitar-bass duo just outlined, I determined that it was well worth my time and effort to write original music for this format. But I wanted to make it entirely unique, something never done before. After all, there were already famous guitar-bass recordings out there, made by better and far more famous players than me, such as those made by Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, & Joe Pass. 

I believe it was my original writing that sets this album apart from all others. I utilized somewhat of a “through-composed” writing style, and I deliberately put the bass either ‘"on-top," playing the lead melody lines, or on ’equal-footing' with the guitar. Rather than one of us ‘backing-up’ the other, we are both “. . . attached at the hip capturing the essence of each track . . . ” as Master bassist Rufus Reid said in his review of the album. I sent the album to every guitarist and bassist that I knew and respected, and was truly over-whelmed by the positive responses I got. There was not even one ambivalent reaction. All were enthusiastic. Among many others who sent their praise and appreciation for the music contained on this album were: Dave Stryker, Ron McClure, Jimmy Bruno, Rufus Reid, Pete Bernstein, John Clayton, Ben Monder, & Rodney Jones! I have included the official one-sheet for the release below for your perusal. 

As heart-warming it was to be officially endorsed and recognized by those ‘monster’ pros and heros of mine, perhaps the biggest compliment I got on this album was from an informed personal friend who is extremely well acquainted with jazz writ-large, including all the most famous guitar-bass duo albums ever recorded. He said simply, “It's the best guitar-bass album that I have ever heard - it's my favorite!

Unfortunately, duo records are of far less popular to the jazz media at large and to fans in general, than larger ensembles with horns and piano are. Though master players who heard this, loved it, and sent me personal notes of appreciation, the album hasn't garnered the broad-based critical acclaim that I most desire and dream of. Since I have a sub-header called “2023 Highlights” in this new blog series of mine, I had to include this ASAP, because this album was not only a highlight of the year 2023, but also a career highlight of mine. I hope the post serves to inform and encourage some more people to listen and learn about this album that is so special to me. I'm seeking new listeners - please write or comment.

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