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INTERVIEW: Anthony JAckson

Michael Weintrob

INTERVIEW: Anthony JAckson

AnThony JAckson
An iconic figure in the bass world, Anthony Jacksons reputation as an A-list sideman is founded on four decades of exceptional bass work. Now, after years of waiting, he releases his debut solo album, but as Mike Flynn discovers, the bass legend took an unexpected route to produce something very special indeed.
sought-after signature bass, complete with the now familiar single-cutaway design, as Vinnie explained: I cant think of any earlier instance of it. It was a response to a request from Anthony Jackson for a better contrabass. Id built him several up to that point, and each time I gave him one it was better than the previous one and he was happy with it. But being the restless genius that he is, hes pushing me constantly to try and do better. What else can we do? Better material? Better hardware? What can you do? So that gave me the push to think harder and try and improve what I had already done. And the single-cutaway concept came about the basic idea of connecting more of the body to the neck, thereby stiffening the neck and having a more immediate connection so that vibrations could pass more freely between the body and the bass, and get the whole thing resonating better. Speaking of better resonances, if theres one thing that immediately alerts you to the fact that Anthony Jackson is playing on a record, its his tone: a vast, wiry, ringing, bell-like sound that has the power to shift any element of the music that surrounds it. Yet in spite of his illustrious sideman career and the huge respect in which hes held within the music world (and not just by bassists) earning him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2004 Bass Player Live! Jackson has never released a solo album. Until now. But the results are o compromise two words that have often been brushed aside in the music industry in the ruthless pursuit of fame and fortune. But for bass icon Anthony Jackson theyve been the cornerstone of his 40-year career. Living by and adhering to his own exceptionally high artistic standards has put him in the upper echelons of the greatest musical innovators and performers, always digging deep into his musical reserves for each and every project or concert hes been a part of. His well-documented sonic breakthrough came via his picked bassline on The OJays 1973 hit For The Love Of Money , his wah-wahed Fender bass, with producer Leon Huff s addition of a phaser effect, becoming one of the classic b-lines in bass guitar history. As a first-call session musician, Jackson has played on over 500 recordings since then, including many classic albums by Chaka Khan, Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Roberta Flack and numerous luminaries from the jazz world, including Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Pat Metheny, Michel Camilo, Michel Petrucciani, Steve Gadd, Steve Khan, Mike Stern and Wayne Krantz. Hes also been at the forefront of the evolution of the bass guitar with the invention of the 6-string bass, thanks to his completely valid assertion that the bass guitar is a member of the guitar family and not, as Leo Fender saw it, an electric version of a double bass. It was his convictions that inspired master bass luthier Vinnie Fodera to create his much

The genius of

typically surprising and challenging as only Jackson could make them. Hence Interspirit is not a self-indulgent bass-centred album full of flashy solos and flimsy melodies; instead, its an intense masterwork and collaboration with one of todays unsung bass heroes, Greek virtuoso bassist/ composer Yiorgos Fakanas. Recalling jazz fusions 1970s heyday, its a supercharged set of fiendishly intricate compositions, sweeping through a panoramic palette of styles that takes in burning funk, modal jazz, classical interludes, cinematic themes, Latin jazz and rock. In essence, Interspirit is a summation of the many styles and musical eras that Jackson has worked in. At the heart of this remarkable music is the equally remarkable partnership between Jackson and Fakanas, who share all the written basslines, often double-tracking parts to thicken the grooves and harmonic layers, while Jackson provides improvised basslines playing almost exclusively with a plectrum throughout and Fakanas tackles all of the five solos with virtuosic aplomb. This lack of Jackson solos may surprise many of his fans, but this project was more than just a chance to prove he remains one of the very finest bassists on the planet for Jackson it was all about the music. Joined by a stellar band of fusion guitarist Frank Gambale, keyboardist Mitch Forman (of Mahavishnu Orchestra fame) and drum master Dave Weckl, plus some of Greeces best classical string and horn section players, this is a modern jazz
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INTERVIEW: Anthony JAckson

suite of the highest order. So after literally decades of anticipation after several unsuccessful attempts Jacksons first solo album arrives, but how does this musical perfectionist feel about this state of affairs? Is he pleased with it? Speaking over the phone from his home in New York he sounds almost reluctant to admit it met his high standards: Yes, I am happy with it I dont know what to say beyond that because its my first [solo album]. Yiorgos has done seven. It was quite an involved labour of love to get it done, because the two of us are on the other side of the world from each other because hes in Athens and Im back here in New York. It was quite an enjoyable project. Working so closely with another bassist seems a highly unconventional choice, but Athens-based Fakanas is also an acclaimed film and classical composer and arranger, as well as a jazz club owner and striking solo artist. Not one to miss an opportunity either, Fakanas was quick to approach Jackson with a proposed collaboration, as Anthony explains: I met him in the Fall of 2007 at the end of a tour with Mike Stern, and Athens was our last stop, and we performed in the club that Yiorgos owns. So we got to talking and he made this offer to do a record with the two of us. It wasnt a record where he would just produce me: it would be with the two of us, with him writing the material thats how the seed was planted and it grew quickly after that. He wrote everything, arranged everything, produced everything and wrote all but one song, and it wouldnt have happened if it wasnt for his suggestion in the first place.

Super Sideman

Jackson has often collaborated with European jazz musicians notably his celebrated trios with pianists Michel Camilo and the late, great Michel Petrucciani so working closely with this leading Greek musician was nothing new to him. In fact, Jacksons world view has only ever been coloured by one thing: Its strictly about the music inevitably, where there is a musical bond, nationalistic concerns fall away. I never set out to play with musicians from certain backgrounds; I hoped to play with the best people that I could anywhere, so I always felt lucky to be travelling a lot and running into people and having a chance to sit down and play with and interact with people from all corners of the musical world, he says firmly. Its this sense of never wanting to be categorised or dismissed as a one-dimensional player that has always seen him pursue a huge variety of work. He elaborates: I love all music I can possibly hear. My first interest in music was classical music, from the time I was an infant almost, but as I got older I heard other things and I brought them in as well. So I guess the
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whAT wAs inTeresTing wAs how The music wAs TighTly wriTTen melodicAlly, buT There wAs cleArly An opporTuniTy for me To do The Things ThAT i do.
important point is that where there was music to be played I was always willing and anxious to hear what it was and embrace it. I have a pan-musical interest. While we now live in a world where producers manipulate almost every organic performance to create perfect yet sterile, homogenous-sounding music, Jackson and Fakanass approach was that of a forensic musical investigation into the possibilities of each section. He embarked on months of renewed study, practising his flatpicking technique anew, and its this approach that has defined his work over the last four decades not least his pioneering work on Chaka Khans Naughty and What Cha Gonna Do For Me albums as he proudly explains: What was interesting was how the music was tightly written melodically, but there was clearly an opportunity for me to do the things that I do while playing what he had written also, and he knew that. So the music features his compositional approach, which is widely varying through numerous styles, and was technically very, very demanding. But that gives me a chance to do what I do, which is to take very demanding music, no matter how tightly its written, and still bring something of myself to it. And with that, I spent months working on just what I was going to do while remaining faithful to what he had written. It took time for me to evolve many of the things that I was going to play, playing many of the things that he had written in my own way. I did a lot of the work there; I went back to Athens to actually begin recording, and spent a long time putting down initial tracks and then refining them section by section. Then going back home and listening to them some more before going back to refine them again and then putting them down back

INTERVIEW: Anthony JAckson

here in America on tape. Then we flew the tapes back and forth using computer links until we finally had everything done. But it was a lot of research and it was a lot of study and a lot of refinement on both our parts. Whether its the funk-driven opener Inner Power or the Latinised grooves of Caldera through to the slamming flatpicked finale of Parhelia , this attention to detail shines through, with every note placed perfectly, yet played with total conviction and undeniable passion. Its his combination of razor-sharp note choices, scything tone and subtly inspirational musicianship that makes Interspirit a must-hear for any Jackson fan. But for the great bassist this is just how real, high-quality music has to be made: Well, according to how I was raised in music and as an artist, there would have been no other way. If someone had said, You can put the parts down here, and well take it from there, thank you very much! And well send you the finished product, that would have been unacceptable; it was going to have to be a high-level, deeply collaborative project, which indeed it was. And because of the need for both of us to be involved, it took a long time and it took a lot of effort. Of course, looking over it now there are many things that Id like to go back and do again. Ideas begin to flow after it is done thats true of any project and theres nothing more you can do, as itll be finished at some point. But its been an education for me in looking at how ideas do grow, and how they continue to grow. Given the chance as a recording player, as a session player, you have to learn how to think quickly, how to come up with effective ideas as quickly as you can especially where someone is hoping that you will do more than just play the music on the page. Here, where there is a lot more time to do that, you really have to balance between getting something in a reasonable time and saying, Take it easy! Maybe this whole thing should be done again? Because now there are new ideas and now there is an expectation of high standards, so lets start over. A very inefficient and expensive way to make a record, but if the people involved are serious about it and know what they are doing, the potential for making a really fine project is there. Behind this uncompromising approach to both his perception of music and his profound understanding and virtuosic command of the 6-string bass guitar lie Jacksons deeply held philosophical views. These go to the very heart of why any true musician dedicates themselves to a lifelong creative search, and helps sustain them even in the toughest of times. Initially inspired by Motown legend James Jamerson, Jackson remains one of the few bass icons who lived through the heyday of the studio session era, but for all the changes hes seen he remains true to his original goals: You are driven by somethingthats deep enough inside and strong enough you dont consciously think about it that much, you just pursue it. The impulse to hold on to it, make it grow and bring it forth goes beyond the planning stage; its just there. And it tends to result, if youre careful and if it is legitimate to begin with, in a project that isnt thought through too much and isnt calculated even when so much time has been taken; you wind up lying in bed and dreaming about how things sound, and the dream alone is seductive enough to pull you along with it. And thats what you need to keep something like this fresh and alive, with so much detail that has to be pulled out of it.

Groundbreaking Groove

Dave Swift - Why Anthony Is stIll the MAn

Session ace and Anthony Jackson superfan Dave Swift has been a long-time admirer of Anthony Jacksons deeply philosophical approach to music and his incredible versatility hes even had one of Jacksons signature Presentation Fodera basses made for him, set up and signed off by the man himself. Here he explains why Jackson is the ultimate low-end master: He is such an incredible and unique musician, and as far as Im concerned, a true genius, virtuoso and innovator on his chosen instrument. His sound alone, particularly when he plays with a pick and through a flanger/phaser, never ceases to enthral and excite me. Ive been fortunate enough to have met Anthony on several occasions, including during a visit to the Fodera workshop, and just from observing him and talking with him, I dont think Ive ever met anyone that has the same level of intensity and dedication to his art as he does. When I was at school I was a fairly mediocre student, with little or no interest in academia, but from my early exposure to Anthony Jackson, be it on recordings, film or in interviews, I became obsessed with studying and self-improvement. Thanks to him I will always be the eternal student, compelled to learn and evolve and to refine and enhance my skills as a professional musician. Anthony has raised the bar so incredibly high, and has continually strived to, among many other things, elevate the status of the bass guitar to the highest level, and to command all the respect the instrument and its players deserve. For this alone, on behalf of myself and the readers of this magazine, Id like to say; Thank you, Anthony, you truly are one of a kind, and a continual inspiration to us all.
Sven Arnstein

Its always been one of Jacksons assertions that a great bassist should be able to speak volumes through their basslines and note choices, rather than the tendency today for many new players who feel soloing is the only way to really show the world what they can do: Well, Im in the unusual situation in making a record in that Im one of the two co-leaders but I dont have any solos, and that was a challenge to be certain that what I was doing was strong enough to stand on its own without a solo, but thats what I have done in the decades that I have been a performing artist. I used to solo a lot more than I do now, but its never been a concept where I say, OK, youve heard me play all night but now my solo time is here! Now Im really going to show you something! My feeling is, Ive been playing all night, havent you heard something? Or, this has been a feature in the sense that I have a chance to show, if you willmake magic if I can be so bold as to say that while still being an accompanist or a more traditional concert artist where somebody is out front playing all night but they are playing something that was written by somebody else; despite that, its still their statement. Even if they play every note on the page it was done in a way that nobody else could do it. And their individuality is sort of in the back door: Well, Anthonys not taking solos No, but it is there, it is a statement. Thats one of the things that took time to decide just how I was going to step out that way using the flatpick, which I have always done but not with this much intensity since the days of Al Di Meola and the nine or so albums I did with him. So that alone opened up a whole world of possibilities for how to interpret Yiorgoss music in a way that was my own, while
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INTERVIEW: Anthony JAckson

still making it and treating it like it was his music. The very definition of Jacksons low-end artistry in recent times though sadly its ended now was a very special trio with jazz-rock guitar guru Wayne Krantz and Steely Dan drummer Keith Carlock. This incredible trio built up an extraordinary reputation that drew fans from all over the world to an unassuming basement music bar in New York, best known as the legendary 55 Bar. I was lucky enough to see the trio in full flight back in 2007, and Anthony is justifiably proud of those very special, highly exploratory yet explosive trio gigs, as he explains with real excitement: That was one of the most special gigs Ive done. I played with Wayne on his first album back in 1992, I think. That was where I first met the drummer Dennis Chambers, and theyve both become very good friends. I think there was a time when some of my best playing was with Wayne Krantz on that gig. That opened me up quite a bit; youre never too old or too experienced or too ambitious to run up against something that reignites the furnace and brings it up to pressure. And thats what that gig was so Im glad you got to hear that. I hope it was one of the very best nights; they were always very good and usually spectacular, but I hope you got to hear one of the very good ones. On these intense trio sets, great swathes of completely improvised music, that effortlessly switched from reggae to funk interstellar guitar workouts backed by Carlock and Jacksons astonishing rhythmic onslaught, were unleashed after Krantz would simply offer the smallest of instructions, as Anthony recalls with a wry chuckle: Yes, thats Waynes modus operandi that is often the way In fact, thats the grand art of the way that he manages things live: well play the heads of a piece, and then therell be a pause, and hell turn around and hell name a key or hell count a tempo and name a key, like hell say, F sharp, right here, two, three and wed just fall into it. It was always a gas playing with Keith; thats the only time I got to work with him, with Wayne. Those were all fabulous, superspecial gigs. I miss doing those. Wayne has gone on. Hed been playing at the 55 Bar for ten years, and by the time we got to play there he was looking for a bigger concert, somewhere with a bigger stage and a more formal sound system. People came from all over the world to the 55, to hear us. There really isnt another place where you could go in and be that comfortable, and where you could count on having a very, very full, enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd no sucker club, no place where you go just to have a couple of beers, but a place where you are there to hear the music, you and a lot of other people.
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Bassic Motivation

As we reach a new crossroads in the way music is consumed in the 21st century, with declining CD sales, increasing digital sales and ubiquitous illegal downloading, musicians face a time both of increased independence and opportunity, alongside decreasing wages and certainty about their future. For an artist so intimately linked to a golden age of recording, and the global renown that brought him, Jackson has also been affected by the music industrys current woes. Yet he remains stoically sanguine about it all: Well, Im a bit of a purist. The people that I grew up listening to, the great composers and great performers, the people that I played with for as long as I have been a performer, have agreed with this point of view. First you have the music, then you worry about playing it in a certain place, in a certain way, and lets say trying to make a living, which, of course, I knew nothing about in the beginning none of us do. It really has no effect on inspiration or commitment to

making good music, just as when you start playing we are children for the most part, or often, very, very young children our thoughts are strictly with how it makes us feel to play and to listen. There are no thoughts about where are we going to do this? How am I going to manage for the next couple of months, Ive got these bills Thats not a part of it, and that, of course, is one of the things we use when were older to assess how gifted children will do in music. If they cant live without playing, then theres likely to be a real lifelong commitment there. If you start playing music with an eye towards making a living Well, Im going to start my lessons, and Im going to buy an instrument, but I just need to think more and more, just what am I going to do with this and how am I going to fit this in with my job? My real job that follows you throughout your life. If you have that kind of early-life motivation it never leaves; despite all the need later to think about how you are going to live by doing this, your basic motivation never disappears, your heart still

you Are driven by someThing...ThATs deep enough inside And sTrong enough you donT consciously Think AbouT iT ThAT much, you JusT pursue iT.

INTERVIEW: Anthony JAckson

races when you hear glorious music, live or on recordings. Your anticipation always grows and becomes white-hot and shiny and gleaming when you are about to play; it never goes away and it never diminishes no matter how discouraged you might get about the professional side of it. So my motivation and my interest is unchanged, and theres nothing unusual about that Im not discouraged in the least; I will do what it is I do until Im either physically incapable of doing any more or I simply dont wake up the next morning. That is a common feel, a common motivation, a common characteristic of motivation, and its something we dont even talk about. Of course we are going to play! No matter how bad the gig, how unsatisfactory it might go as you know, sometimes its not always glorious music making: sometimes the people you are with are less than motivated, sometimes the songs you are playing are less than inspired, but that has no effect on the realisation that youre now going to sit down and pick up your instrument and make music, like youve done, in my case, the last 45 years. Thats always the special time of day, the special time of life and the reason for being here. So the lousy state of the music business, the discouraging state of the music business, which is quite real, is still completely separate from the state of music itself. Its in such straitened times as these of a global recession that people increasingly turn to art, film, theatre and music to lift their spirits and remind them of the nonmaterial things in life. But as he explains, tough times have always been a call to arms for musicians: In America we would call this a situation that separates the men from the boys. Youre expected to go up there and attempt to sprout wings and fly when you play its always been like that. Again, it isnt something that is discussed ever. You talk about how disappointing the music business is, certainly the music scene, with, I suppose since the early to mid 1980s the proliferation of machines, computer-controlled machines that have ended the recording business in terms of popular music. Its just gone; there are no sessions to speak of as far as comparing it to how it was prior to the mid 80s. Most of the major studios have closed a whole way of life, trying to make good records under the restrictions but at the same time looking at the clock and doing it as quickly and efficiently as possible, all that has disappeared. But for us as players you look back and just reflect how quickly a way of life ended, totally, goneand it continues to worsen. At the heart of this cultural malaise is a now ubiquitous piece of studio technology: Now the main phenomenon I see is the Auto-Tune, the computerised box that

YiorgoS fakanaS

the MAn BehInd the MusIc

For Greek bass virtuoso, composer and educator, Yiorgos Fakanas, this was the opportunity to work with not just one of the greatest bassists of all time, but one of his biggest influences, as he explains here: I had been listening to Anthony since I was a kid and he was one of my bass heroes, him and Jaco. I was influenced by the main bass players him, Jaco and Stanley Clarke taking different things from each of them, but Anthony was the groover for me. He was the man with the best groove for me and he has that special flavour when he grooves and when hes comping behind a solo. I met Anthony when he came to Athens to play with Mike Stern and Dennis Chambers and I gave him two of my albums Domino, and then he listened to Echoes, which is based on Greek folk music which I took and transformed into fusion music, with jazz harmonies added to the Greek rhythms and some of the melodies. That was also an album with both a jazz ensemble and a string ensemble and he liked it very much. He then sent me a text message saying how impressed he was when he listened to it, and that made me make this proposition and ask him: OK, would you like make something together? And he answered immediately, Yes! So, the first thing I wanted to do with this album was to make music that was a combination of my music and the things that I was hearing from him that featured the same colours and flavours that Ive heard from him since listening to him from when I was a kid until now. Thats why we have a string ensemble on three tunes, because he liked the writing on my albums, and because of his love of classical music. But there are also tunes that feature the kind of grooves youd have heard on other albums with him on. I wrote him a lot of melodies that he plays with a pick, that he said he found

very challenging, and hes not soloing because he prefers to do rhythm stuff, but we play a lot of the melodies together in harmony. Its also testimony to the very high quality of Fakanass work that Jackson was so keen to collaborate with him, as he humbly explained: I was really surprised at the way he described his admiration for my music; that was a very big honour for me to hear that from one of my heroes. Plus the fact that, before me, he has refused several propositions from some very big producers and composers to make music for him, and it was a big surprise for me that he accepted to work with me just like that! Weve done ten concerts together, which were not only fun but a great honour to play with him, and aside from doing a clinic with Victor Wooten, this was the first time I was playing with such a big-name bass player, playing the same instrument on the same stage. That was a big responsibility becausewell, its Anthony Jackson.

brings things that are out of pitch on pitch. You seldom hear singers anymore who are making records without it, and for me I can hear it when its working. Its very sophisticated technology but I can hear it when its used it ruins the timbre of a human voice and its a constant reminder that a branch of the industry is making music in which people who really dont have any talent at all are able to make something that can be passed as great music by the public. Its almost impossible to hear a singer nowadays who isnt using Auto-Tune. And I was extremely angry for years behind it. Now I shake my head and I just think, well, you know, this is the period we live in, this is what has happened to culture it has come down to quickly produced, quickly packaged, and here you are, this is it. You see people now who are entering the music business without even a serious attempt to be serious and talented, people who wouldnt have done more than make coffee in the reception area who are now featured performers. Its still something I get very angry about but Ive had to accept it,

and all you can do in situations like that is maintain your own stuff. Its what you will do anyway, but try to do it with some sense of accommodation. You cant walk into a situation pissed off, saying, If I hear Auto-Tune Im going to You cant do that. So in all areas we are adapting, and theres so much thats changing and being lost, and its so difficult to earn a living as a performing artist that you really dont have a lot of time to cry about it. You get your ass up and you go out there and you play like you always did. You know that the stakes are higher now there are fewer places to play, it pays less, there are so many more considerations of just staying alive. Just remain thankful that there is a place for you to function in this business of music today, as bad as it is, and once that decision has been made, all the old motivation, all the old ambitions and all the old standards still apply. Interspirit is available now from

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