I've been playing with bassist Josh Ginsburg off and on for about a decade. I always liked his healthy, muscular sound on the upright double bass, and his approach to soloing stuck me as virtuosic without sacrificing the bottom of the instrument. He's appeared on three of my recordings, including the soon to be released trio CD on the Steeplechase label. He's busy as a sideman, but he is also now showing interest in becoming a bandleader. I got to be a musical part of his first CD as a leader. Ginsburg is doing a Kickstarter fund drive to help complete the CD, and in this interview he talks about that, as well as how got started as a bassist and a composer.
GC: Tell me about your background. What are you earliest musical memories? What started you on the road to becoming a professional musician?
JG: I'm from Baltimore, from inside the beltway, unlike some other people we know. I remember listening to mix tapes my brother made of just pop music when I was very young. Music seemed so special; my parents didn't listen to much music at the time. Then I remember in middle school a high school band came and played, and I was completely entranced for the whole concert. I had some piano lessons when I was very young, but that didn't go very well. Then I started playing saxophone in middle school. Then one day, my brother brought home an electric bass for me to play he was learning guitar. I started playing the stuff that was popular in Baltimore/DC, mostly punk rock and go-go, kind of a strange combination actually. But I was also listening to jazz; my brother had a little bit of a collection. I remember listening to Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) through the door while I was lying in bed. Also, my next- door neighbor was a big jazz fan; he and my father would sometimes take us to the Left Bank to hear live jazz. I remember hearing Lewis Nash
and just staring at his hands for the whole show. In high school, I wanted to play saxophone in the jazz band, but my director found out I played electric bass, and he needed a bassist. So he handed me this plywood bass with steel strings like 6 inches off the fingerboard and said, "Play this." Many band directors don't know anything about string instruments, so I developed a lot of bad habits I later had to unlearn.
Soon after that, I started working a little around town. I guess I had a decent ear, and of course it's easier to work as a bassist. And that's when I really started catching the jazz bug. I learned a lot from the guys I was playing with.
I remember one time, a trumpet player took me to a club on Pennsylvania Ave when I was probably 15 or 16. Pennsylvania Ave had been Baltimore's 52nd street, lined with clubs that had jazz and other live music. By this time though it was pretty rough, though it still had this crazy viberidiculously swinging organ trios and customers dressed in bright colored suitsI remember him telling me, "Don't tell your parents I took you here."
GC: Can you talk about some important learning experiences on the bandstand?
JG: Well I'm always learning on the bandstand, every time I play. Maybe it's a chord substitution, or a rhythm the drummer plays, or something like that. But the most important overall things I learned early on from playing in Baltimore at the coffee shops, restaurant, and so forth. I was really just playing by ear at that point.
So then one day we played a concert in front of a real audience for the first time. And the trumpet player started playing a ballad, and there was no pianist, and I spaced on the changes, and things just went pretty badly. And wow, that trumpet player was pissedhe was pretty old schooland he cursed me out! And that's when I started to realize that I needed to really get it together, really come to terms with that everything I play actually is of consequence. I think once you are on that road it changes your whole perspective. In many ways, that is still my goal today, to make sure everything I play is full of intent.
I do a lot of workshops in schools and sometimes I feel like some students suffer from this, the school environment is so sheltered, it's easy to just float through everything and think that's ok. And of course it is complicated music; jazz is improvised and should be creative, sometimes you even want it to be vague! But I think that experience actually helped meit was a wake up call.
GC: How did you develop your technique? Did you always have a natural feel for the bass?