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Chris Tarry: New Challenges, New Influences, New York

By Published: December 17, 2007
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Making Little Films and iPod Eclecticism

AAJ: I like the little tour film you made of this band on tour—as you note, the same band except for Henry on keys. It's included on the CD. It's an interesting look at the glorious joys of touring—all the indignity. What made you do the video?

Chris TarryCT: I've just gotten into doing little films—and finding that I'm actually fairly good at editing stuff. People have told me that I have a knack for editing things together in at least a somewhat-interesting way. Which involves using the minimal amount of footage and making it seem cohesive.

So I enjoy it. I'd like to do more of it in the future, maybe some sort of documentary stuff. It's just another form of artistic expression that I am interested in. So I'm glad you like it. It's amazing how many people have told me that they enjoy it.

AAJ: It seemed like a good bunch of guys to tour with. Just traveling is so difficult nowadays, and everyone deals with it in a very good-humored way.

CT: I'm glad that came across. It's also something to do when I get home from a tour—I want to sort of take a few days off, and it's a way to wind down and not play the bass.

AAJ: I was interested in the use of those Palace songs in the video's soundtrack. I didn't expect you to be into Will Oldham.

CT: Well, I just go through my iPod and see what works with the footage. That can make boring footage interesting. And that's why I included that vocal tune on the album. I listen to a lot of different styles of music, and appreciate a lot of styles of music. I think that's where a lot of the young jazz musicians are coming from these days. Of course, there's that history of jazz, and who came before you in the jazz world. But it's also what's happening now. There is a lot of great stuff that's out there now, and I try to use it all as an influence.

AAJ: I don't think it's healthy to listen to only one style of music.

CT: Totally. And all the guys I appreciate feel the same way. Dan Weiss—you would not believe the music that cat listens to. It's just everything; that guy has checked out everything. And to get to his kind of level, that's what you need to do. It's all about checking everything out and having the biggest ears possible. I try to have a big record collection and listen to all of it.

AAJ: I wonder if iPod shuffling hasn't changed some people's concept of music, or their consciousness of it. You listen on shuffle and suddenly every kind of music is next to everything else—it's very democratic, and it places everything in new contexts.

CT: I think you're onto something there. The iPod, in general, has really changed music. And for people like me in the last ten years—anyone who's put out a CD and gets a review that says, "Well, it's too eclectic. Well, you know what? My time has finally come!

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Project 33 and Being an Electric Bassist

AAJ: Let's talk just a bit about your Project 33 recording, which came out in 2003 on the Black Hen label. This is quite different from Sorry to Be Strange—it's like an electronica record, but one where most of the elements are done in real time. There's lots of drum programming from Jesse Zubot, but I think the rest of the instruments are pretty much recorded in real time, like your bass and Kelly Jefferson's sax. The mix gives a deep, artificial separation to the sounds, though. This is a beautiful sounding record—it's real headphone candy.

ChrisCT: That's pretty much what I wanted to do—a headphoney, vibey kind of record. And everything is recorded live. In fact, although the drums weren't recorded live, they were done with the idea that we would all be playing along with them. I wanted there to be the idea that even though they're prerecorded drums, we were all reacting to them.

AAJ: So everyone played together over the drum tracks?

CT: Yeah. It was a three-part process: I sequenced all the tunes, made sequences of them. Then I gave them to Jesse Zubot, who's a great drummer—I gave him versions without the drums. Just the other sequenced parts. So he came up with the drums. Then I stripped all the sequenced parts and took just his drums into the studio, and we all played along with them.

AAJ: Why did you make this record?

CT: I really like the film-scorey side of music, and I wanted to do something that was a little modern. A lot of people were doing that kind of record, but they tended to sound a little thought-out—so I wanted to see if I could join the improvisational element to the pre-programmed drums and see if I could make it work. Plus I'd been playing with [percussionist] Mino Cinelu a lot, and I liked him and wanted to give him a forum to do what he did as well. I thought his being there would make it pretty obvious where the percussion was and the fake drums were, if you know what I mean.

Steve [Dawson] at Black Hen had actually come up to me and said, "Do you have any ideas? And I told him about this project, and he said, "Sure—let's go for it. I had this idea, like I have a bazillion ideas that I get just walking around. When he asked me if I had any ideas, this was really just the first one that fell out of my mouth!

AAJ: You're an electric bassist. Why? How'd you end up specializing on the electric bass, and how is the role of an electric different from an acoustic?

CT: Ooh, that's a good—and big—question. I love the acoustic bass, and in fact I'm playing a lot more acoustic bass these days. I just bought another one recently, and I'm really enjoying it—playing in country bands and jazz gigs. I'm really loving it at the moment.

So I've always loved the sound of the acoustic bass. But I sort of got to the point where I was already playing a lot on the electric bass, and I sort of wanted to make myself get better at the actual act of playing jazz—but I thought that going back and really learning to play the acoustic bass was going to take too long. So instead, I focused on players like Steve Swallow—guys who were building concepts about making the electric bass work in an acoustic jazz setting.

Now, you could never substitute the look of the thing onstage. And I never set out to make the electric bass sound like the acoustic bass. My goal was to make it function like the acoustic, and find concepts that would make that work. There are very few electric guys who have done that. So that's what I went after. I thought, "Why is it that no electric bass players can swing that well? Well, because of this.

ChrisAAJ: Well, what are some of those concepts?

CT: Well, a really basic one that people always overlook is that acoustic bass has a built-in, inherent compression to it. If you're playing with a consistent right hand, all the notes are going to come out at the same volume, and generally at the same length. A lot of electric bass players get into the habit of trying really hard to make it swing—but they tend to really push two and four. They get that mmm-deh, mmm-deh, and that doesn't swing. Swing is more about even, consistent notes that are all the same distance apart and the same volume. That's one concept that takes electric players a long time to get together.

So that was sort of explained to me by some bass players and drummers, and I took it to heart and worked very hard on it. It's fun going back now and playing more acoustic bass, and realizing that those concepts were correct! You know, I always liked the writing aspect of jazz, so I was always writing, and electric bass just happened to be the instrument that I was playing. I guess I gained some sort of technical level on the instrument; I could do things that were considered technically advanced, and I was trying to make it all work in a musical way. Until [laughing] I realized that the best way was not to use any of them at all!

But I'm happy that I took the time and learned how to do all those crazy things.

AAJ: There is still a place for that stuff.

CT: There is. I always really liked the melodic soloing aspect of what could be done on the electric bass, as opposed to the acoustic bass. This is very, very general, but a lot of times if you played a solo on the electric bass that you would play on the acoustic bass, you'd find yourself out of a soloing gig pretty quick. You can be a little bit more vague harmonically on the acoustic sometimes. But the electric bass is so specific that if you play a wrong note, especially down in that octave, people really know it.

AAJ: Are you playing less fretless electric than you used to?

CT: I am, yeah.

AAJ: Is there any fretless on the newest CD?

CT: "Yeah Guys! is fretless. Other than that, no. For some reason, I made a decision back in 2002—maybe because I'd been doing so much fretless with Metalwood and stuff—that even though I enjoyed the fretless sound, it was becoming somewhat one-dimensional for me. I wanted to make sure that wasn't all I could do.

I try to approach every single playing situation differently. Some things call for fretless bass. I do a lot of gigs in New York that just call for my four-string P-Bass, just doing [Motown legend James] Jamerson kind of lines, which I really enjoy. Some of my favorite bass players are Pino Palladino and Donald "Duck Dunn, all those kinds of guys. That's been a real study for me in the last four or five years—that kind of Jamerson thing. You know, you sort of go in and out of different things, and hopefully it all adds up in the end and makes you a well-rounded player. So I just keep plugging away.

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Download jazz mp3 “Bedford Celebrities” by Chris Tarry