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Tony Grey: Stepping out of the Shadows

By Published: April 14, 2009

AAJ: Where did you first meet Hiromi—in Berklee or in Japan?

TG: I met her in Berklee. When I left that band and went back to Berklee, she was there. I remember hearing her in a practice room and being totally freaked out. People were talking about this crazy pianist and when I heard her play I just immediately introduced myself and invited her to play at one of my recitals and it went from there, really.

Tony Grey / HiromiAAJ: It's amazing to observe the reactions of the audience to Hiromi's runs—people gasp in astonishment. How aware are you up on stage of this reaction of the audience to Hiromi's playing?

TG: I always did at Berklee. There are some amazing musicians, but for some reason every time people saw her do something fast or amazing on the piano, they were just blown away by it. You never know why people like certain things, but it still amazes me how easy it is for her to play like that. It's so natural for her.

I think a lot of the people who see her for the first time are amazed at this little Japanese girl—she's a little bit shy, a little bit funny and quirky and all that, and when she plays the piano, she just beats the hell out of it.

AAJ: You say that it seems effortless for Hiromi, but the same could be said for your own bass playing. Do you still practice a lot or feel the need to do so?

TG: Yeah, I practice a lot. When I'm practicing, I don't feel like I'm a million miles away from where I want to be. I can see where I want to be, where I want to end up and how long it's going to take me, and it's a long time. I can see it but I don't hear it—I don't hear my progression.

I'm definitely better than I think I am. So I practice a lot. On a perfect day, I practice four or five hours a day. When I first started, every day would be at least ten hours a day, twelve hours a day. My arms can't take that now—I get tendonitis. Now I have a baby; I'm just lucky if I can sleep four hours a night.

AAJ: The song "One of Those Lives" sounds like it was written with Lionel Loueke

Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
in mind. Is that the case or did he have a hand in the composition?

TG: Actually it came out of playing with Mike Stern; my goal is to be a great be-bop player, which I'm miles away from being. I love be-bop and I just want to get it, and I think he's an excellent be-bop player. I was playing at his house and he was like, "Oh, let's play some be-bop." He's always asking me about odd time signatures because I'm always playing with Hiromi and always playing odd time signatures.

I started playing these grooves in 5 and 7 and that particular bass line just came out, and when I got home I remembered it and started writing. The melody had an African feel to it and I immediately thought, "I've got to get Lionel (Loueke) to play on this." I definitely wrote it for him after the original bass line came up.

AAJ: In Chasing Shadows, the beginning of the track "Guiding Light" seems reminiscent of a lot of latter-day The Police. Was The Police a band that you dug at all?

TG:Yeah, I love The Police, I love Sting. He's one of my biggest influences. I love his bass playing—perfect bass playing for what he does—and his voice, his melodies and his harmonies, his use of jazz musicians over the pop thing. His influence for me is almost more than Pat Metheny. He uses great musicians to play his songs and he raises the bar. He's definitely one of my biggest influences.

AAJ: You're doing an instructional DVD for Yamaha. How much of a labor of love has it been and how much of a chore?

TG: It started out as a labor of love and just ended up being a chore. I really misunderstood how much work is involved in it. I really do care about practicing and I really do care about growth as a musician, because I started late so I had a lot of catching up to do and I always wanted to be organized and disciplined.

The more I got into music, the more I realized how intense and how connected everything is. So I ended up keeping a diary of everything I ever practiced and everything I ever played, which may seem a bit obsessive, but I was just looking through them and I thought it would make a good book one day.

I met a couple of different publishing companies while I was on the road and Yamaha really wanted to do it, As for the DVD, well, I'd never really tried to express verbally what I was doing and I really wanted to make it authentic, so I bought a lot of instructional DVDs and checked out a lot of instructional books and I hated them all. I hated the way they were either self-indulgent or completely ambiguous. A lot of them were very generic works which anyone could have written, with a picture of a guy you admire on the front.

AAJ: How difficult is for you to express verbally something that you do intuitively, instinctively.?

Tony GreyTG: Really difficult, but if you're practicing you must know what you're practicing and why you're practicing it. It's all about step-by-step. I didn't want to make a beginners' book and then again I didn't want to make an advanced book; I wanted a beginner to be able to pick up this book and be creative and advanced musician to pick up this book and be creative, so it's all about using the tools that you have.

You know, if you're going to practice a scale then why don't you write a melody using that scale? I'm demonstrating different ways to solo and learn your neck. I really wanted to do it justice and I wanted it to be something I could look back on and be proud of. I did that. It's definitely one of the hardest things I ever did. I think it's alright, man.

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