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Interviews

Charnett Moffett: Improvisational Artistry

By Published: December 7, 2009

"When you look at a festival like Woodstock, you had an artist like Ravi Shankar and Jimi Hendrix playing the same festival, with two totally different styles of music, yet using the same notes. I wanted to implement those possibilities on The Art of Improvisation from the root of jazz, which allows you to have many possibilities ... incorporating different sounds and creative expressions together so that everyone's dream can be fulfilled."

The recording also puts on display Moffett's virtuoso bass technique on all three instruments. He plays standard upright bass on "Elements of Life," but on the title track, he gets different sounds by tapping the strings with the bow down by the bridge while fingering notes on the neck of the bass with his left hand, getting different sounds and, at times, a percussive effect. His electric work on "Swing Rock" has a Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
feel. He plays all the axes with authority and conviction.

"I'm searching for even more sounds, which is why I'm constantly keeping an open mind to what exists in our world today," he says. "For me, it's quite natural. I'm from New York City. I grew up in the Bay Area [California] and finished school here in New York, before finishing up at Juilliard and going out on the road with Wynton Marsalis 25 years ago. So when you grow up in a diverse environment like that, you're really not thinking in a one-dimensional form. You're simply being yourself and enjoying all of the cultures that are offered. For me, the colors represent different concepts, philosophies and cultures based on what you have experienced or what you've been introduced to."

"I used to play trumpet before I started playing bass," he adds. "So when I'm playing my piccolo bass, I'm thinking more like a horn player or guitarist, conceptually, which is something people would not normally get a chance to hear me do playing my double bass in the traditional role. So it's nice to be able to tell and share another side of the story that is also me. The same way with the fretless bass, which I've been doing for quite a while now—for as long as I've been playing the upright bass."

He adds, "Each instrument has its own way that it's built scientifically to get notes that sing out more. The bass is predominantly the supportive instrument, however it can be used in other capacities, if you can figure out the right science to introduce it and make it heard, without force. There are other ways. You can use wah-wah pedals to give it more color."

WithThe Art of Improvisation "it was time for me to trust in my natural way of thinking and keep going with some of the concepts I had already established back when I made albums like Planet Home (Evidence Music, 2003)."

But Moffett, while playing gigs to support the 2009 CD, is already off to other things and has another CD set for release in April 2010. "I've just finished recording Treasure (Motema), an extension of what we did on AOI [Art of Improvisation]. There's more focus on the melodies of the tunes and still incorporating the improvisation as well," says Moffett. "Each time I do a project or make an album, it's a process that I'm building as the music is constantly evolving."

His son Max Moffett and daughter Amareia Moffett will be among the 13 special guests on the album. Others include Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan
Stanley Jordan
b.1959
guitar, electric
and Denardo Coleman. "It's somewhat of a family affair with Moffett family members, of course. Stanley Jordan
Stanley Jordan
Stanley Jordan
b.1959
guitar, electric
and Denardo Coleman, who I've known all my life. Young, great players. Trumpet, bass clarinet and sax. A harpist and guitarist. So it does have that Eastern influence as well as the Western sounds that are connected in a jazzy, melodic improvisational way. There are different types of grooves and sounds. It's a very interesting album."

And since the recent completion of that album, Moffett has already been busy writing new music. "It's not something that you plan. It just comes to you," says the bassist. "It's a special thing that happens with artists, which is why we do what we do for a living. You can't plan when an idea is going to hit you. There are ways you can go about it. You can say, 'Ok. I'm going to write a tune today,' and you can sit down and technically make yourself write a composition. But there's nothing like going to the grocery store and a melody pops into your head and it just happens spontaneously. Or you can be watching TV or reading a book (when inspiration strikes). I don't have any one way that I compose music. It also depends on what I want to say and the importance of the message that I'm sharing with the audience, emotionally. Because, after all, when we're listening to music, we're getting some kind of emotional or intellectual fulfillment, or spiritual, from the sound we're hearing."



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