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Interviews

John Geggie: Unexpected Conversations

By Published: January 26, 2010

Enter the Swedes



"So I got into checking the Scandinavian players,' Geggie continues."I'd heard Anders playing with Bobo Stenson

Bobo Stenson
Bobo Stenson
b.1944
piano
, and that completely changed my life. Having heard Anders and Palle, I thought it would be good to go and spend a bit of time there. It was interesting to work with them; I was in a different place with my ability as a player; I'd matured. It was really great to hang out in that world for a short period of time, drink in that aesthetic and hear groups play."

John Geggie From left: Edward Simon, John Geggie, Jim Doxas



Jormin's reputation as a bassist who truly makes his instrument sing is supported by his own work as a leader, but also in his work with Stenson and Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
b.1938
saxophone
in the 1990s. Geggie has his own ideas as to why, for example, Jormin and Daniellson possess such inherently different approaches to playing the bass. "It occurred to me that both Palle and Gary [Peacock] are of a certain age, affected by and knowledgeable about things like bebop, and totally free jazz. So with Palle, he was playing on albums that I never realized he'd played on with Bill Evans. It was really interesting to hear him in 1961, on some things that are now available, with him playing with Bill Evans in Sweden. It was great, for me to hear that. And the way he played with Michel Petrucciani
Michel Petrucciani
Michel Petrucciani
b.1962
piano
and Eliot Zigmund, which was the piano trio aesthetic, but removed from Bill Evans. Both Palle and Gary studied and played with Evans; they were informed by the music of their time and they were playing a lot and doing their own thing.



"Anders is younger," Geggie continues, "and so he would not have been as influenced by this earlier music. All of those [European] players have played with expat Americans in Europe, but I feel as though the Keith Jarrett European Quartet is an iconic group, with so many remarkable recordings, like Nude Ants (ECM, ECM, 1980), from the Village Vanguard. Anders is a remarkable bassist, and he's very much a teacher, with lots of ideas; he's thought about things and he has tremendous breadth, including playing standards with older style American jazz players, with his very lyrical approach. It is a very singing approach, and those solo recordings he did—Alone (Dragon, 1991) and Xeiyi (ECM, 2001)—I remember the first time hearing them, I thought it was just astonishing to hear the bass played like that; it's just so beautiful.



"It was also great to hear the use of hymns as a point of departure," Geggie concludes. "I'm sure it's not the first time it's been done, but it was the first time I'd heard it. And Anders' brother, Christian, is a drummer and pianist, and when I was in Sweden I remember hearing a concert that he did with his trio, where a lot of the material was folks songs, transcriptions of Scandinavian classical musicians like Grieg, or hymns. It's great to hear that sort of thing—they're still improvising in a lyrical way but it's not based on the jazz standards—the Great American Songbook—as a point of departure. I remember, when I was playing with [drummer] Jon Christensen

Jon Christensen
Jon Christensen
b.1943
drums
, we were talking about just that, and he was telling me that his buddies at that time—which would have been Bobo and Jan Garbarek, and Palle—they all could play in that style but they decided they didn't want to. That style was already being done very well, and they realized that they probably couldn't play it as well as the people doing it so they decided to do something that spoke more directly to them."

In recent years, in addition to running his Geggie Concert Series, his work with Jazzworks, and the whatever gigs come his way, Geggie is a part-time professor at the New York State University (SUNY) in Potsdam, New York, a relatively short drive south from Ottawa. With so many artists living in the upstate New York area, there's plenty of opportunity for the bassist to continue occasional studies with other jazz artists, like FLY

FLY
FLY

band/orchestra
, with whom he had a recent session. "I first heard Larry in very mainstream things, and my session with him was amazing. He was explaining that when he was starting out he was listening to Wilbur Ware
Wilbur Ware
Wilbur Ware
1923 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
1922 - 1960
bass
and Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers
1935 - 1969
bass, acoustic
, but at the same time he was listening to Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
b.1947
bass
. He feels that it's really important to listen to everybody and be aware of what everyone is doing. I first heard him on Criss Cross records with people like Seamus Blake
Seamus Blake
Seamus Blake
b.1970
sax, tenor
, and it was a certain style of playing. Yet when you listen to him other times...there's a Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
b.1968
keyboard
album [Awareness (Warner Bros., 1997)] that was his first recording with {Paul Motian}}, and he admits that he was really thinking about Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
b.1937
bass, acoustic
, because of their work together.



"Still," Geggie continues, "he has an incredible depth to his playing; he is so able to play the bass, and he knows the tradition and decides to play in a certain way. He doesn't seem to have any limits. It's a source of inspiration for me; I think there are so many bassists who are like that; you can talk to players who go down a certain road, but are also very aware of the tradition."

John GeggieAs Geggie's own playing has evolved over the years, so too has his perspective, and the questions that he's looking to answer through a combination of studying and, in many cases, playing. For a local bassist to have amassed such a large résumé of collaborations is nothing short of remarkable. "I'm a better bassist now," Geggie asserts. "There's no question that one gets better, and one's overall experience contributes immensely. I was less evolved as a player when I was studying with Gary, and what I'm looking for now, as I go along, is what makes that person tick? Why are they playing what they're playing? What is their concept of sound, sound production, tone production or time? There's the elusive question: 'How do you know what to play with certain people? How do you know what to do?'



"In theory, speaking just about bassists for now , one can be playing with lots of people a lot of the time in many different contexts if one can play in tune, play in time, know some different tunes, and be flexible," says Geggie. "We are influenced by a whole history of different bass styles; there are a lot of bassists who are thinking about the jazz tradition, but who also have knowledge of R&B and Motown, or funk, or folk music. The bass' role is malleable, but there are constants as well. For me, it's the eternal question of how do you know what to play in a particular situation or what inspires you to do certain things in certain situations? That's what I'm interested in finding out—what those players do. There are so many bassists that I wish I'd taken a lesson with, just for the inspiration factor, and it was interesting with Larry. He was showing me things that he'd learned from Ron Carter, so it's interesting the way things are passed along. It's not about owning the instrument, or information, or knowledge. I love the fact that it's about knowing things, absorbing things and being willing to pass them along and share them, which is of interest to me as I do a fair bit of teaching as well.



"As you go through life, you learn different things from different people," Geggie concludes. "You could have a conversation with some really famous person ten years ago, and think, 'Gee, I wish I'd asked him such and such a question,' because I'm so much more aware of what they are doing now than I was then. It's all a life learning process."



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