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Jeff Berlin: Still the Ace of Bass

By Published: August 16, 2010
AAJ: There are a lot of debates about the future of jazz, but as someone who's been an innovator in jazz, jazz-rock, fusion and, even arguably, rock, do you see such distinctions lasting much longer?

JB: As a leader, I'm not in the jazz fusion mindset right now. I would play it once in a while if a gig comes up, as it did with Scott Henderson and Dennis Chambers
Dennis Chambers
Dennis Chambers
. But the distinction between jazz and jazz fusion has impacted upon my career because I made a deliberate attempt to leave fusion behind and enter straight into what might be called traditional jazz. As I mentioned, some jazz players and fans of jazz don't regard the electric bass as a significant jazz instrument, and so I have some work ahead of me, to try to encourage the purists to regard what I do on the electric bass as jazz and as meaningful. But maybe they are right. There isn't a lot of history of outstanding electric jazz bass players. Right now, the only two exclusively purely jazz electric bassists that I am aware of are Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
and myself. Other guys double, and guys like Anthony Jackson
Anthony Jackson
Anthony Jackson

bass, electric
aren't purely into jazz. There really isn't a large musical precedent for meaningful electric bass jazz performance. In fusion, yes. In jazz, no.

AAJ: The music industry has changed so much since you started out—digital recording and files, the Internet and social media controlled by artists and less industry control. Do you think this has increased opportunities for musicians or made it more difficult to build a career?

JB: For a guy like me who plays the bass guitar, still an instrument stuck in the back of the bus in this limited music era, the Internet has done me wonders! I know that I will never get signed by a label of significance, because who in their right mind would sign a bassist? Even the jazz labels have showed no interest in me, even though I've sold loads of CDs on my own. Therefore, if I didn't control my own music career, recording and selling my own material through the net or through outlets like, then my career would be struggling.

The Internet, in my case, has made me more popular all over the world, more than any record company that I was signed to in the past has done for me. I just did a gig throughout Asia with Scott Henderson and Dennis Chambers, and the gigs were packed. Lots of guys came up to me afterward, and some told me that they found out about me online. Usually these were the younger kids who never listened to the fusion of the 1970s and '80s that I used to be a part of. I get emails—you know, those "Oh my God"-type of letters—usually from younger guys who write to me after they've heard me play on some Youtube clip. Forgive this next comment, but I am an extremely good clinician. I can explain and demonstrate musical concepts in a way that few can. The Internet allowed for many schools to contact me to hold a clinic for their music students. Plus, I've met lots of new friends on the net—great people, supportive and kind! Oh yes, the Internet is fantastic and it has done wonders for my career.

To paraphrase Garrett Morris playing Chico Escuela, the Latin baseball player on Saturday Night Live, "The Internet been berry, berry good to me!"

Selected discography

Jeff Berlin, High Standards (M.A.J. Records, 2010)

Jeff Berlin, Aneurythms (M.A.J. Records, 2006)

Jeff Berlin, Lump Jazz (M.A.J. Records, 2006)

Jeff Berlin, Ace of Bass (King Japan, 2005)

Twinemen, Twinemen (Hi-and-Dry, 2002)

Jeff Berlin, In Harmony's Way (J.Jazz, 2001)

Jeff Berlin, Crossroads (Denon, 1999)

Jeff Berlin, Taking Notes (Denon, 1997)

Nathan Cavaleri Band, Nathan (Epic, 1994)

Kazumi Watanabe, The Spice of Life (Sonet, 1987)

Jeff Berlin, Pump It! (Passport, 1986)

Allan Holdsworth, Road Games (Music Grinder, 1983)

Passport, Lifelike (Wounded Bird, 1980)

Bruford, Gradually Going Tornado (Editions E.G., 1980)

Bruford, Rock Goes to College (Winterfold, 1979)

Bruford, One of a Kind (Winterfold, 1979)

David Liebman, Light'n Up, Please! (A&M Records, 1977)

Bruford, Feels Good to Me (Winterfold, 1977)

Photo credits

Page 1: Lee Burgess Photography

Page 2: Jason Lammons

Page 3: Courtesy of Bill Bruford

Pages 4, 5: Courtesy of Jeff Berlin

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