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Interviews

Bertram Turetzky: Contrabass Pioneer

By Published: March 18, 2011

Peers and Contemporaries

AAJ: I'd like to get your thoughts on some other bassists. Whatever comes to mind. Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
b.1937
bass, acoustic
?

BT: I know Charlie. Well, I knew him; I haven't seen him in years. Charlie Haden is one of the most original bass players. He is the epitome of less-is- more. The notes he picks are beautiful. Michael Moore
Michael Moore
Michael Moore
b.1945
once told me that his father, who was a jazz guitarist said, "Michael, it's not enough to play the right notes. You've got to play the best notes."

Charlie must have listened to Michael Moore's father, because he plays beautiful notes. He's got great time. His ear is just incredible. He hears things coming around the corner.

AAJ: David Izenson?

BT: We were friends. He studied with David Walter, my teacher. In fact, he used to come to Hartford occasionally and play in the symphony. He'd come to our house and eat, and change clothes and then we'd play the concert together. Yeah, we were good friends.

One time I was in New York, and he had gotten famous from playing with Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, and he came to my concert, and he gave me big hugs, and he had a full-length leather trench-coat on. In those days that was very...who would have such a thing? People asked, "Who is that guy"? I said, "That's David Izenson, my friend." Anyway, he gave me a kiss on the head, and told me I sounded wonderful. He was a great guy.

AAJ: What did you think of his playing?

BT: I liked his playing. I liked his playing very much. I think he took Ornette further out. Charlie grounded him a little bit with pedal tones and stuff. Dave really pushed him further out.

AAJ: Gary Karr?

BT: Gary and I are friends also and I admire and respect him very much. He has opened up a lot of doors for the instrument, and he's kind and generous. I don't know if I like him better as an artist or a person, and that's a high compliment.

AAJ: Edgar Meyer?

BT: I know Edgar a bit. I don't care much for the music he does, but he's a hell of a bassist.

AAJ: Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
b.1935
bass
?

BT: I haven't heard enough of him. Very interesting bassist. I like what I've heard. Yeah, I like what I've heard.

AAJ: Barry Guy
Barry Guy
Barry Guy
b.1947
bass
?

BT: We're very good friends. We're very close. We exchange handwritten letters. In this day of e-mail, of course, I don't type, and he writes letters to me. And, of course, I have almost everything he's ever recorded. He sends everything he records over to me, and vice versa. We're very close friends. he follows American politics, I do too. In fact, I'm a little bit of a political junkie, so we have a lot in common.

AAJ: Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
?

BT: One of my adult students got me tickets for the last time he performed here. He wanted me to see the show. While they're playing this guy says, "Look he's smiling at you." I figured he's just enjoying himself playing with his band. Well, at intermission, Dresser goes backstage and he comes back with Dave Holland ! He gave me a big hug, he remembered me and I remembered him.

When I first came here [California], one of the first gig's I got was at a Catholic girl's school, Sacred Heart, in L.A. I was doing my "show-and-tell" playing little things, and I saw a funky looking white guy—short, and a taller, equally funky looking white guy, and a totally disreputable looking black guy. Who the hell could they be? They didn't belong to this audience. Turns out it was Barry Altschul
Barry Altschul
Barry Altschul
b.1943
drums
, Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
b.1945
reeds
. (Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
) was sleeping. They had the group Circle in those days. So, I met them all.

Then, after that, there was a move to deport him [Holland]. So he needed some letters of reference, and I was a professor, so I wrote him a letter. I said he was an absolute cultural icon, and he was going to just grow and grow. He could mean a lot to American musical culture. And we're friends for years now.

AAJ: One more. William Parker
William Parker
William Parker
b.1952
bass, acoustic
?

BT: I don't know enough about him to have an opinion. I saw him once with Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
and I had no impression. But they say that his stuff is really heavy and powerful, and I just have to find time to listen.

With William Parker, I'd love to hear some of his stuff. But, he's a presence, I know that much. He's a presence.

AAJ: He's like the Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
of free jazz.

BT: Yeah, that's a good analogy.


George Lewis
George Lewis
George Lewis
b.1952
trombone
, Triangulation II(Kadima, 2010). When you get guys like Vinny who works hard, I do, George Lewis does. The lazy people, who play just like they did twenty years ago, they don't interest me much. I like the guys who are always moving forward, always trying something new.

AAJ: So this new record, does it have tunes, or is it all improvised?

BT : It's all improvised. But I listened to it many times before I sent it to Jerusalem, some of the stuff just sounds so compositional. One of the pieces, you see the three of us just get along like gangbusters. You know, I brought George to the attention of the university, and we're good friends.

So, the three of us, it's more than just comfortable, we have a lot of fun. So on one tune, I ask George if he had an idea, and he said, "Let's play a ballad, and let's start together." Not one word about notes, or a key or anything. And I listened to it, and it's like "Oh my God," it's like magic. I'm not exaggerating or bullshitting you. When you have good feelings, vibes, spirits, even love...

AAJ: So Lewis plays trombone, does Vinny play his whole arsenal?

BT: Pretty much. And he plays tenor saxophone on the ballad, and it's a lovely sound. He doesn't sound like any tenor player you've ever heard. Do you know Anthony Ortega
Anthony Ortega
Anthony Ortega
b.1928
sax, tenor
? He's a dangerous improviser. I sent Tony a copy of Triangulation II, and he called me and said, "Man, that cat, every axe he plays sounds like it's his main instrument. Doesn't sound like no doubler to me." I told Vinny, and he was very pleased. He said, "That's a great compliment."

He's got it. He's got it. I mean, when you play with Vinny the communication, the lines of communication are remarkable. I hope people think I'm a good listener, but Vinny is a great listener. And there's things in that CD that just turn me around.

AAJ: You retired from UCSD in 2003. What have you been up to? Are you still teaching?

BT: Yeah, I have students who come during the week. I have gigs that I play. I played a couple of mainstream jazz gigs up in the Bay area a couple of weeks ago. So I still play a lot. I'm going to do a gig at UCSD with Mark Dresser, and I'm going to do something at Dizzy's [San Diego], with multimedia. I promised J.C. Jones of Kadima, the record label, that I would write an autobiography, so I'm working on that.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and start remembering things, and I stay up and talk to myself until dawn. Then I get up and start writing things down [longhand]. My son typed some of it when I was up north; I stayed with him for a few days. I'm going to hire somebody to type the rest of it for me.

So, I'm working on that all the time, trying to get it finished. And, tomorrow, I'm going to watch some football. I do want to finish the book by the summer [2011], because I don't want it hanging over my head. I did do a DVD, I don't know if it's any good. I haven't looked at it yet. When I get some time, I'll drop it in the television and check it out.

I am active, is the answer. I've written a couple of pieces—I'm having them copied professionally. They are ethnic pieces, one was of love and loss for my mother, and the other one is for my father.

AAJ: Any other collaborations in the future?

BT : Vinny and I might do something more. Maybe with Bobby Bradford
Bobby Bradford
Bobby Bradford
b.1934
trumpet
. Or, Braxton wants to play with us. Two bass saxophones and me. I'd like to play with Braxton. I think it would be fun.

I've played with Joelle Leandre
Joelle Leandre
Joelle Leandre
b.1951
bass
, I played with Barry Guy quite a few years ago. I've played with Barre Phillips, I've played with Mark Dresser quite a bit. There's some people. I'd like to play with Bradford, I'd really like to play with George Lewis again. I'm going to send Triangulation II over to a German festival to see if they'd like to bring us over. I would travel for that.


Selected Discography

Bert Turetzky/George Lewis/Vinny Golia, Triangulation II (Kadima Collective Recordings 2010)

Bertram Turetzk/Vinny Golia, The San Diego Sessions (Kadima Collective, 2009)

Bertram Turetzky, Tributes (Nine Winds, 2005)

Nancy Turetzky/Bertram Turetzky, Music for Flute and Contrabass (Nine Winds, 2001)

Bert Turetzky/Mike Wofford, Transition and Transformation (Nine Winds, 2000)

Bert Turetzky, Suddenly It's Evening (CRI, 1999)

Barre Phillips/Bertram Turetzky/Vinny Golia, Trignition (Nine Winds, 1999)

Bert Turetzky, Logs (by Paul Chihara. CRI, 1999)

Bertram Turetzky, Tenors, Echoes, and Wolves (Nine Winds, 1998)

Ed Harkins/Vinny Golia/Bertram Turetzky, Glossarium (Nine Winds, 1998)

Bertram Turetzky, Inflections I (New World, 1998)

Wadada Leo Smith/Vinny Golia/Bert Turetzky, Prataxis (Nine Winds, 1997)

Vinny Golia/George Lewis/Bertram Turetzky, Triangulation (Nine Winds, 1996)

Bertram Turetzky/Vinny Golia, Intersection (Nine Winds, 1996)

Vinny Golia/George Lewis/Bertram Turetzky, Triangulation (Nine Winds, 1996)

Vinny Golia/Bertram Turetzky, 11 reasons To Begin (Music and Arts, 1996)

Bertram Turetzky, Ais Nuema Records, 1994)

Bertram Turetzky, Compositions and Improvisations (Nine Winds, 1993)

Second Avenue Klezmer Ensemble, Traditions and Transitions (Second Avenue, 1992)

Bertram Turetzky, New Music For Contrabass (Finnadar, 1976)

Bertram Turetzky, The Contemporary Contrabass (Nonesuch, 1976)

Bertram Turetzky, Dragonetti Lives (Takoma Records, 1975)

Bertram Turetzky, The New World Of Sound (Ars Nova, 1969)

Bertram Turetzky, In No Strange Land (Nonesuch Records, 1968)

Bertram Turetzky, The Virtuoso Double Bass (Medea Records, 1966)

Bertram Turetzky, Contrabassist (Advance FGR-1, 1964)

Photo Credits


Pages 1, 6: Michael Klayman

Page 2, 3, 7: Courtesy of Bertram Turetzky
Bertram Turetzky
Bertram Turetzky

bass, acoustic


Page 4: Co Broerse


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