Ron Carter: The Right Notes, Alright
"Right now, we're kind of limited to working in New York City, because they have nice clubs in New York that can handle not only the budget for a big band, but the size of the bandstand for 16 people to be comfortable on the stage. I would like to take it somewhere else, where we can take a bus or a van. Take them to Washington or Boston or Philadelphia. But that's a little awkward too. If we can find the work, we'll find a way to get them down there. Or up there. I would take those guys anywhere I could afford to take them."
A tour, he feels, would be a musical challenge as well. One he would enjoy. "It would be interesting to see how they would function given the kind of pressure they're going to be under to deliver night in and night out when they aren't going home and going to bed to think about it. My job is to make them uncomfortable, to get the best out of them consistently. I generally have a plan in mind. I think of a story I want to do for the evening. My concern is can I get the guys to buy into my story?"
Carter's story is a varied one since coming to the Manhattan School of Music for his master's degree after graduating from Eastman in Rochester. He's been in the Big Apple ever since. He also lived through the beginning, and pretty much heyday, of jazz/rock fusion. That usually meant the electric bass. Carter played it a bit, but decided to remain with the upright instrument he had spent so many years studying and elevating.
He explains, "To be competitive with all those wonderful [electric bass] players who were already there before me, it would have taken more work than I really had the time to do. Those bass players put in a lot of time to make that right. To do what those guys were doing, I didn't have the time to develop that kind of wherewithal and those kinds of practice hours. I was comfortable enough to know maybe I had something here [with the acoustic] and let me see what I can do with this. I was always active. I was playing every day. I was playing gigs in the afternoon. I was practicing in the early afternoon. I was working at night. I was as busy as I ever wanted to be. So I wasn't looking for gigs to do. I was trying to find out if I could get something better going than what I had. To do that, it takes a focus. I knew I couldn't do that kind of intense focus to make the electric bass as much mine as I was trying to make the acoustic bass. I was comfortable to step back and let those electric players who already had a head start on me keep going.
"I appreciated them finding the direction they wanted to do to make their music successful," he says of the fusion breed like Joe Zawinul and new directions of Davis and Tony Williams. But, "I just didn't have the kind of interest to put into the development that those guys did. They put in a lot of time rehearsing and writing the arrangements. I had another sound in my ear and another set of notes that I could find more musical happiness withthat I had already worked toward doing."
He had already made the acoustic thing soar. With Davis from 1963-1968, the music grew, expanded, took on new faces and new places. Even the musicians in Davis' band, caught up in the middle of it, didn't know exactly where their daring-do would take them.
"Those guys were crazy," Carter says with an obvious sparkle filled with fondness for that groundbreaking time with brilliant musical minds and great friends. "Those guys were all nuts. They should've been locked up."
"There was so much stuff going on, it's hard to separate the events as they went down," he says. "At the time, no one, as far as I could tell, was thinking, 'Is this important music?' or 'Is this going to get famous?' We were really just looking every night to see what kind of music we could stir up and still have some validity with the original melody and the original changes. Miles didn't preach anything about the right notes. He trusted our sense of ... I guess being curious is a good word. Being curious to find out what kind of rhythms, what kind of changes we could put in to replace those already there, that would make the music have a different kind of life. Being in that laboratory, we had fun every night."