Conversation with Charnett Moffett
CM: Yeah, you know, you’re only as good as your last show. So you’re only as good as how much time you’ve put in recently on the instrument. Personally, if I’m playing everyday, I get into...like...an artistic zone, in terms of my thought process and my energy. It’s like being an athlete. You have to take care of yourself, train properly, and prepare. I studied at Julliard for awhile. I spent a couple of years there before I basically left to go on the road with [Wynton] Marsalis. Let’s see, that’s going back almost nineteen years. I went to the LaGuardia High School of the Arts...but I was basically on the road with Wynton Marsalis since I was sixteen years old! I did that for two years.
FM: He brings a lot of musicians through his group.
CM: He’s really a wonderful person. He’s certainly done a lot for the music...and after my time with Marsalis I ended up playing with Tony Williams. That was quite an experience, to be able to work with one of the great innovators of the music... That was certainly quite an experience. Then I sort of moved on to some other different styles and genres, working with people like Stanley Jordon and David Sanborn and so forth. I guess for the past nine years I worked with Ornette Coleman, which is a whole other experience. And now I am very fortunate to be working with another great innovator of our times—he’s done so much for the legacy of the music—Mr. McCoy Tyner. I’ve been with him on and off now for the past two years.
FM: How did you start playing with Tyner?
CM: Oh, it’s been an incredible experience... I was recommended through a friend, Jason Elaine, who was actually the artistic director at that time out at Yoshi’s. McCoy has been doing several two week engagements there for several years now, from what I understand.
FM: It’s become almost a tradition.
CM: I was asked to be a part of that one year. I was very grateful to be asked, actually. (Chuckles.) So we got to playing, and I started learning from him. He would tell me things about music—what he was interested in—and I would try to adapt to his concept. Eventually, I guess I started getting it! I was very fortunate to maintain some kind of musical dialogue with one of the greatest piano players ever. It’s really been a truly great experience.
FM: What was it like that first time you played with him?
CM: Well, I was nervous of course.
CM: How could you not be? You’re going into a different situation. You want to do your best and you have to have enough confidence to be up there playing in the first place, but by the same token you have to keep it all within balance of the environment... and understand ‘let me try to learn and grow from this experience’ so I can become a better musician. So as long as I’m keeping those things focused, I can continue to evolve as an artist and hopefully influence other artists that will play with me in the future.
FM: It seems to me that you use the bow quite frequently, and with a great degree of precision.
CM: Oh, really? (surprised) There’s always room for improvement.
FM: The bow still isn’t being used that often in jazz bass, is it?
CM: You know, I just think it’s a matter of personal expression. That’s what the music is really about... [Y]ou have to have a certain discipline within the freedom—or freedom within the discipline. You need the disciple to execute an idea technically, but you need to create the freedom in order to...have the ideas come to you spontaneously... I’ve kind of heard the bow as another version—or an extension—of my pizzicato voice. And it’s nice to be able to accompany the band and then utilize another voice as a soloist. It’s kind of an extension of the instrument. To add another color. Paul Chambers was doing this back in the sixties, so it’s not really anything new.
FM: No, but it doesn’t seem to have become a fully integrated or standard method yet either.
CM: I think one has to hear it before one develops the technique to do it. In other words, if you hear it, you’ll do what is necessary to utilize it as a voice.
FM: I noticed that a lot on Planet Home.
CM: You’ve heard that?!
FM: Actually, I love this album.
CM: That’s amazing. A lot of people don’t have that record over here in the States.
FM: I wanted to ask about some of your other recordings as well. You’ve done a series of them, and seem to have really tried on a lot of different styles.
CM: Well, you know, I’ve done a few. Here and there.
FM: Planet Home seems to have been a big break.