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Artist Profiles

Buell Neidlinger: From Taylor to Zappa to the Carpenters

By Published: December 16, 2003
And I only got caught twice, (laughing) once was when I was still a jazz musician, and there was this guy that played with Machito, he got another gig and wanted me to go up to Roseland, the afternoon session. I had never played that kind of music and I didn’t tell him that, and I said ‘oh, sure, I’ll do it,’ got up there... you know what an Ampeg Baby Bass is? It’s kind of the forerunner of these basses that you see around a lot that don’t have bodies on them. Well, that’s the favorite instrument in a Latin band. So he left the bass there and I picked this thing up that I’d never played and I started in. After the first three tunes, they were taking intermission and the bongo player came over and said ‘Machito wanna talk to you.’ I said ‘oh, okay’ and I went over there and he was looking at me, he was very angry, and he said ‘loo goo, too loo no goo,’ which I found out later meant ‘loose is good, too loose is no good.’ So he played the rest of the afternoon with no bass. I got caught there, and then years later this guy calls me up and says ‘you play disco?’ Sure, you know, I did play disco ‘cause I don’t know if you ever watched “Hart to Hart,” the main title of that is disco and then some. Five eight-bars, modulation from one key to another, all kinds of stuff, and I did all those shows. So I thought I could play this, and I went down there and took out my Fender... oh yeah, I never told you about learning to play the Fender in 1953 when I was in high school. I was probably the first guy in New York who could read music on the Fender bass. But anyway, this was years later, and the guy said ‘no, I don’t want you to use the pick – I want you to thump it.’ I was friends with the Johnson brothers, whom they used to call “thunder thumbs” in LA, and one was the guy that invented that technique. I had watched him and I thought, well, shit, anyone could do that, and I found out that’s not true (laughs)! So they had to send for someone else. But other than that, I always got through – polka band, klezmer gig, you name it.

AAJ: Variation, then, has been a help rather than hindrance...

BN: Oh, definitely. You can’t go the Five Spot or Birdland and play every night. You have to have something else to play.

AAJ: Well, I think you’ve covered everything that I had sought to ask of you; is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to discuss?

BN: Yeah, let’s discuss jazz record companies and merchandising. Record companies are interesting because it seems that no matter how inept their executives are, they get fired from one company and they move to a higher position at another company. And so now we have record companies purportedly producing jazz records that are being run by people who have had five or ten different jobs in [these] companies, each one always better than the last, in spite of the fact that they’re totally inept. They wouldn’t know jazz if they fell over it. So now we’re stuck with... gee, I don’t want to mention names, I could get in a lot of trouble, but let’s look at Harry Connick. Now there’s a talented boy, he could play jazz in his own way, and they made him a singer, and they made him a movie star, and I don’t know what happened to him...

AAJ: Wasn’t he in Goodfellas or some mafia movie?

BN: I think so, sure, I don’t watch movies too much anymore... but yeah, now there’s a guy whose talent as a pianist, if it had been nurtured by a producer who knew something about music and wasn’t just interested in the almighty dollar, shit, he might’ve turned into the next Horace Silver or something, you know? And what is he now? He’s a half-assed movie actor, a half-assed singer, and the other ability has gone out the window.

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