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Take Five With Charles Gambetta

Charles Gambetta By
Published:
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Meet Charles Gambetta:
I've been playing bass for nearly 50 years, composing and arranging for over 40 years and conducting for 40 years as well. It has been an incredible journey with many surprises, unexpected turns and several major turning points that have shaped my growth as an artist and person. The first of these came in 1965 when my music teacher told me I should play bass. The second came in 1972 when I started playing jazz at North Texas State. The third followed in 1976 when I received a fellowship grant at the Bennington Summers program where I studied with Jaki Byard, Ernie Wilkins and Jimmy Giuffre. The nex came in 1981 when I was hired by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic to conduct a "Hot Pops" concert with Dizzy Gillespie as the featured soloist. I had come full circle and found myself doing what I had wanted to do since the age of 8 when I told my parents that I wanted to be a conductor. Since then I've been lucky enough to keep one foot firmly in the jazz world and the other in the symphonic and operatic worlds.

Instrument(s):
bass, electric bass

Teachers and/or influences?
I have had the extreme good fortune to learn from and perform with several true giants of the jazz world including Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Jaki Byard Billy Taylor, Jimmy Giuffre, Joe Williams, Ernie Wilkins,Larry Young, Frank Rosolino and Kai Winding. I owe them all a debt I can never repay.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I saw the New York Philharmonic Young Peoples Concerts on television. I was seven years old.

Your sound and approach to music:
Whether I am playing, conducting or writing, I feel a very close connection between my sound and the human breath and voice so I view all of my music making as singing. The funny thing is that I am terrible at remembering lyrics.

Your teaching approach:
Musical study should be a journey of self discovery and ultimately, self actualization (Maslow's term for the ultimate goal of human existence). As a teacher, my most important job is to help my students find their own unique voice as musicians and in so doing, start them on their own journey.

Your dream band:
When I was in the military, I got the chance to write for big band (five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, four rhythm) plus two horns and tuba. I would really like to do more of that at some point.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
The night my trio (piano, bass and drums) opened for the Count Basie Band is among my most memorable gigs. The Basie Band came to Santa Rosa for a concert in 1974, and we got the call to play a half hour set to open the show. Neal Kirkwood (piano), Eric Larsen (drums) and I got to hang with Count Basie before and after the show. It doesn't get much cooler than that.

Favorite venue:
I loved the Keystone Corner in San Francisco. It was an intimate space with great acoustics where you could get up close to stage if you came early enough.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
My favorite jazz recording is Kind of Blue because Miles Davis brought together my favorite tenor player, John Coltrane; alto player, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley; bassist, Paul Chambers; pianist, Bill Evans plus drummer Jimmy Cobb in a treatise of modal jazz in the same way that Bach's Brandenburg Concertos or his cycle of preludes and fugues were treatises on Baroque style.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Oscar Peterson Tristeza on Piano. The first jazz album I heard was my mother's copy of the Getz/Gilberto. I was 11 at the time.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
My most important musical contribution is the service I render to my fellow human beings when I perform, compose, arrange, teach and advocate for music education.

Did you know...
I am a horseman. I raised and trained a Quarter Horse Stallion, Kid Cactus, who was with me for 30 years. He died in 2008 after a long and happy life.

Desert Island picks:

Cannonball Adderley, Live at the Lighthouse (Riverside)
Chick Corea, Return to Forever (Polydor)
Count Basie, April in Paris (Verve)
Bill Evans, Conversations with Myself (Verve)
Oscar Peterson, Exclusively for My Friends (MPS)

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Jazz is not yet on life support, but its health is far from robust. One can find pockets of activity and interest, but overall, the number of venues offering jazz to the public continues to decline.

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