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Bertram Turetzky: Contrabass Pioneer

Robert Bush By

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Moving To California, U.C.S.D.

BT: So then he called me and said they were starting a new music department at the University of California in La Jolla, and that I should come on out and show my stuff, he said, "I want you on the faculty." So that sounds exciting to me. I came out, I had picked up a concert at Pomona College, I stayed there overnight, and I drove down the coast the next day. It was March, and there were people in the water! I called my wife and I said, "Nancy, there are people swimming in the Pacific Ocean!" She asked me if I had been drinking! I told her she'll just have to see it for herself.

So, I came to UCSD, I found the place, I did an afternoon show that went well. I met Bob Magnusson. After the thing was over, the head of the department Will Ogden, says he wants to show me where my office is. I said, "You haven't heard my recital yet." He says they've had my recordings for years.

AAJ: So, did you say, "I'll take it" right there or did you need to talk to your wife first?

BT: In my heart I said this is it. I had to play my recital, and that went very well. Everyone was really nice and lovely. I stayed with the Erickson's that night, and Bob said, "You were terrific." I think I had his piece under control, and I played it, and that was super. So I told Nancy, "I think this is it. It's a chance for me to stay home more, see the kids, see you."

So she came out and we got some concerts, she saw some things, played at UC Davis, and did some television: San Francisco, KQED. So she liked it. We came out and I started to teach and it's funny, because everyone but me was already "California- ized," very casual. I was hilarious, I was color coordinated, I still tied my own bow ties every day. So again, more things are happening—recordings, concerts. Tracy Stern from Nonesuch Records came out, and they wanted a recording.

Stellar Students

AAJ: You had some prime students right from the beginning. Let's talk about a few, starting with Mark Dresser.

BT: Mark came out to see me at the Bass Club in L.A., and he liked it very much. I think I had a sul ponticello sound that reminded him of Jimi Hendrix or something, maybe to him. He liked the energy. So he came down and auditioned for me, and boy, he was really into it. I told him, "You're going to be a lifer," I think was the phrase I used. I told him I'd be delighted to have him as a student, and we've been friends ever since.

AAJ: Bob Magnusson.

BT: Yeah, he came for lessons, and he was so talented. So I took him through a lot of the classical stuff that I take everybody through, but he was so gifted. Such a wonderful guy. I hardly charged anyone much to study with me; I was still on East Coast money. I remember I hardly charged for my private lessons, but I enjoyed teaching very much. So Bob was lovely. Bruce Stone was there for awhile too.

AAJ: John Leftwich.

BT: John Leftwich! Oh my God! We had our moments. We started off very good, and, then, he became...John Leftwich! [laughter] We had some friction...over music, and what he should do, but he was already such a talented jazz player. So I said, "Look, if you want to finish your Master's degree, I think you should have a recital because then it'll be honest, and then you'll know that you earned it." And he fought a bit, but he did a very good job.

Then I didn't hear from him for awhile, and one day he calls me and said, "I hear you're doing a recital. Can I come? Take you out to breakfast after?" I said, "Sure, great." So we did that, and we had a very good time, and, he was very excited about the Tributes CD ( Nine Winds, 2005), he thought it was wonderful, he thought I should take some time off and just take it around the country to promote it.

But of course, I can't do that, I don't have the time. And I had John do a seminar for my last class at UCSD before I retired. He talked about being a freelance composer in L.A., and the things you had to do and how you had to do it. He was very impressive in that class.

AAJ: I never thought he got his due when he was in San Diego.

BT: Well, in San Diego, the heavy guy is Bob Magnusson. You know who I like a lot is Rob Thorsen, because he plays such good time—very good time. John played lighter, and Bob had the big ear of all of them, and he has this wonderful melodic gift, which I always loved.

AAJ: Your thoughts on Gunnar Biggs ?

BT: Gunnar came to me when he was in high school, and I thought he was very talented.

AAJ: He must have been if you accepted him while he was still in high school.

BT: Yeah, I accepted everybody. I felt it was part of being involved in the community. I want to be in the community, I want to help people. Gunnar, wanted to be a stage band director, so he went to North Texas State University. I said, "Why? There's no big bands anymore. What's the matter?" So, 18 months later, he came back and said, "Well, you were right." He's doing very well for himself now, he's got the gig with Peter Sprague.

AAJ: Kristin Korb?

BT: I got a call to do a week in Montana. The guy, my host said he wanted me to hear the big band. He said the bassist was very talented. So I listened to the band and they were pretty good, and I worked with them. I pointed out they have to have a rhythm section that helps lead the way, all that, what to listen for.

So she played for me and she was very talented. Very rough, but very talented. Nice ear, good girl and she was a wonderful salt of the earth person. So she said she wanted to study with me, I said, "Great," we figured it out, got fixed up, and I would give her a couple of lessons a week, because she had a lot of catching up to do. She had a good ear, but she had a lot of work to do. We did it and it worked out.

She taught at a college in Washington State, and they treated her very badly, so I told her to leave, it's not good to be where you're not wanted. So, she moved to L.A. started doing a lot of freelance work, her career really took off. Summer's she's going to jazz camp after jazz camp, she's worked with all kinds of people, including Ray Brown, she's made records, she's having a good life. She's terrific, and I love her. She's one of my most successful students.

AAJ: Speaking of successful students, Nathan East?

BT: He was at UCSD, and I bugged him about being a better reader. Well, he got up to L.A., and he said, "I should have worked on my reading more with you." I said, "Well, you're doing pretty good." He hears a tune once, [snaps fingers] that's it. Eric Clapton said he's like his brother. The kind of person Nathan is, when he started doing real well for himself, he took care of his folks. I tell that to my kids...[laughter].


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