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Conversation with Charnett Moffett

Franz A. Matzner By

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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.

FM: Really?

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.

CM: Yeah, it really was kind of a breakthrough album for me. I don’t know, I guess...I was just at a different point in my life where I wanted to do some different music. So I went for it. You know, I always play the music that is in my heart, whatever style it is. I think it’s important to be sincere to yourself. Because when you’re playing the music, you want to connect with the people. Not in a contrived way, but in an honest way.

FM: And the people can hear it when it’s not.

CM: Exactly.

FM: I really thought this was an exceptional album. The solo pieces, and your work with Geoff Keezer...

CM: Oh yeah, he played wonderfully on the album.

FM: Now, tell me if I’m over-interpreting, but there seemed to be a political element to it[ Planet Home. Considering the song titles, and then doing “Star Spangled Banner” as a closing number.

CM: As an artist, you can’t help but be influenced by your environment. That’s part of the point of doing what we do. I guess if you would like to use the word political, that’s cool. I guess that’s fine. But it wasn’t intended to be. Or if it is, it’s meant in a positive way. Bringing people together as far as a unity. That’s part of my reason for doing “Star Spangled Banner”. I was actually on tour and saw a video of Jimi Hendrix... I just thought it was completely amazing. It didn’t matter that he was playing guitar and it wasn’t exactly jazz. I had to appreciate the gift and the music that hit me. I was like, ‘wow!’ It certainly made me feel something. So I was just as much informed by that as I was influenced by listening to a John Coltrane record, A Love Supreme , something like that. So I thought, maybe I should try that on bass, out of excitement and enthusiasm... And of course, America being the great country that it is, you really are able to appreciate it the more you travel to other places. When you’re here in your own country, you might take things for granted, but when you tour and go across to other places—although most places that I’ve visited have been wonderful—it’s nothin’ like being on tour here where I can catch a ballgame during the day. Or read the signs and know where I’m going. (Laughing.) Have some freedom and independence.

FM: There is something about that, traveling away and then coming back.

CM: For example, I recently returned from a three week tour of Japan. I love Japan. It’s a wonderful place.

FM: I lived there for a little while, actually.

CM: Really?

FM: I had a similar experience. You’re there and you love it, but when you come back it forces you to focus on different aspects of your own culture that you had never thought about.

CM: Basically, you end up just enjoying the strong points of each culture. So that you can grow from each situation and learn from each environment.

FM: It’s very interesting the way you describe coming across the Jimi Hendrix. You can really hear him in your version. At the same time, you’re almost inverting what he did, since at the time it was such a deliberate and controversial political statement.

CM: Well, yeah. (pause) I also thought there was a way I could do it...better. (Chuckles.)

FM: I want to switch topics a bit here and ask about something I’ve been doing a lot of reading about. I’m very interested in the development of bass styles. There’s been so much change over the years, and I’m curious: Where do you think it’s going? Is it still evolving?
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