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Conversation with Charnett Moffett

Franz A. Matzner By

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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?

CM: I certainly hope so! You’ve got a lot of wonderful players out there, which I think is so healthy. I know there’s always the thing of wanting to have a style or something that separates you from everyone else, but it’s not meant...to disrespect any of the other players. I think it’s about realizing that we’re all musicians and we’re all trying to speak our voice through our art, and enjoy our lives, and hopefully we should be trying to give people joy through our music no matter who we are... So the only thing I can really tell you is that I’m trying to be honest with the things I hear and the way I hear the music, the way I’ve been taught and raised into this music. I was always taught to be yourself. You have to know your history, but you have to go forward also. That’s one of the great things about working with McCoy. He has such a great lineage throughout the music from his beginning to where he is now. I remember talking to him about themes of this subject matter, and he said, ‘Sometimes you gotta go like the palm tree. You have to be able to flow with things. In a storm, you have to bend to this side, and sway back to the other side.’ [That’s] very evident in his playing. Now it’s bringing out another element of my playing. To be able to be grounded and centered, but also to be able to go with whatever happens with respect to wherever we are in the composition. Because what happens a lot of times is, we’ll be playing a standard or even a blues and we’ll be playing the tune and we’ll improvise off of the form of the changes of the song. Then out of nowhere, McCoy will go on this extended creative run that will have everything to do with the tune in terms of the melodic and harmonic structure, yet free of the form. It keeps me on my toes because I have to accompany him in a way that’s appropriate without being selfish because it’s always about putting the music first so you can make the best choices and the best sound that’s harmonious with the environment. So that’s the wonderful thing about playing music...it really brings people together. It’s a very exciting thing for me to be a part of because it’s creatively inspiring and musically interesting.

FM: I’m curious if you practice any other art forms?

CM: Music is already hard enough!

(Laughter.)

FM: Good answer.

CM: Basically, the more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable you are with others. And sometimes understanding yourself can be the most difficult thing in the world. Because you are constantly changing. Not because you don’t have a focus point, but because you are seeking new ideas and information all the time. So if you’re interested—so if you have that way of wanting to live—then you know that you’re constantly in a search. That was one of the great things about playing that composition—“The Search”—on the Land of Giants. That’s basically why I’m having a great time with McCoy right now. The things I’m interested in developing in my life, not only musically, but personally—they all coincide with each other—basically, he’s already gotten to a point where he understands these things and I’m trying to take the opportunity to learn and grow from him... We talk about all sorts of things. Sports. Whatever is going on, the current events of the day. It’s all a part of what influences you musically. In terms of other art forms that I’m studying presently, I’d have to say no, but I’ve got my hands full trying to understand the art form of music in it’s complete form.

FM: Outside of music, what do you do when you’re bored?

CM: Play. Play some more music. (Laughing.) Because if you’re bored, that means there’s something you should play that you haven’t played yet. You know what I mean? Everybody wants to sound good when they play, but actually the best time to sound bad is when you’re practicing because then you can work on something that you haven’t done yet. Then you can add that to your vocabulary. So...you have more information to express and share with others.

FM: If you could play with any musician, any genre, who would it be?

CM: I’m kind of playing with them now. I’ve been very, very fortunate. Really, I have. I’ve played with some of the greatest musicians ever to play jazz, so there’s a big responsibility. I’ve got to get there. I have to get more understanding. I have to keep pushing ahead...if I favor one group or one style, it seems like I’m closing the door on something else. Anyone who really plays well is really my answer at this point. Of course, I have respect for people like Ravi Shankar. I’d like to check that out. Play in an environment like that. Or maybe something else in a more rock element. Someone out there who’s open-minded toward artistic freedom. There are many people out there I’d like to play with, but more importantly, I’m interested in developing a style of music with my own identity—sometime in the future—that will incorporate all of the different elements I’ve been influenced by to date.

FM: Do you have anything you’re particularly into playing?

CM: I think what happens sometimes when I’m doing too many—well, not too many, ‘cause artists, we never have enough work—but I think sometimes when we’re in one environment for too long you miss things. Like if I’m swinging all the time, I may miss funkin’ out because I do enjoy that. Or I may miss playing rock. Or if I’m playing rock, I may say, ‘I haven’t been swingin’ in a while’. I just like to get technically better so that I can maybe go into some other arenas eventually. For example, I love classical music. But there’s a serious commitment that you have to be prepared to make in order to play that music to its highest level. There are all sorts of things. That’s why I think it’s more important for me to think on the compositional level right now. As opposed to as just a bassist or a soloist. So that I can write these ideas that may be improvised and incorporate them into a concept that may develop into something new. I don’t think you try to do something new, I think you just be yourself and express the music as you hear it, and if there’s something unique to it, or that people can relate to, then great. If not, at least you know you expressed yourself the way you wanted.

FM: Have you been working on composition lately?

CM: Well, unfortunately it’s like anything else. I haven’t had time to work on that lately. I don’t think I’ve ever even toured with my own group yet. After playing for twenty years in this business, in a lot of ways, I’m just starting. Which is a good thing! New things to look forward to in life.

FM: It would be terrible if it was the other way around. Twenty years into it and you’re done.

CM: Exactly. You just have to make the best of each situation, and keep moving on forward.
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