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David Finck: The Bass, Scatting Offenses, and the Back Hoe

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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Many singers and instrumentalists... make themselves more important than the song. And I listen and think, 'you're doing to be dead in 40 years, but that song is forever.' You need to kind of honor that.
David Finck is not only a first-call bassist with a long resume of high-profile recordings and gigs, but he's one of the most versatile musicians on any instrument. Finck has been in the studio, touring, and/or sharing the world's greatest stages with everyone from Andre Previn to Ivan Lins, Woody Herman to Natalie Cole and Kenny Rankin, and Elton John and George Michael. He's on all four of Rod Stewart's platinum albums.

In recent years Finck has expanded his considerable gifts to producing, arranging, and songwriting. His first solo CD, Future Day, came out in 2007 on Soundbrush Records. That David Finck Quartet included Joe Locke, vibraphone; Tom Ranier piano, and Joe La Barbera, drums; there were also special guests Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Bob Sheppard on reeds.

Finck's Low Standards CD, released in June of 2017 and his second for Soundbrush, includes two of his own tunes, one of which (the title track) he even sings. James Gavin, author of the acclaimed Chet Baker bio, Deep in a Dream, has described Finck as "an artist of exceptional taste, elegance, and heart." Finck is also thoughtful, opinionated and witty, as the following interview will show.

All About Jazz met with Finck soon after he produced the Tom Wopat CD, I've Got Your Number, featuring an elaborate brass and string section (LML Music, 2012). He handed a copy to our interviewer, Dr. Judith Schlesinger.

All About Jazz: (perusing CD): Thanks. And you're producing this one?

David Finck: Why not? You play on enough people's records that are poorly done. I'm proud of this one. He's a very good singer.

AAJ: Why does his name sound familiar? He's Broadway, isn't he?

DF: And "Dukes of Hazzard," in the '70s. He and John Schneider are both good singers, they've both done theater. I met Tom when I did a Broadway show years ago called "City of Angels," which was a great show by Larry Gelbart and Cy Coleman; the arrangements were by Billy Byers. Tom was in it at one point. That was like, '91.

AAJ: There's such a lack of great male vocalists around these days —people seem more interested in being hip than musical.

DF: And that's never hip. As drummer Kenny Washington once said to me, "Don't be too hip, 'cause two hips make an ass."

AAJ: (laughs)

DF: I started producing records because I was involved in so many inefficiently produced ones, and it drives me crazy. I did all those Rod Stewart standard records.

AAJ: You had to sit through them all?

DF: It was not easy. It was a grueling process. We were there for hours doing 100 takes of a song. The record cost 1.2 million. Of course it went multi-platinum, so what do I know?

AAJ: Just because it was Stewart?

DF: Yeah. And there was a lot of machinery behind it. Anyway, I did enough of them to know how to do it. It really becomes diminishing returns: after you've recorded the song four times, if you don't have it, stop.

AAJ: And now, the standard question: if you hadn't been a musician, what might you have been? I know you started young.

DF: Well, I might have been a writer. I like language. And the other thing I always liked—a fantasy, really—is construction. When I walk through the streets of New York, and see one of those cranes—it's a big Tonka toy, basically. I've always been amazed. Not the architecture as much as watching these guys actually do it. It's fantastic.

AAJ: So, you'd like to run a crane?

DF: I don't know. Years ago, I built a house. I didn't do it, they just let me run the back hoe. We were burying some old cement in the yard, which you were allowed to do if you buried it deep enough. The guy showed me how to do it, and I was thinking, "Perfect! Who needs the bass?" Then I went over to the neighbor's house, and I said, "You want me to move those rocks? I got this great machine, and I'm groovin' here!" I might have done something like that.

AAJ: How do you get these high-profile gigs that you get? Aside from being such a great and reliable player, of course.

DF: I don't have a whole room, with all four walls, full of records, like some people—Adam Nussbaum, the drummer—so I'm not really an historian, but I did wear out some of the great and important jazz records. I think I went through three copies of Milestones before I got it on CD. I could sing everybody's solo. When you really digest it, that's great.

It's funny. I remembering watching my children: they could watch the same video over and over. They didn't even know what it meant, but they'd learn every line and every move and even background sounds. They'd really digest it. That's what you have to do, to really "get it."

I also remember seeing Peter O'Toole interviewed by Charlie Rose, and Rose asked, "Would you ever go back to Covent Garden?" [The famous London theater district]. And O'Toole said, using some expletives I don't remember, "it took me 75 times to start to understand Macbeth. I had to do it 75 times before I really owned it, and I'm not going to allow some 29-year-old who saw some shitty video tell me what to do." It's the same thing: he digested it.

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