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

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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AAJ: So you need to digest jazz to really understand it.

DF: For me, you listen to the same record nine million times, no matter what it is. When it's really great music, you keep hearing different things each time. Wow, I didn't hear that thing on the cymbal before... It's fantastic stuff. It's language.

AAJ: I know that's a favorite theme of yours.

DF: You're talking about who you most enjoy hearing: the guys that really phrase, and say something to you, in a language that you understand.

AAJ: I think that blazing stuff is showing off for other musicians, like, "look how I've been practicing!" I find that boring.

DF: Years ago I played at a festival in Moscow, Idaho with Paquito D'Rivera. We were playing a lot of Latin jazz, fast and furious. There was another great bassist there, Brian Bromberg, incredible facility. Then Ray Brown came out—he was the headliner—and played eight quarter notes in a row, and the audience got up out of their seats, like it was a Beatles concert. They were all screaming. He was such a force. And he didn't play anything fancy. He was perfectly capable, that guy, of playing the shit out of the bass—but he got right to them with his feel, which was bigger than life. Fantastic!

I do hear it as a language, and I've worked with a lot of singers who are capable of being the best communicators, and at the same time, the worst offenders.

AAJ: Describe what makes a "worst offender."

DF: Well... I'm not a fan of scatting, for starters. I feel like, if you're a singer and you've got a good voice, you can say the most to the listener. And if you really understand the narrative, the musical and poetic language, and the way a really great song works—a [Richard] Rogers and Lorenz Hart song, or even a Carole King and Gerry Goffin song...

AAJ: Or a Marilyn and Alan Bergman song.

DF: Marilyn and Alan, absolutely. And Johnny Mandel. If you can really communicate those things, that's everything. And as soon as they start scatting, I'm thinking, "Why don't you just pick up the horn and really learn how to play, learn all the stuff that Sonny Stitt had to learn, or any of those guys?" It sounds silly to me, most of the time, even with some iconic singers.

AAJ: Like Ella Fitzgerald?

DF: Even Ella. And she was a wonderful singer. I'm not taking anything away from her, but it sounds silly to me. That whole thing. I liked when Clark Terry did it...

AAJ: He was so funny when he was "Mumbles."

DF: He also could play what he sang. Chet Baker too. I kind of liked Al Jarreau sometimes, over that kind of swing-y funk he did in the early '80s, that "Roof Garden" stuff.

AAJ: Like his "Take Five."

DF: I heard him do that live, he was incredible.

AAJ: Me too: Montreux Jazz Festival, 1986.

DF: But it's usually "Scooby doo." Drummer Lewis Nash used to call it "yabba dabba do." Cmon, you know.

AAJ: There's lots of gimmicks in music. In jazz, it's partly because there's such continuing confusion about what it really is. People are always constructing new models and incorporating more things, trying to shore it up, because they see it as ill-defined and threatened. Then they say, well, THIS is jazz now. We finally got it.

DF: It's interesting that you say it that way. Yeah, there's truth in that.

AAJ: The fact is, it's always been just 2% of the market. This isn't new.

DF: There are elements of jazz in a lot of music that we hear, that we don't consider jazz. It was funny: I did a concert at the Kennedy Center with Annie Lennox. She was one of the people on the bill; she had that big hit song, "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This," the Eurythmics tune (he sings). Herbie Hancock was also on this thing, and he played piano on that song, and he played just the way her record was. She showed him what was on the record, basically—many grade levels below what he's capable of—and he played the thing, and then he put his little spin on it when it was appropriate. He didn't drive off the road, he just brought an element of jazz to pop music, the way he played the 8th notes. It was fantastic!

So it's always in there, you hear it. The definitions are tricky. I used to be much more strict about what I thought was jazz, and what wasn't. I used to think jazz had to do with the way the eighth notes feel; it's swinging. Swinging comes with jazz. But then, I don't know—I heard Snoop Dogg, and he has a swing feel to his rap. It was great. Even though it was funky, it was kind of jazz-like.

AAJ: So, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing?

DF: In a sense. But then there's the influence of Latin and Brazilian music, which is now part of the language of jazz.

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