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

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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AAJ: I would kill to be in the same room with those people. Even an interminable song like "Windmills of Your Mind" they made interesting because of the intellect and the poetic imagery.

DF: If I'm not mistaken, Marilyn told me that that was written after she'd had some kind of surgery. She said she remembered looking up, and feeling dizzy, and she kind of went out... Circles: I think that was the seed, that was the germ.

AAJ: Your dream gig is where and what?

DF: I'm gonna confess that I've played a couple of my dream gigs. I played with Herbie Hancock a few times—fantastic—and I love Ivan Lins' music, and I did a couple of records with him in Rio. I'm good with that stuff. I would love, just for a hoot, to sit in the bass section of the New York Philharmonic, or whatever great orchestra, and feel those super bassists around me, and be part of that machinery. I would love to play with James Taylor—I love James Taylor—and of course the other dream gig can't happen, with Frank Sinatra. I would have loved that. But as far as current stuff, I've done a handful of things that I've really liked a lot.

AAJ: The flip side is, what's your nightmare gig? The one you'd wake up screaming at the thought of having done it?

DF: Well, there'd be somebody scatting a really bad solo. I've done a few, but usually I found a way to learn something. If you can maintain your sense of humor, you can get through a lot of stuff. It's a good tool.

AAJ: And now for the requisite questions: Where's jazz going? What's your advice for the up-and-coming?

DF: As far as where it's going, it's a little hard to say because technology is so integrated with music now, there are new sounds and grooves—all kinds of new stuff. People don't have a sense of history, and so they don't realize the evolution, even just on my instrument. The stuff I play, I got from somebody, who got it from somebody, who got it from somebody else, before the technology was what it is today. But even along that path, it used to be tuba; then it was a bass thumping with shitty strings, and then there were decent gut strings, and then metal strings, and then gut strings with a certain kind of pickup.

Sonically, things have evolved. Harmonically, the language that we use? Essentially, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie invented the bebop stuff. And everything that comes after that, builds on that. As long as we're playing those chords, there are good and bad notes that go with chords. And you're gonna play the good ones. Sometimes I listen to that [radio] guy Phil Schaap, and those Charlie Parker solos, and I think, nobody's really caught him yet. And I love Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Everybody. Between Charlie Parker, Dizzy, John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, who had all the skills and language, Herbie Hancock...eight, nine guys who pretty much play everything, at least as far as the language goes. The nice thing about jazz is that individuals have their own sound and accent, and they put things together in their way. I know for myself, knowing what my influences are, I try to have a voice.

AAJ: So, who are your influences?

DF: On the bass? Paul Chambers. Eddie Gomez. George Mraz, Ron Carter. When you say Eddie Gomez and George Mraz you're kind of including Scott LaFaro and Jimmy Blanton, who were the earlier guys who played the bass in that way. Ron Carter's a big influence. There are some electric bass players too because I grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire records, and stuff like that. You get influenced by everything. Ray Brown, of course.

AAJ: Well, you're not going to reinvent the wheel.

DF: Jaco Pastorius did. When he came on the scene, everybody went, "What? Really?" He really started something. In some ways, I can hear the lineage Michael Brecker did, because he had something that influenced people who heard him, everyone who came after. Even David Sanborn, in his way.

AAJ: I saw Sanborn at Montreux in 1986 with Al Jarreau and Bob James. Levitated.

DF: He's like an R&B singer on the alto. It's really cool. With Michael Brecker, you could hear his Coltrane influence, but he had a special sound—that guy knew so much shit, unbelievable. I remember doing a record where there was a vamp, a one-chord vamp. He went on for like eight minutes, and never repeated anything, and you never got bored. I thought wow, one chord! I'm done in, like, eleven bars, and said everything I know. His language was so evolved.

AAJ: Why? How? Is that a genius thing?

DF: If I knew that... (laughs) I think certainly he spent a lot of time working out certain things. Randy, his brother's like that. Randy, here's two chords. OK. Ten minutes later, you're like, "Wow!" He's a wonderful improviser.

When you ask where is jazz going, it's kind of where it's been. Last night I played with Ken Peplowski, who's fantastic, and he put up the clarinet and we played "Slow Boat to China" which is an old song, and a great song.

Then I play with some people who, I like to say, "are in their own lane on the highway." Me and the drummer are chugging along, and it's feeling pretty good, and this tenor player is like, "are you on the same road?"

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