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

Dr. Judith Schlesinger By

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AAJ: I've seen that happen now and again. Where did the rhythm go? Suddenly the beat disappears, or something like that...

DF: It happens; we're human beings. What's really revealing to me is when you're doing the recording, and you're playing, and let's say there's a piano solo going on, and they stop the tape, so the bass and drums stop. The pianist is still playing his solo, and after awhile you realize he's not listening to anybody else but himself—otherwise he would have stopped, like the rest of us.

AAJ: That brings us back to the idea of ego, when the conversation becomes a monologue.

DF: Yeah, the ego thing is... problematic. But I know for myself when I play with Lewis Nash, and Lewis and I are just walking along, playing in four, and he does a little something in his left hand, and I know what it is, and I just look at him, and it feels good, I'm happy doing that. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

AAJ: Pianist Monty Alexander talked about "chasing the moment," when there's no more logic, and the music just flows among everyone. You can't make it happen, but some people have told me that if they get on the bandstand and they're angry, it's more likely to happen. It's almost as if they need a higher level of energy going in that somehow makes that pot more likely to boil.

DF: They say one of the reasons why Miles Davis's band, with Herbie, Ron, and Tony evolved the way it did because I think it was George Coleman used to play long solos, and eventually the guys would start mixing it up, instead of just playing along—maybe they were angry, I don't know, and at one point, Miles said, why don't you play like that under my solo? He wanted that kind of activity.

AAJ: They were more respectful, gave him more room?

DF: But it came from a reaction to somebody. And I asked Herbie Hancock about this: how did you guys do that? On those records, there are times when, all of sudden, they're over here... in a new thing... and he said, "we played together so much it was almost like an ESP. I might play one little thing, and Ron would play something, and we'd just know where we were going, really connected, and the interesting thing is a lot of people say Ron Carter was the anchor, holding down the fort while these guys went nuts. And I know he doesn't like that too much, but sometimes when I listen to those records, I feel that he's the one who actually ignites the flame. He started a lot of it. I'd have to ask him about it. I don't know him that well.

AAJ: I remember seeing Dizzy in 1986 at a little college in Yonkers, New York. Afterward people were milling around, and I heard somebody came up to him and said him, "Diz, you still got it!" And he said, "I'm still seekin' it!" And that's the kind of thing that keeps people playing 'til they're 90, and they finally drop. The challenge—this music has so many levels, and facets, and you can play it without thinking about any of this—but if you do, then there are suddenly all kinds of sparkles and shadows, and it's just endless.

DF: And when you look at it within the structure of a song—and I like playing structured music more than the free stuff—certain people are great at it, I'm just not—there's actually a lot of freedom, but you've really got to know the language.

When I started playing with Paquito D'Rivera, I got yelled at, 'cuz I'm like the gringo, and Paquito was nice enough to come and sing in my ear a traditional cha-cha-cha bass line.

AAJ: He's a very nice man.

DF: Wonderful. And a great musician. He'd repeat it to me, and I'd play it, til I got it. Some of the Brazilian guys did the same thing, so I started to get involved with that stuff, because in that music, you've got the structure of the song, and then you have rules about what you can and cannot play as far as the bass line that goes with the feel.

Because all of Latin music comes from Africa. They're African dances, basically, they evolved differently in different countries, because Africans were brought to be slaves, to cut sugar cane in Brazil, and their thing evolved there. It's different in Cuba and Puerto Rico, so that music has got additional structure, along with the harmonic stuff, even the spiritual.

AAJ: We haven't even gotten into the cultural thing. Aside from the harmonics and the chops and the musical lineage and who's playing and who's ESP-ing, there's a whole cultural and spiritual overlay. It's so complicated, and that's why it consumes people.

DF: My favorite jazz singer of all time? Frank Sinatra. I was thinking about it. Most people wouldn't think of him that way—and he probably wouldn't call himself a jazz singer—but he could swing as hard as any big tenor player, as far as I'm concerned.

AAJ: Interesting. My voice teacher always held him up as an example of what not to do.

DF: Really?

AAJ: He always ended phrases on a closed consonant, and you're not supposed to close to a consonant.

DF: Interesting.

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