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Janek Gwizdala: Cooking Up A Little Bass Magic

Ian Patterson By

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I think that having any modicum of virtuosity in your playing comes with a huge responsibility not to use it all the time —Janek Gwizdala
Virtuosity is not something innate but is rather the result of years of dedication to one's instrument. English-born, Los Angeles-based electric bassist/composer Janek Gwizdala certainly qualifies as a virtuoso but he's the first to acknowledge that the learning—and the practice—never ends. Gwizdala knows that great technical ability, however, doesn't automatically equate with great music, and his seven recordings as a leader to date are testament to his drive to put the tune before ego-driven displays of dazzling chops.

Gwizdala's CDTheatre By The Sea (Self Produced, 2013) brings together an impressive array of musicians in service of the bassist's highly melodic tunes. Trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist Mike Stern, trumpeter/trombonist Elliot Mason, drummer Peter Erskine, pianist Alan Pasqua and vocalist Lizzy Loeb are part of a stellar cast that Gwizdala wrote the music especially for. It's an accessible and beautifully relaxed session that covers broad stylistic terrain, from wordless ballad to funk grooves and the flavors of the Mediterranean.

Gwizdala's lyricism as a bassist and a writer is central to the music and he shows the musicality that made him one of the most in-demand bassists in New York for the ten years he spent there. For the past six years Gwizdala has made Los Angeles his home. The move from the jazz capital of the world to LA was a question of lifestyle; for Gwizdala, lifestyle, physical well-being and maintaining a positive attitude towards life are essential to succeed in the business of making music—music that lasts.

All About Jazz Although you are renowned as a virtuosos bassist, the music on Theatre By The Sea, like all your albums, focuses on melody and songwriting; would you say that's what you're most interested in as a musician?

Janek Gwizdala I think I'm most interested in the long term and what lasts in music. If you think back to the 1700's—although they unfortunately didn't have any hi-tech recording devices back then—there must have been virtuoso musicians, and incredible performances, but what lives on from that is melody and composition. Even when you look back as far as recorded music goes, I think it's the writing that lives on through other people's interpretations, rather than some crazy solo or virtuosic chops within the music. I think that having any modicum of virtuosity in your playing comes with a huge responsibility not to use it all the time.

AAJ: The most notable bit of soloing on Theatre By The Sea , on the composition "Erdnase" evokes guitarist Pat Metheny's lyricism; is Metheny an influence on you?

JG: Pat is a huge influence on me. I've transcribed many of his solos and listened to almost everything he's ever recorded in great depth. I've found myself having to refrain from listening to him for the past few years to make sure the influence on my playing and my music isn't overwhelming.

AAJ: Have you ever played with Metheny?

JG: I did work with Pat once for a radio show back in 2007, and I couldn't sleep afterwards. I would just lay there at night with my eyes wide open thinking about the feeling of his time. Being in a room with him, playing with him that close, it was definitely a life changing experience, and something I think about on a regular basis when it comes to motivation to work on time, sound, and melody.

AAJ: In general, are you chiefly inspired by other bassists, or by any musicians/songwriters?

JG:Enter the album name hereI'm rarely inspired by other bassists and am conscious of not over-listening to them, even when I'm a huge fan. Jaco [Pastorius] would be an obvious example for instance. I was so into Jaco, and still am of course, how could you not be with that infectious sound, time feel, and lyricism? But for 10 years I've hardly listened to his music at all, specifically because it's such a huge part of my life and a massive influence on me. There are just way too many bass players who cannot leave that style alone, and end up stunting their growth as a unique voice when such a huge influence hangs over them on a daily basis. It really doesn't matter what genre of music you're into, or who your hero is. I pick Jaco because he's such a huge influence on the world of music in general.

AAJ: It's amazing how influential he still is given his relatively short life?

JG: Absolutely. He helped shape modern music with a relatively small number of recordings, and he had a tragically short life. I marvel at this constantly and I'm always reminded of how important his compositional contribution to the world has been. I aspire to make similar contributions through my writing more so than my playing.

AAJ: Do what degree are you self taught?

JG: Well, after the initial influences of my classical guitar teacher Peter Woodings when I was a teenager, and then the mentorship of [bassist] Laurence Cottle when I first picked up the bass, a large chunk of the work has been done on my own. I think this is a similar story for most musicians that make a career of what they do and there's really no way around it. A teacher can't teach you taste or opinion. Those are things you find on your own. They help shape your voice and your sound, and they inspire you to fill your practice routine with relevant material.

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