As the heart of the rhythm section, the bass is the center of any jazz ensemble and, in ways, the most important of the jazz instruments. It is, therefore, something of an irony that jazz bassists are known not so much for their own performances as for the horn players and pianists with whom they share the spotlight. With this measure in mind, Bob Magnusson must be counted as one of today's most successful jazz bassists. He has performed with the likes of Art Pepper, Slide Hampton, and some of the other greatest names in jazz. In addition, he has performed occasionally with such pop stars as Natalie Cole, Neil Diamond, and Linda Ronstadt. An examination of his discography alone, with more than 150 recording credits, would be exhaustive. Magnusson speaks of these achievements in an almost off hand manner as though it were a commonplace thing to perform with Benny Golson or Mark O'Connor.
He remains a sought after bassist for performing and recording. Last year Magnusson performed for a concert recording in Mountainview, California, with pianist John Hicks and drummer Roy McCurdy. He recently recorded with tenor saxophonist legend Bud Shank, Dave Evans, and fellow San Diegan and pianist Mike Wofford. He is also featured on a 2005 live recording release, Bouncing With Bud and Phil, featuring Shank and fellow saxophone great Phil Woods. This year brings dates with Shank in Portugal and other places in Europe. At the time of this interview he was in the process of recording, along with Sue Rainey, Terry Harrington, and Jack Sheldon, with screen star Wilford Brimley. 'He sings!' says Magnusson, revealing the surprise he found in the movie star's other talent. 'And he just charms you to death.'
The bass came to Magnusson in high school when he picked up an electric bass to play in his brother's blues band. The double bass was his next instrument after he heard Miles Davis' sublime classic, Kind of Blue, and fell in love with jazz. Soon thereafter Magnusson accompanied jazz euphonium player Gus Mancuso to Las Vegas. In this Disneyland for adults Magnusson shared the stage with Mancuso and began performing with other top jazz artists, including trumpeter Bobby Shew, and played in a number of show bands that are heavily featured in the entertainment capital.
At the age of 21, Magnusson got an opportunity that older, more experienced, performers would gladly line up for. Buddy Rich hired him as his bassist. 'It wasn't because of my knowledge of jazz, but I could read every chart he had,' he says, explaining how he, as such a greenhorn, secured the position.