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Interview: Slovak Bass Icon Juraj Griglak


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Q: When did you learn to play the bass?

A: My father chose for me to play classical upright bass; he was a clarinetist in symphony orchestra. I went to conservatory for six years and then four years at university. After finishing my studies, I started playing in the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and have been playing there for 25 years. I started playing bass guitar when I was 16. I taught myself to play because there was no school at that time to study bass guitar. I learned from listening. I transcribed the best bass players like Jaco Pastorius, Alain Caron, Stanley Clarke, Mark Buckingham, etc. The study of classic music on upright got me the technical skills I needed to improve on bass guitar.

Q: What made you passionate about the bass in general?

A: Bass guitar always fascinated me. When I saw a band was playing, I was always standing in front of the bassist, trying to learn his tricks and skills. I like how the bass gives the sense of harmony and completes the music. I like the emotional response of the people to the bass guitar. I like how the bass makes the rhythm for the music.

Q: Has jazz always been your preferred musical style? Did/do you listen to other genres? If so, what are they?

A: As a teenager I was fascinated with the Beatles. I owned all there albums. At age of 14, I loved hard rock like Deep Purple and through study at the conservatory I discovered the world of jazz rock and fusion (Return to Forever, Weather Report, Pastorius, later funk, and when I was 19, I start listening and playing jazz.

Q: What is the jazz scene in Slovakia like?

A: We have lots of high quality jazz musicians despite the fact there is no school for jazz. Over the the past few years there has been a lot of collaborations between the American and Slovak jazz musicians. We have very few big international jazz festivals. What is missing is no specific clubs for jazz, but only clubs for all music.

Q: Do you play any other instruments?

A: I've played piano since the age of 9. I studied piano through conservatory and academy. As a teenager, I played drums in a garage band, and I also played guitar, which my father gave me at the age of 13. It's good to play multiple instruments, because it's like knowing more than one language. For example, playing drums helped me to improve my rhythm and piano help me figure out harmony. On my new album Time to fly I recorded some guitar tracks.

Q: Did you compose all the tracks on Time to Fly?

A: I composed and arranged almost all tracks but two which I am co-author. Every musician should compose but some are not sure of themselves. To do it takes confidence; if they don't have it they wont do it. I think that composing music is a natural extension of someone who plays an instrument. I believe that every one has the ability to be creative. I even study composition but I am writing music by intuition, feeling, taste, and experience.

Q: Who is in your band and what instruments do they play?

A: In my band I have great Slovak musicians: Martin Valihora on drums; Michal Bugala on guitar; and Eugen Vizvary on keyboards. Often I call guests like Poogie Bell from Marcus Miller Band to play live. He also recorded on my new album Time to Fly with other great musicians like Patches Stewart from Marcus Miller's band and top Slovak trumpet player Juraj Bartos; drummer Jan Fabricky; percussionist Ajdzi Sabo; violin player Stano Paluch; keyboard player Adam Kuruc; singer Jana Vargova; and bassist Robert Vizvari.

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