Oteil Burbridge: Long Live the Dead

Alan Bryson By

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Kofi's flute solos

"Oh my God, it's his first instrument, and I'm still trying to catch up to him. He knows so much musically. What a great gift that was to my dad, because they discovered at seven that Kofi had perfect pitch (laughing) so my dad was really psyched! That was a great confluence of events there, as far as my dad loving music so much, and then at seven finding out his son had perfect pitch. So he turned him on to all the greatest stuff, he had a huge library of music at the house. I obviously benefited from that too, from Kofi and my dad. I started playing the drums when I was five, I started playing earlier than that (laughing) but they got me drums so I would stop beating on everything else. I picked up bass guitar around 14, we all played piano at some point when we were young, and had piano lessons, and violin for me and my younger sisters. But Kofi had already taken off on the flute, so I don't think he ever had to do violin."

Acoustic bass

"It was always electric bass because I was into funk—well, I was into jazz on drums, and had studied it on drums. My brother Kofi actually bought the first bass guitar, and when he went away to school I picked it up. It was like Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament Funkadelic , and Stevie Wonder was what I wanted to play. That kind of stuff was just ubiquitous when we were growing up. Like so much jazz too, so I might not know who was the drummer or keyboard player was on this or that session, but all that stuff is so deeply ingrained in my head—because we heard it everyday."

"My dad wanted me to get into jazz, and I think my brother kind of used fusion as a bridge to jazz. So it started with funk and Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire were a bridge that took me to fusion, which then took me to jazz. But I never wanted to carry around an upright, and that wasn't my first love. My first love was Bootsy Collins and Verdine White, and Larry Graham—it was electric bass. To this day I still don't play upright bass."

"I own a broken one that a friend gave me (cracking up) and I still haven't had it fixed. But I've played other peoples, and it actually hurt my arms because its a different set of muscles, like in my right arm and forearm. If I went long enough, I'm sure it would go all the way down my back. And the left hand spacing is so different and alien to me, and I've always played fretted instruments. I never pursued fretless because there were so many Jaco (Pastorius) clones that I just went in a complete other direction."

Jaco with Joni Mitchell

"You know it's interesting you mention Joni Mitchell, because Joni Mitchell was the first folk music that I heard that I absolutely fell in love with. It was that album Blue and it's pretty much just her, I don't think there a band on the whole record. I absolutely fell in love with that record, and at the same time, I was about 17 years old, so I was already way into Jaco."

"And then I found out Joni and Jaco recorded together and it was like a tornado hit me, I'm like, are you kidding! In terms of emotion two of my favorite artists got together, and then I found out Wayne (Shorter) was on some of that, and I was like, oh my God. It just blew my mind. So it was such a great thing to me, here was someone with a totally different style of music, and she loves Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Jaco, Wayne, and Herbie. But getting back to your initial question, the first time I heard Jaco was when my brother Kofi turned me on to him. It was really over my head, he played me Jaco's first solo record."

"Donna Lee"

"Yeah, without a piano playing along I couldn't contextualize chord changes, but I'd heard the original and I knew it was right, but it was too early, I was like 14. But I was knocked out by Continuum it hit me very hard. But when I saw Jaco when I was 17 at Constitution Hall, that's when I decided I was going to become a musician."

"I'd been in love with Wayne (Shorter) for so long, and I'd been in love with Weather Report before Jaco joined the band. Wayne and Joe (Zawinul)—they were it, like Mount Rushmore guys you know. Those two plus Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, George Duke—they are my Mount Rushmore. Those bands, and the bassist Alphonso Johnson, and the drummers—everybody."

"So when I saw Jaco with Weather Report that night, when I was coming home, I thought, whatever the risk, and everybody said being a bassist is crazy, but I thought, these guys are doing it, and if I could get to a quarter of what they were doing it would be worth the risk. (Laughing) I guess that was me embracing the wine press at that moment."

"We always had known that Kofi was going to be a musician because he left Washington DC and went to the Carolina School of the Arts at the age of 14. My parents didn't let me go to music school I think—well I guess if I had really tried they might have let me, but they thought it was risky for two kids."

Sidwell Friends School

"Yeah I did, and it was that. And it's weird because we had this kind of dual upbringing, we lived in Anacostia, South East Washington, and anybody who knows the area, knows that's the legendary hood. So living there, and then going to Potomac School and Sidwell Friends with all these rich kids, whose parents were running the world, either in the corporate or government world (laughing) or the clandestine CIA—so it was an interesting and kind of fascinating upbringing. They did have a program, but there weren't any opportunities for us to play jazz, funk, or fusion, or anything else. I wasn't into school, I just wanted to get out and start playing. Music was all I cared about."

"Being There" with Peter Seller in 1979

"I watch it every once and awhile when it comes on, but it's actually been a pretty long time. That came about because Kofi used to do commercials and stuff and he went to Russia with this play called "Inherit the Wind" and they called him for an audition. Of course he wasn't there, so they asked, doesn't he have a little brother?"

"So then I joined central casting, and that was the big agency in DC for TV, movies, commercials, and local television. Usually it was for work as an extra, but you could get speaking parts too. That movie was made in Washington DC and Asheville, North Carolina. So I went in and auditioned."

"It was really fascinating, Peter Sellers came into our trailer and he told me and Ricky Keller that he had had four heart attacks, and said he'd died during one of them and that it was really beautiful. He then said he was going to die after the movie was made. We were like, 'Oh man, don't say that, that's terrible!' And he said, 'Don't feel bad for me, because I'm actually looking forward to it.' And he died right after that."
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