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Oteil Burbridge: Long Live the Dead

Alan Bryson By

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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."

"He called it man. I had no idea how heavy it was until much later. And the funny thing is, it's another crazy irony, much later when I met Col. Bruce his whole philosophy is really wrapped up in a nutshell by that movie."

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