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Rufus Reid: Composer, Educator, Bassist, Gait Keeper… And Prophet

David Hadley Ray By

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AAJ: You have made quite a considerable mark as a bassist, an educator, and a composer of tremendous scope and depth. Do you feel that any one of those skills has exerted a more domineering influence over your other, exceedingly prodigious skills? I mean, has being a bassist, heavily influenced your writing, or is being a composer more than influencing your bass playing?

RR: As I said before, the writing is definitely influencing my bass playing. It's probably better, from a "soloing" point of view but, even as an ensemble player, playing bass lines in a supportive role, I think differently. Meaning, the shape of the line as opposed to just notes, or making the chord changes. Because I can play things that, if someone were to transcribe it, they would say, "those notes aren't in the scale that go to that chord." If you take it out of context, it's just stuff but, if you listen to the whole thing, it makes more sense. When you actually play music, chords, and scales, that's just information. It's like a dictionary, it's just got a bunch of words in it. You've got to put things in a way [so] that people can understand what you're trying to say. So, you have to learn to speak more clearly. You can yell at people, or you can whisper at people. You can be forceful and not be loud etc. All of these things can be done musically so, I'm thinking more along the lines of "How" as opposed to "Why."

AAJ: So you don't think virtuoso technique is necessary to mine the depths of emotional content?

RR: No, absolutely not. It doesn't mean it can't, but that's not the impetus to be successful at whatever it is that you're trying to do. My bass playing has gotten me into places because people like the sound that I get, or better yet, people like the consistency that I get. That's why they call again, and again, and again. Because they already assume that it's going to be as good as what they remember, and when it's better...

AAJ: Then they call you again.

RR: Then they call you again, and again. So, the bass playing, and my experiences of all of the people I've been fortunate to work with, I bring them to the gig, everywhere I go. Do I use them all? I don't know, but collectively, I just do what I do. I don't try to be better than what they remember, I just try to play the music. (sheepish grin) and I really don't care if you like it or not.

AAJ: Since you've had such a long and varied career, stretching back from the '60s, '70s, etc., Have you ever felt that issues of race or color ever influenced your career or put up/removed barriers for you, or anyone that you worked for? Incidents that you possibly witnessed firsthand and feel free to discuss? I mean, I'm aware that music transcends issues of race or color, but it would be foolish of me to not acknowledge, in my own experiences, that sometimes people aren't as "big" as the music itself, generally speaking. Is it something you feel comfortable illuminating or discussing for people such as myself?

RR: That's an interesting question, however, I would have to say no. Being raised in California... (thoughtful pause) Actually, when I went into the military, I probably experienced more segregation in the military but, that's because they yanked all of us from different parts of the country and put us together (laughs). And you had hours, if not days to figure that **** out. (laughs all around) So, I have never felt... I'm sure that I've been discriminated against, but not in a rude way. I guess I've been very fortunate there but, I've always known who I was, and what I wasn't. It's kind of funny now.

In Sacramento, I remember I was maybe 15 or 16 years old, there was a neighborhood. I used to walk to a theatre, and there was a barber shop, and I remember my mom said, "you need a haircut." So, there was a barber shop, and I walked in and he said, "we don't cut ya'lls hair." I said, "Oh, okay." I left, It was a white barber shop but, I think about that now, I mean, it can't be the first time I had a haircut?! But, I never thought about it. I mean, he wasn't rude to me. He just said, "I don't cut your hair." At least, I didn't think it was rude. I mean, I would've remembered that, I think. And we went to a high school where it was, you know, a mixed class. There were some Mexicans, Italians, you know, It was mixed in California. So I never had any issues.

And even in Japan, I saw it more vividly, but it still never affected me because... it just never did. In terms of not being able to do something because I was [An Afro American male], because when I was in the military I was playing in Montgomery Alabama, and I was the only black person in the band. And one of the saxophone players said, "Oh man, you sound good! Just play." He was at least ten years older than me and he could swing! He was kind of like a Zoot Sims or Al Cohn kind of player. You see, I could play my letters, but he liked the way it felt so, when we played, I learned a lot from him and we had fun. It wasn't about, "let's get this black kid to play with us." It was, let's get Rufus to play, because the cat that was the other bassist, the white guy, he was a tuba player, and he could care less! And he couldn't swing if you gave him a rope! So, here I am in Montgomery Alabama and I'm not feeling any issues, Phew! (sigh of relief) I had to go on the black side of town to see Ike and Tina Turner. You know, the Blacks lived over there and you had to go downtown. I was down there during the bombings in Birmingham. I was down there when Kennedy was assassinated.


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