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

David Hadley Ray By

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AAJ: I'm going to mention a name and I'd like for you to tell me what instantly comes to mind... with the caveat of only a few words.

RR: Okay...

AAJ: James Moody.

RR: He makes me smile. (long pause) Wow. Incredible. James Moody was an incredible human being, and a monster musician.

AAJ: Dexter Gordon.

RR: A huge presence of Power.

AAJ: Eddie Harris.

RR: Brilliant, Eddie was up on so much. We went to Bob Moog's house together (smiles). He and Bob Moog were tight, they dug each other.

Wires would be in the whole length of the room! Shoot, I used to play through a ring modulator, an echoplex, before the digital... that was the pre-digital delay stuff, you know? We used to travel with a little recorder, the echoplex. I mean, we were all plugged up in some way man! (laughs all around)

AAJ: That's funny!

AAJ: Okay, How about this person, "The Evolving Bassist?"

RR: Still evolving. I don't know.

AAJ: Is he/she a futurist? An evolutionist?

RR: Yeah, There's a natural evolution there.

AAJ: So, the "evolution" of the Evolving Bassist, (laughter) is a "natural" evolution! I like that one! So, I'll stay on that...

AAJ: So, what do you practice?

RR: I practice what I need to get done, I don't practice like I used to when we were just learning how to get it all together. It's more important for me to practice for projects. Like, I'm taking a band into Dizzy's, and it's my music. And I had to practice my music, so that I don't sound worse than the cats who are going to be playing but, I challenge myself when I write music that I have to play. And I just did a project with other bass players. It was an avant-garde thing with Mark Dresser, and we were at The Stone in New York. And there were eleven of us, and he sent six or seven pages of stuff, through-composed, playing harmonics, doing all kinds of stuff. And we all had to practice. I mean, just to get to it on our own. You see, when people send you music to practice before the rehearsal, I learned that a long time ago if anybody sends you music ahead of time, I think it'd be wise for you to look at it before you get there.

So, if you have the luxury of looking at something before you actually have to rehearse it, or play it, then you practice it, you actually dissect it. I mean for me, practicing now, I've learned how to dissect, and I can go to the source pretty quick, and literally start slow and get it up to where the time is. So, I practice things that are present that I need to look at. I would like to say I practice every day doing the maintenance, but yes and no. I have a bass in my bedroom. I don't have a cover on it, so I can actually touch it and work on some things, I can do them kind of quickly. So, there are a lot of ways to practice.

AAJ: I know that you write using the piano, which is the "Mecca," I mean, the "be-all" for composers throughout history but, do you use anything like Mac's or Finale?

RR: Yes, I use Finale, I've had Finale since 2.0, but I thought I was computer literate enough that I could compose with the computer, with the programs, and all that. And 99% of it sounded crappy, or it would crash, or something would happen.

AAJ: It got in the way of your creativity.

RR: Yes, so I said, "this is not good." And then when I got with the BMI Composer's Workshop, all the guys... all the heavy guys, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Slide Hampton, Thad Jones, Muhal Richard Abrams. These are some of my heroes. They all used pencil and eraser. And my coaches, Jim McNeely... We are very close friends. He's a wonderful pianist, but this guy is a hell of a composer and my composition guru. He was the coach at BMI. Bob Brookmeyer was one of the beginner's at BMI's composer's workshop, and they'd always talk about using a pencil and eraser. They'd say, "get a big eraser." And some people write real light. I write hard so, when you erase, you can still see the imprint. But, when you delete, it's gone. I mean, yeah, you can save it or give it another name. Save it again, give it another name, but you gotta go find it, [And then] go through ten different files and still not see what you're looking for. So, I use my pencil and paper to score, and when I'm happy, then it's like data entry. Then I'll listen to it and I'll say "yeah, that'll work." When I did that more consistently, instead of trying to edit stuff and then trying to print it and put it into Finale [things were easier]. I use to have... What was the name of it? It was a sequencer... Performer!

AAJ: Oh, yeah! I remember that.

RR: Right, at that time, I mean, I used to take lessons one on one. That's when Finale, that's when they began to go through all of their changes. Because you couldn't hear what you were writing, or it sounded just god awful. But the sequencer was much more powerful because it actually was faster. You could hear it in time, and I thought you had to have both. And in fact, at one time, you did have to have both in order for it to really work. But usually, I can't-do anything without pencil and paper and then I'll just dump it into Finale. Finale's gotten better since Sibelius.

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