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13

Stephan Crump: Giving Life to the Music

Tyler Henderson By

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I think it is such a challenging pursuit as far as a life pursuit, as a career pursuit, that you wind up only doing it if you have to, for your sanity,” he said. “I think we should all have music in our lives…
Stephan Crump is a bassist with many talents, his skills ranging from funk and rock to straight ahead jazz and folk. The Grammy-nominated artist cut his teeth on the New York City jazz scene, working there since the 1990s. He's been a collaborator and a bandleader, working with the likes of Vijay Iyer, Ashford & Simpson, Billy Hart, Johnny Copeland and more. He makes music with his wife, vocalist Jen Chapin, and works with his own Rosetta Trio. Their most recent album, Thwirl, was released in 2013 and received high marks in the jazz community. He's also been recognized as a composer, writing music for his own groups and for television and movies. His compositions can be heard in Mirimax, HBO, Showtime and Simple Focus films.

Crump grew up in a house with a lot of music, in a community that has strong musical ties. "In the 70s in Memphis there was still a lot of music around, a lot of live music that I was exposed to and just a lot of creativity in general." His mother was a classical pianist, his father an architect and amateur drummer, a "jazz fanatic... constantly spinning really, really great records," he said.

"It was immersion, I didn't necessarily at the time realize I was listening so much, I didn't think of it like that," he said. "I went to sleep every night to my dad's record player on the other side of the wall spinning Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, MJQ and Phineas Newborn, Jr...."

Crump had always wanted to play the bass, but like many other musicians, he was saved when his mother made him start on piano at the age of six. "I was upset about at the time, and now I thank her," he said. "That's still part of every day for me."

At the age of 13 he got his first electric bass and started learning rock tunes to play with his older brother. They would play Led Zeppelin, Rush, the Police and more before getting into blues and funk. "A lot of my influences at that time directly were in that realm, and also Stevie Wonder who was my first love musically," he said.

But he eventually made his way to jazz, and in high school began to transcribe basslines off of his father's records. "I just couldn't figure out how these guys were coming up with their lines, I didn't even understand the starting point," he said. "That's when I decided I needed to get serious about investigating that music."

That study began with jazz theory lessons from a Memphis State guitar professor while he was in high school. "Studying the music, trying to understand what were the underpinnings, the points of departure for those bassists I was enamored with," Crump said. "In those earlier times, I think it was about learning about the harmonic information that was presented and learning the bass lines note for note, seeing how that represented navigation of those harmonies and support of the song. Once I started to get to more sophisticated levels of understanding, (I saw) how those lines could become a song within the song, something that stands on its own that takes you on a journey unto itself all while supporting the song and the other musicians who are playing, both being supportive and adding interest and layers of meaning to the piece, which is ultimately what I'm trying to do when I play."

Like many jazz musicians who idolize their jazz heroes, modeling after their playing, Crump took the time to work through old lines from the musicians who came before him.

"There's also playing along with the records and trying to understand the feel of (the tune)," he continued. "What's the groove, what's the rhythmic tension or polarity that's happening in any given piece. That's what's really giving life to the music. The rest you can analyze technically and it's all valid and interesting, but what is the heartbeat?"

He worked his way through the musical landscape while at Amherst College in Massachusetts, starting by picking up an upright bass for the first time. He got his chance when he found an upright in the corner of a practice room collecting dust. He then met someone who would be instrumental in his musical future; Ricardo Quinones, a guitarist and songwriter from Brooklyn.

"He had weekly gigs in the West Village," he said. "He'd bring me down to the city once a week, hire a drummer and rhythm guitarist from the scene to play with us and we'd play a four hour gig from 10-2 and drive back to Amherst in time for class the next morning. It was thrilling for me to get a taste of the level of musicianship that was happening in New York."

"It was working, I was not only thrilled to be playing with people on that level, but they were enjoying playing with me," he said. "I got a sense that it was something I could step up to, and I certainly got the sense that it was something that I wanted and needed to step up to."

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Stephan Crump's Rhombal

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Papillon Sounds
2017

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2017

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Stephan Crump's Rhombal

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2016

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Thwirl

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2014

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