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Third Annual Double Bass Summit Live At Dizzy's

Robert Bush By

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San Diego Double Bass Summit
Dizzy's
San Diego, California
July 25, 2010

The greater San Diego area has long been deep in double bass talent, eight of whom were on stage at Dizzy's for the third annual bass summit. Organized and emceed by Rob Thorsen, (who had to manage on crutches as the result of a motorcycle accident). Thorsen who has played with alto saxophone master Charles McPherson, and flautist Holly Hoffman is a jazz bassist comfortable in many settings—including those of "summit organizer," This event featured four of the areas top "mainstream" jazz players; two musicians widely known in the avant-garde and new music world; and two musicians from the classical field. These are just labels, however, because one of the lessons learned from this event was how much these players specialties crossed over and into each others spheres.



Many of these players studied at one time with Bertram Turetzky who has been a dominant force in 20th Century classical music for more than fifty years. Turetzky is pioneer of the solo bass repertoire and has had over 300 compositions written specifically for him to perform. In addition to all of his classical music accomplishments, Turetzky has been involved in jazz and klezmer music for years as well. He has appeared in concert with symphonies and as a solo performer in cities around the world. He has also worked with Charles Mingus, and recorded with multi-reed specialist Vinny Golia, trombonist George Lewis and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith among many others.

The concert began with the jazz bassists. First up, local stalwart Gunnar Biggs who has been on the San Diego scene for over thirty years. Biggs first toured the country with drummer Buddy Rich. He leads his own groups and plays regularly with pianist/singer Mose Allison and guitarist Peter Sprague. He performed in trio with pianist Joshua White and drummer Duncan Moore, on a Biggs original, "Reasoning With Rodents" from his album Footprint (SBE Records, 2009). This was an upbeat, bop tune that featured his intricate melodic sense and hardcore solo chops. White on piano and Moore on drums were excellent, providing expert support for all of the featured bassists they accompanied.

Next up was virtuoso Bob Magnusson, perhaps the best known of the San Diego double bass players. His c.v. is ridiculously thick: he has the distinction of having recorded with everyone from Art Pepper, to Madonna. He has also been a member of the San Diego Symphony to name just a few of his experiences. Magnusson is well known for his "sound": it's warm and liquid and his tone is such that every note seems to sing. He chose a ballad by Jimmy Van Heusen, "The Second Time Around" which he dedicated to his wife. Magnusson has 'monster chops" that he uses with great taste.

Immediately following Magnusson was a rare San Diego appearance by Marshall Hawkins who teaches up north at the Idyllwild Arts Academy. Hawkins has been so good, for so long, he toured with Miles Davis sixties quintet. Since then, he has worked with tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and recorded with alto saxophonist Richie Cole and drummer Eric Gravatt. Hawkins led White and Moore through a very oblique reading of the Romberg/Hammerstein vehicle, "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise." He began the tune in arco mode—bowing eerie harmonics on his trademark blonde contrabass (with low "C" extension). He shifted to pizzicato for his solo, which swung, in the mightiest sense of the word.

Next was the duet of classical double bass artists Jeremy Kurtz, (Principal Bass, San Diego Symphony), and Andres Martin, (Orquesta De Baja California). It was instructive to listen to the way these two used the bow as that's their "bread and butter," so to speak. Indeed, one of the underlying themes of the bass summit was just how individualistic the use of the bow was for all of the performers. Kurtz and Martin played several short pieces by Italian composer Bottesini, and both managed to sound majestic and regal and completely different from each other.

Bertram Turetzky then led Magnusson, Biggs, Mark Dresser, Hawkins and Thorsen (all wielding bows) through his original homage to one of the pioneers of jazz bass, Slam Stewart, appropriately titled "Slam's The Man." Stewart's forte was playing an arco solo while singing the same notes an octave higher, and several of the soloists involved tried this technique with Turetzky coming out the strongest. Noted "out-cat" Dresser, had the show-stopping solo on this one though: it was literally hair-raising and full of audacity. Dresser marches confidently to his own drummer and the world is richer for it.

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