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Tom Kennedy: In A New York Minute

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: When did the electric bass enter the picture?

TK: About that time, when we started getting in to Herbie and Miles Davis's electric stuff. I remember one night, late at the music store, my dad and I were just getting ready to close up for the night. A guy walked in and asked if he could play an electric bass. He picked up an electric bass and started funking on it. He was slappin' it and funkin' with it. That was my first real interest in the instrument. I realized that you could do other things with it. It wasn't just a small upright. I got a good electric bass and started taking that seriously. It was a bit of an alter ego thing though. I was still mostly into the upright and playing straight-ahead jazz.

AAJ: We talked about how many records you have done with Weckl. Any idea how many you have been a part of overall?

TK: Probably a couple of hundred. Maybe more like three hundred. I've done a lot of projects Sometimes it is just on one tune, and sometimes it's the full record. People send me stuff all the time. I love doing that. In fact, when we first started talking about the record you brought up earlier, I had completely forgotten about it. It's funny but I will be talking with somebody and they will ask "Remember that recording you did with so and so?"

AAJ: And your response is, "I do now."

TK: Exactly. Then it's like, "Thanks for reminding me. I had forgotten all about that one." But that's cool.

AAJ: One of my favorite records that you play on is Don Grolnick's Hearts and Numbers (Hip Pocket Records, 1989), with Peter Erskine and Michael Brecker. Do you have any personal favorites?

TK: That one, interestingly, is one that totally stands out. That was a game changer for me. I had just moved to New York to pursue a music career and I called Peter Erskine to let him know I was in town. I should backtrack to tell you that I have known Peter ever since the Stan Kenton band camp days when I was kid. Peter was Kenton's drummer in those days. Most of the nice hotels in St. Louis back then had nice quality pianos in the lobby. When Peter would come to town, he would call my brother and me and we would go jam in the hotel lobby. We did that quite a bit. I called Peter when I got to New York and he got me into an audition right away.

Steps Ahead had already auditioned bass players and had somebody they were ready to go with, but Peter thought I would be a good fit and set up an audition for me. Modern Times (Rhino/Warner Bros., 1984) was the new record out at the time. I needed to learn a few of those tunes quickly. I already knew the older stuff. I showed up at the studio and in walks Michael Brecker, Mike Mainieri, Peter Erskine, and Warren Bernhardt. I'm just standing there looking at Brecker like, "Oh my God." This was 1984 and I had been listening to him play for over ten years. We played "Pools" first.

AAJ: What a great tune.

TK: Oh, it sure is. I had played that song many times but, wow, it was amazing playing it with these guys. Just incredible. All of a sudden it had that feel just like on the record. The next thing I know, everybody is smiling, having a good time, and getting more intense. Michael goes into his sixteenth-note solo and everyone is bopping their heads. We played two or three other tunes, and at the end it was like "What do we do now?" I shook hands with all the guys and took off.

AAJ: Great story. What's happened next?

TK: The next morning the phone rings and Peter says, "Welcome to Steps Ahead." I was off and running and it was only my fifth day in New York. Then I heard from Weckl. He was starting to work with Bill Connors on a new fusion album and needed an upgrade on the bass. He told me I should come over and play with him. I learned all his music as quickly as possible. Like I said, I was hungry and really trying to get some things going. A few days later Bill says, "Man, do you want to do this thing? Do you want to be part of the trio?" Next thing I know we were rehearsing for Bill's Step It (Pathfinder Records, 1985). Then Tania Maria called me about two weeks later. It was really something. Everything hit really fast. Tying all this back to Hearts and Numbers, Grolnick asked Peter who his new bassist was. After learning it was me, Grolnick wanted me to come in and record the last tune on that record. I had played with Grolnick for about six months in St. Louis when he was in town for a clinic that I was working at. So, it is just amazing how it all happened and came together. That was my introduction to the New York life.

AAJ: And here we are in 2019. What's in store for this year?

TK: I will be doing some more tours. Mike and I have dates in Europe in April and it looks like we will be going to China in May. I also want to do another record this year. I am working on a new recording. What it is going to be is yet unknown. I want this to be more of a group record. Maybe four or five people. Possibly a guest or two. But I want it to be more of a group rather than a large cast of guests. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed doing that, but I just want to do something a little different. I am hoping to do something around late summer or maybe even by mid-summer, with a couple of originals and some different things with arrangements. We shall see. Looking forward to it all.

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