Friday, April 17, 2009

Bass Lessons

I've always loved the way that drummers and bassists play off of each other in music. From the double bass and tympani of a symphony orchestra, to the drum and bass sequencing of hip-hop and every music in between, there is a powerful connection between bass and drums.

I started playing drums at a young age and took to them quickly. It didn't take long for me to find out that rock and roll really is a joy to play. Soon thereafter, I discovered Jazz - and my life took a whole new turn in a great direction. After studying Jazz in college, I went and played in a rock band for a number of years while simultaneously gigging with Country, Funk, Swing, Jazz and Heavy metal artists. Upon relocating to the Northwest, my life has taken on a "settling" period and these days I'm happy just playing Jazz. It truly is a work in progress for me, as I don't practice much at all - but when I play, everything comes back to me. Maybe not technically, but certainly on a spiritual and happy mental level. Drumming makes me smile.

I've played with many, many bass players and have enjoyed grooving with most of them. Not too many that I remember having rhythm or time struggles with...but there have been a few! I guess what attracts me to bassists is their ability to synchronize with me on an instinctive level. Playing a dirty, sloppy 12-bar blues is all well and good, but really locking up the groove with a bass player, to me, means not even realizing that they are playing. You stop listening to the note choices, the rhythm and the timing - it simply happens between the two of you and it is magic. I guess you could say that I briefly leave my senses for awhile when the groove is really happening. I imagine it's similar to what runners feel in the middle of a marathon....?

So, I've been practicing bass almost every day for the past month or so. I've got one on loan from my buddy Adam and another from my neighbor, Jenni. Both are Fender Jazz models, but Adam's is American and Jen's is Mexican. Although the American Jazz is more powerful with a clearer and more defined tone, I think I prefer the Mexican bass. It's got kind of a cool growl to it and it's way more worn in. I think I'll play 'em a bit longer before I decide which model I'm more comfortable with - I hope to have my own some day soon. My buddy Michael from the jam session says that playing bass will definitely help my drumming; I think I agree with him and look forward to hearing the proof!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Minister King

Forty one years ago today, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee. I've been to Memphis; what a crazy town...full of folks that know how to get down and throw a Wang Dang Doodle! At the time when I visited, I was much younger and impressionable, but I did recognize the significance that Memphis had on the history of the United States. Although Rev. King was not on my mind when I was stumbling around Beale Street, I understood that a deep conflict within the South had always been present. Instead, I thought about Graceland, Johnny Cash making it big at Sun Records along with Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins, Dollywood and the big river separating Arkansas from Tennessee.

These days, the musical history of our country is still in my mind, but the people who helped to influence our daily lives inspire me more and more. I was at work last summer when my buddy Floyd played the entire "I have a dream" speech from the stereo in his truck. We were blasting it with all the doors open - as if to attempt a kinetic link to those outside earshot - and took it all in. What a speaker! The man really was a voice that moved millions; I'm sad that I wasn't alive to see and hear him myself, I think I really would've dug the energy of this guy. They don't seem to make enough people like Dr. King anymore, that's for sure, but when a person like him comes around, we need to embrace them. These are the people that help us to THINK. While rushing about in our little lives, we easily forget the important things that keep our humanity in check. Maybe that's why I take the little things so personally; they mean so much to me, I guess. And although King spoke of large ideas that would effect many people and overturn vast prejudice, I believe that his message, in order to be effective, would start with one brave person. King called on the American public to be courageous enough to support the idea that all people can have a fair shake. I just can't imagine how torn up this country was when Rev. King gave his monumental speeches...however, there is relief that there were enough people who gave a shit about the state of our country to go out there and support the man and his ideas of a better United States. Not since Obama have we seen such a rally. I'm glad at least I lived to see that!

So, to honor Rev. King Jr., I'm brewing a massive India Pale Ale today. Lots of German malts, some home-toasted for flavor and color and a dash of wheat malt for head retention. And then there's the my calculations, I'll be using over 8 ounces of hops in this mighty beer. In an average Pale Ale, one might utilize 2-4 ounces of hops. When it comes to IPA's, the sky is the limit - and although I'm not one to shoot for blistering bitterness that leaves a beer undrinkable, I am shooting for a big beer with enough hop FLAVOR to balance the incredible sweetness that I'll get from my Pilsner malt. I think of this beer in my mind's eye as a companion to the soul of MLK Jr: big and mighty, a force to be respected, courageous in spirit.

The sun has burnt off the thick layer of morning fog, the birds are singing in anticipation of this warm weekend, my mash is converting in the igloo cooler and the Doug Fir's are calm in the gentle wind that rolls over my quiet neighborhood. This is a good day.