Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 15 Oct 03 13:41
Bill Amatneek has been playing string bass since 10th grade in folk, bluegrass, big band, and new acoustic music groups. He has recorded with Mark O'Connor, Kate Wolf, the Chambers Brothers, Tiny Moore and Eldin Shamblin, the Rowan Brothers, and on the first David Grisman Quintet album. He has gigged with Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, Frank Wakefield, Bill Keith, Peter, Paul & Mary, and the Full Faith and Credit Big Band. His stories and essays have been printed in Rolling Stone, Bluegrass Unlimited, Yoga Journal, Musician, Acoustic News, Down Beat, the Dickens, First Leaves, the Pacific Sun, and other publications. His book, "Acoustic Stories," was published by Vineyards Press, LLC, in August, 2003. Our moderator for this conversation is Kurt Ribak (pronounced REE-bok, like the shoes). Kurt grew up in Berkeley, California. He studied music at UC Berkeley and later earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, where he graduated with top honors with a diploma in jazz performance on bass. After graduation Kurt returned to the San Francisco Bay area. There he played a variety of gigs, ranging from playing bass in a tutu for a circus gig to backing transsexual torch singers to church gigs. Other gigs include jazz/blues vocalist Faye Carol and JC Hopkins, songwriter for multiple Grammy winner Norah Jones. Kurt's also played with guitarist Adam Levy, (Tracy Chapman and Nora Jones) and with Ralph Carney, best known for his work with Tom Waits. Since 2000 Kurt has been leading his own jazz group, Kurt Ribak. The group features his own compositions and plays venues throughout the Bay Area. Welcome, Bill and Kurt!
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Thu 16 Oct 03 09:39
Thanks Cynthia, very much. I'm looking forward to this experience. Best, BA
alla bout image and not music (kurtr) Fri 17 Oct 03 01:18
Also looking forward to it. Bill, what prompted you to have the book published? Do you see it as a collection of separate stories or do you see it as having a thread running through the different stories?
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Fri 17 Oct 03 10:15
The book was something I wanted to get off my chest, to get out there. I had accumulated a number of stories I had written, most of them about music, and I thought they would hang together as a book. I think the thread is my acoustic music experiences, plus that they are all, I believe, with one exception, stories, with beginnings, middles and ends. I have three other books I'll be publishing next, two of them about music.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 17 Oct 03 12:00
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David Gans (tnf) Fri 17 Oct 03 14:16
Welcome, Bill! I really enjoyed the stories in this book. Thank you for joining us!
alla bout image and not music (kurtr) Fri 17 Oct 03 16:55
Bill, I am curious about your experiences in the jazz vs. bluegrass / folk worlds. Most working musicians I know playin more than onestyle, but most of the bassists I know that play jazz don't play bluegrass and vice versa. I saw in your description of your childhood lots of exposure to both classical and folk music, but I didn't notice exposure to jazz. How did you get into jazz? Do you find yourself having to "change gears" when playing in say a jazz big band versus a bluegrass band?
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Fri 17 Oct 03 17:27
Jazz came into my life in junior high or high school where I was in jazz groups with friends. In 10th grade I joined the high school big band, and have been with big bands ever since. There's nothing like it for me, and I would imagine for most bassists. You are the bottom-most note for the entire 20-piece ensemble, a position of palpable and pivotal power. There's a local big band up in Santa Rosa: if the leader can't get his number one or number two bassist to play, he cancels the whole rehearsal. So, bass is very important to the big band sound. Is it a gear change to go from one to the other? Well, not so much. Practicing or playing string bass for one genre benefits practicing or playing any other genre. The string bass is such a physically demanding instrument. You've got to put time into it every day just to keep your strength up, to say nothing of agility, accuracy, and tone. I remember one day I rehearsed with the David Grisman Quintet, with Tony Rice on guitar, Darol Anger on fiddle, and Todd Philips on bass, and then in the evening I went to a big band rehearsal. Now that was a fulfilling day.
alla bout image and not music (kurtr) Fri 17 Oct 03 17:48
What's your take on the sense of community in the jazz and bluegrass scenes? My experience has been that bass players are pretty supportive of each other - which makes sense given the role of the instrument. On the other hand, I've been struck by a sense of community in the folk and bluegrass scene that I'm not aware of in the jazz scene in general - I've had friends in the bluegrass scene casually mention potluck get-togethers and the like, which is something I haven't experienced in the jazz scene.
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Fri 17 Oct 03 18:03
Yes, I think the folk scene is pretty tight. Everyone knows everyone, everyone picks (99% of folks attending a bluegrass festival are themselves pickers research has shown), everyone is "down home" even if that's not where they're from. And all gatherings are "pot luck." But folks at a jazz festival are by and large not players themselves. The audience is listeners, not participants in jazz. Likewise at a jam session: there will be players and listeners. The two do not cross. Truth to tell, when folks ask me if I play jazz, I say that I play "at" jazz. Jazz is a repertoire that is thousands of tunes long. A jazz player knows most of those compositions by heart. I know MANY jazz tunes by heart, but not thousands. And of course, a jazz player is a master improviser, and I am not that. That's one of the reasons I play and enjoy big band jazz. In big band, either my notes are written, or if not, the changes are written. And the solos are few and far between.
steve (albion) Fri 17 Oct 03 18:18
Really enjoying the book Bill. I have been sharing snippets with friends and will be circulating it amongst my acoustic friends. Thanks for joining us to talk about it. Especially enjoyed your account of unrequited love with Mary and the account of the Parisian tortoise shell plectrums. It is obvious from your stories that you have been fortunate enough to follow your bliss and that it has led you to some terrific experiences transcending the musical journey.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 17 Oct 03 18:45
Speaking of David Grisman, you were in the first edition of his groundbreaking band, the David Grisman Quintet. That was a pretty exciting sound to my bluegrass- and jazz-illiterate ears. Was it fun for you to be in on the creation of a new style?
I'm on the Chet Atkins Diet. Pass the BBQ, please. (rik) Fri 17 Oct 03 19:38
And did you have any idea just how much new ground you'd be breaking? I bought that first Grisman album without even hearing it. I bought it because I loved the cover. When I put it on, I couldn't believe what I was hearing
Jacques Delaguerre http://www.delaguerre.com/delaguerre/ (jax) Fri 17 Oct 03 22:46
As a working musician, Bill, I enjoyed the book, but found it a bit fuzzy of focus. It seemed to me you sold yourself short a bit. Bass player low self-esteem? ("Ugh! Bad when drums stop! Bass solo next!") :-) That is, I was a good deal less interested in "name dropping" chapters like "Mary ... Peter & Paul" (A consumate performer used you as a prop for her stage act? What a surprise!) compared to vastly more interesting chapters about *you*, Bill and what you learned about music from other musicians, chapters like "I Love the Bass" and (the best chapter) "Linger on the Halftones".
alla bout image and not music (kurtr) Sat 18 Oct 03 00:05
"Linger on the Halftones" was the story that stuck in my mind. I thought it was a fine example of the seemingly random encounters one has as a musician, and how some of them that start out seeming just annoying can turn out to be profound. I really enjoy your comment on the joy of playing the bass. I agree with you that there is a special pleasure from feeling your body vibrate to the low E string. When kids show curiousity about the instrument and they demonstrate that they can respect somebody's equipment I often let them try playing the bass a little bit - I feel a bit like a bass pusher when I do that. The tortoise shell pick story was very sweet.
alla bout image and not music (kurtr) Sat 18 Oct 03 00:33
Your explanation of why you play big band music made sense to me - I was curious how you came to play two such different styles as bluegrass and big band. It also explained to me why I hadn't heard about you as a locally based jazz bassist. Bass in a big band is a very differnet animal than playing bass in, say a trio like I did tonight - where everybody has to solo and improvise, or there won't be enought music for three sets!
Tim Fox (timfox) Sat 18 Oct 03 08:52
Count me among those who especially enjoyed your guitar pick story, Bill. As a guitarist with a rather recent interest in the fine points of picks and as someone who's seen a hawkbill sea turtle close up in its own house, I could dig it.
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:14
Thanks, Steve, very much. Yes, I was very fortunate to play with PP&M. The story about the tortoiseshell picks, Paris Remembers, was the first I wrote for this book. When the old man said that the picks were free because we Americans had liberated Paris and never changed a sou, I was stunned, slack-jawed. Hearing that from him was a great gift.
My favourite sinking moment (tinymonster) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:21
Wow. That is great.
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:26
Well, Jacques, the stories were written on their own, in their own time, for their own individual purposes. Joined in a book, I see that they are not all necessarily in the same focal plane. For many folks, the PP&M tale is the favorite, but not for you apparently. I don't believe I suffer from "bass player low self-esteem" however. Like most bassists, I tend to be a tad humble (or so I'm told) unlike lead guitarists, say, who, generally, tend to be not so humble. I tried not to "drop" names, and I was very gratified about what Milbre Burch said on this issue: "Although his stories are set in a world populated with famous names, his work is emphatically not about name-dropping." Most people give me high marks on this score, but not all I guess. Thanks for your kind words about "I Love the Bass." Are you a bassist yourself? Folks who single out that piece usually are bassists. And thank you VERY much for mentioning "Linger on the Halftones," the piece about a big band rehearsal. Only a few folks mention that as a favorite, and they tend to be writers.
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:29
Well, I just finished an 8-month gig playing dinner jazz (you'll excuse the expression) two nights a week (piano/vocals, sax/flute, bass). As you said, that makes for much improvising from all three chairs. I love it, I love jazz, and always have. I just don't call myself primarily a jazz bassist. Kurt, do you have a steady gig where we could catch you?
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:33
Thanks Tim. I was at a bluegrass fester a few years back, '95 or '96. There was a guy selling one tortoiseshell pick. It was big and fat, like an Eisenhower dollar, and the guy was asking $50 for it. I'll bet he got it too. I've read up on the procedure for harvesting tortoise from a hawksbill turtle. Pretty gruesome stuff, involving putting the live animal upside down in a vat of boiling water. If it doesn't kill the turtle (it usually does) he grows another shell, but distinctly different from the first, and unusable for tortoiseshell paraphernalia.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:39
I loved the PP&M story. And I loved the story about the rehearsal band. I loved 'em all, for that matter. It's great to see good writing from a musician's perspective. It's not that easy to find. I'm interstested in how you became a bass player, Bill. I think what you said up there -- > Like most bassists, I tend to be a tad humble (or so I'm told) unlike lead > guitarists, say, who, generally, tend to be not so humble. -- is so true as to be almost a cliche. In "The real Frank Zappa Book," Frank said something about how most bass players got started in a band meeting in a garage in high school -- meaning the band had three guitar players and one of them had to become the bass player. It's not just "humility" that makes a great bass player. I think the best musicians have a deep understanding of every instrument's role in the ensemble, and works to make his contribution appropriate to the moment. Can I get you to talk about the characteristics of a great player, regardless of the genre?
David Gans (tnf) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:40
Slippage with an alarming bit of information!
Tim Fox (timfox) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:41
"Lingering on the Half-Tones" was indeed an affecting piece. Rather darker than most the stories in the book, I thought. I was getting a 'there but for the grace of god' hit from it.
Bill Amatneek (billamatneek) Sat 18 Oct 03 09:42
It's interesting, but during the many rehearsals and gigs that lead up to the making of that album, no one mentioned that it was new music, or ground-breaking music. We just rehearsed our butts off, 5 days a week. That was our rule. We played together five days a week. If we had four gigs that week, we had one full rehearsal. If we had one gig that week, we had four full rehearsals. Rehearsals were long and intense. Coffee breaks were short. We were all anxious to play that music as much as we could. As it turned out that album created a new genre of music, called "new acoustic music." Some say it spun off "unplugged" music and "acoustic" music. I dunno. But in any event, the genre is alive and well, and highly productive I think.
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