Matt Garrison - September 2004
Four years after debuting as a solo artist with his self-titled recording, acclaimed electric bassist Matt Garrison returned in August 2004 with the simultaneous release of Shapeshifter, featuring a fusion of world music elements, dense harmonic textures, electronica soundscapes, and experimental tones, as well as a live DVD/CD titled Matt Garrison Live.
Garrison, a second generation bassist, spent his early childhood in the vibrant 1970's loft scene in New York City. His father, the legendary Jimmy Garrison, is regarded as one of the greatest jazz bassists in history having played alongside pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones in the classic John Coltrane Quartet of the 1960's.
After the death of his father, Garrison relocated to Rome, Italy with his family where he spent the next decade studying piano and playing electric bass. In 1988, Garrison returned to the United States to live with his godfather, Jack De Johnette, and finish high school in New York. While staying with De Johnette, who is recognized as one of jazz music's finest drummers, Garrison witnessed intimate jam sessions attended by celebrated A-list jazz artists and also studied jazz bass with Dave Holland who was one of De Johnette's neighbors. The following year, Garrison was awarded a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music and began his professional career playing with the then Dean of Curriculum at Berklee, renowned vibraphonist Gary Burton.
In 1994, Garrison moved to Brooklyn, New York where he continues to reside today. Since his arrival in New York, Garrison has recorded or performed as a sideman in high-profile gigs and jazz festivals throughout the world with the foremost luminaries of jazz including Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Steve Coleman, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, The Gil Evans Orchestra, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and many others.
Garrison founded GarrisonJazz Productions in 1998 as an independent company to produce, promote, and market his projects. Garrison debuted as a leader in 2000 with his self-titled solo recording.
In this interview, Garrison chats with us about the latest projects from GarrisonJazz Productions, his father Jimmy Garrison, playing with Joe Zawinul, right hand technique, and much more!
You recently released, Shapeshifter, your second studio project as a leader along with Matt Garrison Live, a live studio performance DVD/CD with your band. Can you tell us about these projects?
I haven't released any new material in about four years, and I have a couple hundred tunes just sitting on the shelf. It was really just a matter of sorting through all this material I have and then blending it together and finding the best way of presenting something new. I've spent a lot of time over the past couple years just sifting through the music, chord structures, rhythms, and then combining it all together. This new recording features some of the same fantastic musicians that appeared on my debut project along with a couple new artists: Scott Kinsey (keys), John Arnold (drums), Sabina Sciubba (vocals), Arto Tuncboyacian (percussion), Adam Rogers (guitar), Gregoire Maret (harmonica), Elliot Mason (bass trumpet), Jim Beard (keys), Will Calhoun (wusuli), my sister Joy Garrison (vocals), and my wife Veronika Garrison (vocals). Both of these projects are available directly from my web site, and a person can pick up Shapeshifter at a number of online retailers including Audiophile Imports, CD Baby, and Amazon.com. Eventually, the tracks on Shapeshifter will be available for direct download from iTunes.com and other various digital download stores. There will be plenty of places to purchase it. Unfortunately, physical stores often put barriers in between independent artists so there isn't much we can do. The only way to defeat or bypass that system is to do exactly what we are doing. It's fantastic that this can be done these days because years ago most musicians couldn't get their material out. Now, you can bypass all these fools and get your music to the people. I've proven that the material can move. I really believe in the integrity of my small record label, and I don't feel like giving up any rights to anything because I know it's worth it. What these record companies offer you is just peanuts compared to what you'll make over time. I just don't want to play any games with these people. I really can't stress that enough.
The live DVD/CD came about because I wanted to record a live performance of a lot of gigs that we were doing in New York City with a bunch of different band configurations. One of the groups I have worked with a lot included a trio of Jojo Mayer on drums and Adam Rogers on guitar. I'd bring all my electronics and gadgets, and it was really fun. Another band I've worked quite a bit with included Gene Lake on drums, David Gilmore on guitar, and Sabina Scuibba on vocals. I did a bunch of these presentations around the city, but every time I recorded these performances, they just never sounded like I wanted them to. Eventually, an opportunity came up where I had a film crew, and I just decided to do two things at once, record a live CD and simultaneously film it for video release on DVD. After working with Herbie Hancock on his DVD project, Future2Future, and seeing how it came together, I had a hunch that it was something that I could potentially pursue if I had the right funding and people available. I then met Carolina Saavedra and Pete Teresi. I had seen them both at some performances of mine around New York City and began a personal relationship with them once Pete started taking private bass lessons with me. He had offered his assistance on a couple of occasions to record some of the live shows and that eventually just snowballed into a full blown video shoot. The only thing we needed to do was secure the funding. Some work just fell into my lap at the right moment, and I had some incredible help from a good friend of mine so that issue was quickly resolved. I don't think I can properly thank everyone for all the hard work, dedication, and pure energy they brought to the project. Many thanks go to Kenny Dykstra, Warren Brown, Carolina's entire crew at Pefaur Productions, and a special thanks to a lot of my students who put in the long hours and team work to help make the whole project run smoothly. It was a monumental effort on everyone's end to make it all work. Everything just came together within a couple months, and it was a dream come true. I'm very proud to release both of these new projects because it was a lot of hard work, and I just hope everyone enjoys them.
Unlike many other bass-lead solo projects, the music on Shapeshifter is very compositionally-based. Describe your composition/arranging process.
It's a multi-layered process. When I'm composing, sometimes I'll come up with a melody, bass line, chord progression, or hear something I want to try on a different instrument such as an acoustic guitar or an acoustic bass. I'm very close to my computer most of the time, and whenever I have an idea, I find a way to put the information on my computer as quickly as possible. Sometimes I'll just have a small midi keyboard and a laptop with me on the road.
My main objective is to compose one snippet of information per day. At the end of a year, I will have several hundreds of pieces of information to work with and potential material that could appear on a recording. The fabulous thing about being able to work with computers is the way you can layer ideas. The possibilities are just phenomenal.
Before I even sit down in front of a computer, I like to write down how I want the ideas to be presented. I want to figure out what I want to do and what I want to say. It's a very organized thought process long before I even think about recording. I figure out which techniques I want to showcase in terms of digital manipulation, motif development, and many other factors. There are all these layers that I take into consideration. I line them all up in categories such as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and so forth. Then, I'll take all of this material and basically mix and match it. For example, in layer H I'll have time signatures such as 5/4, 7/4, 9/4, and 11/8. In layer B, I'll have chord structure 1, chord structure 2, and chord structure 3. Then, I'll experiment with how each of these variables works with one another. I'll figure out which technique best fits the application of this chord structure and which time signature works best in this particular situation too. There is a lot of experimentation involved. Sometimes this process takes a long time, and sometimes you can finish two or three serious sketches of a composition in a day. If things are really clicking, this process may only take a couple hours. Sometimes it's very strenuous work, but most of the time it's fun. It's a very detailed process.
I want to get into something deeper than just playing my bass. When I release my music, I want it to be there forever. I want it to be a statement of who I am. I don't want to waste my time or the listener's time. I want to have an impact. I can't even begin to imagine the idea of releasing a recording that doesn't have some kind of thought process behind it. Sometimes I listen to recordings, and I just feel horrible and get depressed. I just find myself asking, why? Why flood the market with more of the same? What's that doing? It doesn't do anything. There is just so much more that can be done.
The tonalities found on Shapeshifter are pretty consistent with what was happening on the first recording. I like to explore the uses of major scales with augmented qualities while also superimposing various scales. The end result is dominant-sounding progressions without using dominant chord types. To me, it's really interesting space, and that sound comes from my affinity with what Sergei Prokofiev was doing. This may seem a bit silly, but one of my favorite pieces of music is Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." The simplicity of the melody is just gorgeous. There is something about that sound. For me, it's about taking this sound and combining it with more experimental or avant garde-sounding harmonies where tonal centers or certain structures aren't necessarily important. It's more about just trying to capture the essence of an idea, and it is really limitless territory.
The solo sections are the loosest parts of the song structures. Usually I just give the soloists the chord progression. If I'm sending the material to someone to record their solo on, I'll often record my solo first so they can get a feel for the direction I'd like to take.
Take us through the recording process for Shapeshifter. Was it similar to how your self-titled debut was recorded?
The new recording was definitely done in a similar fashion to my first project. In most cases, I started with a basic bass line or some kind of drum part that I created in a software program. I layered those first just to get the basic skeleton of the tune, and then I laid down the melodies, chords, and atmospherics. Once the composition was close to completion, I went back in and re-did the bass parts to solidify the end result, or I layered different bass parts on top of what was already there. The final step always involved the soloists. I was going to take the recording one step further, but I didn't want to go too crazy. I was going to take some of the final mixes and further manipulate them, but it was going to get too over the top. I've decided to save this idea for an alternative remixes project.
Shapeshifter is a unique title for the new recording. Is there a story behind the title?
The title reflects the reality that I live in today as a musician in tackling all types of work. I do this. I do that. I'll go on one tour that is strictly jazz, and then I'll immediately turn around and go on a tour playing really avant garde music or even something that is very pop-oriented. I just returned from laying down some tracks at Prince's Paisley Park studio, and now I'm getting ready to go on tour with Pharoah Sanders who is widely known for his explorational/avant garde jazz music. Then I do my own stuff here at home with my electronics. That's the shape shifting. I go from one phase to the next, and it really reflects my personality. I feel equally comfortable in all these different phases.
There is an incredible energy in the performances on the Matt Garrison Live DVD/CD. Do you have any plans for touring with this band?
I have an offer to do a 10-15 day tour in Japan, and then I'm going to do 3-4 separate tours covering all the territory of Europe. There is no problem for work overseas. It's just that I doubt people will really go out for my music here in the United States. I know there is an interest in the kind of music I do because people are buying it, but how do I get into B.B. King's playing this kind of material? I won't. You can play in various creative art centers throughout the United States, but clubs just don't care. Clubs want something that is proven to work, that sells tickets, and features performers with well-recognized names. Even if it's a jazz concert, they still want to know if Michael Brecker is going to be playing. What can you do? The interest is in other places, and we are very grateful for those opportunities because it helps us to continue doing what we do as musicians. We wish the same could be done here in the United States, but it's just not a reality right now.
I've been putting together ideas with an engineer, Warren Brown, for a number of years, and I was very inspired by working with Herbie Hancock on Future2Future. I learned a lot through that experience, and we are going to adopt that information into my own live performances. The presentations were in surround sound, quadraphonic stereo, and they had that totally surrounding texture to them. The bass sound was just huge! It really moved. It was a very unique experience, and we will be able to take it up a couple notches from what Herbie was doing. We don't have the resources to work with like they did, but we know how to use our smaller resources more efficiently to do massive amounts of work. The material that appears on Shapeshifter is really the canvas for what is going to be presented live in surround sound stereo. Since so many clubs overseas like to put on extraordinary types of presentations, they are generally equipped with the gear needed for these types of shows. If you need additional speakers, you just request it, and they will have it covered. If we do book shows here in the U.S., I have a small setup that is ready to go. We are also going to do an additional recording all in quadraphonic stereo, surround sound 5.1, and then I'm going to remix this project and release a limited edition in surround sound.
Can you give us some insight about the gear you used to record Shapeshifter and Matt Garrison Live?
I record my bass by plugging directly into the MOTU 828mkII. It's really simple. The signal is very clean. Most of the sound that you hear is my Fodera bass with the Mike Pope preamp. Whenever you hear distortion or other unusual effects, that was created through post production experimentation.
For the live DVD, all of my amplification was made by Nick Epifani. As a matter of fact, all of the surround sound speakers that we use for live presentations are Epifani speakers. They produce just a beautifully warm, clean, and powerful tone. Nick just released a brand new line, and I test all of his latest power amps and preamps. I used a really simple Rat pedal for distortion on the live DVD. On Shapeshifter, I combined the Rat pedal with some distorted-sounding software plug-ins. The only problem with the Rat pedal is that it cuts out all the lows so Mike Pope is designing a distortion pedal for me. I had some Line 6 delay units, but I don't think I even used that gear on the live DVD because we just didn't have enough time to record everything that I wanted to do. For live shows, I have one signal from my bass routed to the main house, and then I have a second signal that is routed through my computer or my engineer's computer. As the performances move along, we use pre-programmed sounds using computer-based effects. The Rat pedal and the Line 6 gear are really marginal in my performances because all the distortions, delays, and weird tones are usually generated through my computer. When we start touring and playing in quadraphonic stereo, I'm also going to incorporate the Eventide Orville.
I used my Fodera signature 5-string bass which has a 33" scale length on the new projects. With the woods and electronics that we used in that bass, it has a very aggressive and articulate sound. The notes are really well-defined, and it really growls. I'm a short dude, and I need a small bass. Since it is a 33" scale length, it's really easy to move around the bass quickly. Plus, I don't have to stretch my left arm into an unnatural position when I play in the lower registers. If you have an instrument where you can just pivot from your elbow, then you don't have to waste energy to extend from your shoulder when playing a low F. The whole principle behind the design of my Fodera bass is that I wanted to be able to strap it on and not have to worry about anything. I don't want to fight the instrument. I just want to be able to put it on and go. The instrument shouldn't be there to block you. It is an extension of what you are trying to say. I tune my bass with a high C-string instead of a low B because I use to transcribe a lot of tenor sax, piano, and guitar lines in the earlier part of my development, and I wanted to get closer to their register. At a trade show many years ago, Gary Willis let me play his bass, and I knew immediately that I had to use his ramp idea on my instrument. When I returned to New York, Fodera installed a ramp on my bass, but instead of placing it at the end of the fingerboard, we placed the ramp in between the pickups and shaped it to look like another pickup. With the ramp positioned in between the pickups, that will allow you the opportunity to pluck, if you like to use slapping and plucking techniques. Fodera sells my signature basses in 4, 5, and 6-string configurations of various scale lengths, fretted or fretless.
What inspired you to pursue the electric bass and did you ever feel compelled to follow in your father's footsteps and continue his legacy as an acoustic upright bassist?
I really started on electric bass from the beginning, and I've always been into electronics. All this incredible music was being played around me all of the time when I was a little kid, but I never really understood the significance of what my dad had done until I started playing with some of these jazz masters. Jack De Johnette was my most important educator because he showed me everything about the history of the music. I'm not sure if there is some sort of connection with wanting to pursue bass because of my father's work, but later on it really manifested itself in my desire to learn about jazz. I wanted to know what he had experienced to some extent, but there was only so much I could learn because the period of time in which he was playing music was so different. I wanted to know what he had dealt with, and I wanted to feel what he had felt. The more I started playing, the more people told me about this and that, and because I didn't have my father around, I wanted to find different ways to connect. For me, that connection was through music. It's been a really deep experience just going through all of this. I do play a little upright. I've been working with Wallace Roney who is a phenomenal trumpet player, one of the greatest musicians of our time, and he's been pushing me to play acoustic more. It's hard on the hands, but it's a fun experience.
Which bassists had the biggest influence on your bass-playing concepts as a student? Are there any specific composers that have inspired your songwriting process?
When I first started playing, I was really into Mark King of Level 42 because I was living in Italy, and they were one of the popular bands at that time. I then heard Marcus Miller, and I just flipped. He is capable of anything, and he can go in any direction that he chooses. He understands the flexibility of music. Marcus is one of those timeless players, and he has always been one of my biggest inspirations. Jaco was another guy that was just unstoppable. The only thing that stopped him was himself. From a musical standpoint, he was an absolute genius. He was just it. I'd just like to be associated with people at Jaco's level and follow in their footsteps regardless if I fail. Dominique Di Piazza and Gary Willis have been huge influences on me as well as John Patitucci. Another fantastic bass player that I listen to a lot is Anthony Tidd who plays with Steve Coleman.
I've been listening a lot to Bjork these days. She's a very interesting composer. Her material is very gorgeous with a mysterious, dark quality. I also listen to a lot of the younger groups coming from the Nordic countries. My wife is from Denmark, and she got me very interested in this music. Since I tour extensively throughout Europe, I'm really influenced by the music that I hear over there. There is one guy specifically who had a really big influence on me in making Shapeshifter and the next live DVD that I'm going to release. His name is Tom Jenkinson (aka Squarepusher). This guy has transcended the art of making music. I would highly recommend checking out his recording called Go Plastic. It is so incredibly out. He was one of the first guys to create drum and bass only tracks. That is what has been really inspiring me these days. It's not bass players or jazz. It's the influence of people just stretching things to another level. There is so much incredibly creative music that just reaches in all these different directions. When I listen to the market in America, it just really seems sonically limited sometimes. So much music has this r&b-ish kind of back beat, especially with bass player records. If it's not that, then it's this overzealous slapping thing, and it's very uni-directional. If you stretch your ideas and do research in seeking out different music from around the world, then your music becomes much more multi-faceted. Thankfully, I've had the luxury of being able to travel all around the world and be exposed to the music that is being created outside the United States.
How do you believe the access to all of the cultural diversity you experienced as a child shaped the way you think about music today?
One thing that I really enjoyed while growing up in the loft scene of SoHo in New York City was the sense of community and people coming together just to make something happen. It could have been the most outrageous presentation that was being put on at our loft, but people just came together. It was really a deep feeling, and I'll never forget that. Today, in my own projects, I try to unite as many people as possible. Sometimes it's difficult getting everyone coordinated, but it's always my goal to bring as many people together as I can to make something happen. During the loft scene there were various focal points where people would come together and try things. Now, it's different because people have so many things to do and everything has to fit into a schedule. From living in Italy, I learned about passion. In going to Italy, I was coming from New York's public school system so I was ready to fight. Once I arrived in Italy, kids were hugging me, and it just seemed so different from where I was coming. The people in Italy were incredibly beautiful individuals. Staying at Jack's house was just mind boggling. When my father died, Jack told my mother that if she ever needed any help with the kids, just to let him know. When I was 17, I wanted to leave Italy, and he offered me a place to stay. I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to come back to the States. I was already playing the bass before I arrived at Jack's, but I wasn't really serious about it and he converted me. We'd go into his basement where he would sit at the piano, and I would have my bass. We started playing the blues, rhythm changes, and it just evolved from there. Gary Peacock, Steve Swallow, Dave Holland, and Herbie Hancock would come over to hang out and jam. It was real intimate. They would play anything. I believe that the music I create today is a direct result of all this diversification.
What were among the most significant things that you learned while living with your godfather and studying privately with jazz bass virtuoso Dave Holland?
I wouldn't really pay Dave, but he would make me do yard work in exchange for lessons. One of the biggest things that I learned from Dave was the seriousness of music. One day I came unprepared for a lesson, and he let me know that it wasn't cool. I really respected him for that. I learned much of the same from Jack, but he was a bit more playful about it. Since I was living with Jack, I had a lot more access to him. Both of them showed me a passion for the music, the seriousness to which it should be approached, and also how to enjoy music as a life experience. It was really deep stuff and an incredible experience.
After finishing high school, you attended Berklee College of Music. What would you cite as your most valuable experience as a student at Berklee?
I spent two years there. The first year I spent absorbing a ton of information including ear training, harmonization studies, and orchestration. It was just a real overload. In hindsight, it was really fantastic. I took a summer off just doing odd jobs while I continued to practice. I was working at the Boston Public Library, and I just got fed up with it. I decided I had two choices. Either I could continue doing this kind of work that was really making me unhappy or I needed to take music really seriously and dive in completely. If it didn't work, so be it. If it worked, all the better. I decided to go for it and just walked out of my job. I went to lunch and never returned. For the rest of that summer, I just practiced like crazy. It was a transformation in less than two months. When I returned to Berklee for the next semester, I played in everything. I did all the major events. They sent me overseas, and it was one gig after another. When Zawinul came there for a concert, I played with him, and a couple years later I joined his band. I met some fantastic people which I'm still friends with and work with today.
How did the gig with Joe Zawinul come about? Did you realize the role you were filling in Zawinul's band having to follow such bass greats as Miroslav Vitous, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco, Victor Bailey, and Gerald Veasley?
The gig I did with Joe at Berklee kind of put the bug in his ear, and then I did a recording session with Bob Moses that came to be called Time Stood Still. Miles Evans who was also on that session and the leader of Gil Evans' Orchestra (and Gil's son) invited me to play in Gil's orchestra every week with the best jazz artists in New York City. Each one of these guys asked me to do something, and the word just spread around from there. As soon as Zawinul moved to New York, he called me, and I continued to work with him for about two and a half years.
Sometimes I think about who I'm playing with and it just hits me. I really try to limit that though because I could easily get intimidated by that since I'm playing with my biggest heroes. When I first started playing with Zawinul, I was a bit in awe of the whole situation, and he taught me very quickly not to get too caught up in that. Right before I started playing with Joe, I was working with Steve Coleman so from a conceptual standpoint, Joe's music was a lot easier. Joe's gig wasn't always about music. It was a show, and he wanted a certain image for his band. Eventually, I got kind of disillusioned with that and moved on.
Could you tell us about the experiences you have been able to take away from your gigs as a sideman?
It's really deep because there are so many experiences. One of the greatest feelings I ever had was being on stage at the North Sea Jazz festival with Zawinul's band. We were the last to perform, and members from John McLaughlin's band including Dennis Chambers came up to play with us. It was probably the greatest gig I ever played. Everybody was on. At one point Joe and John are playing a duo. I'm standing in between them, and it just hits me. Standing and watching us from the side of the stage were Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Al Jarreau, and the Yellowjackets. Everyone was there that night. These guys created all this amazing music, and now we are playing it. I will always be forever grateful to these guys and cherish the fact that they allowed that opportunity to me.
You utilize an unorthodox 4-finger right hand technique which allows you to unleash flurries of notes at mind-boggling speed along with an innovative chordal approach. Can you break this down for us?
The chordal approach in my playing came about because there has always been this common problem when the bass player solos and no one seems to know what to do. Piano players can do everything at once including playing bass lines, chords, and melodies. After having transcribed Herbie's music and McCoy Tyner's playing, I want to hear that sound, and in my mind I almost feel like telling the piano player: ok, I've been supporting you all this time, and now I'd like something in return. The classic problem with pianists trying to accompany a bass solo is that they forget about the root notes and just start lightly comping upper structure triad material that makes no sense and actually clutters the register that you are soloing in. That was the motivating factor for my chordal approach. I'll outline the chord change and then play over that framework. The more you do this, the more natural it becomes, and you can comp the chord changes periodically throughout your solo to help define the tonality. It's very similar to what a piano player does when he solos. There is the one school of bass players that can tap chords and play things on top of that which one day I hope to tackle because I think that would be really interesting.
I started experimenting with the 4-finger right hand technique just before I started playing with Zawinul. I was looking at the pizzicato techniques that were being used by Dominique Di Piazza, Victor Wooten, Gary Willis, and I came up with a hybrid technique using concepts from all three of these guys. I noticed that my thumb was just always there on the string not doing anything so I started to incorporate the thumb along with my index, middle, and ring fingers. It made total sense to me because I would have four fingers available on my right hand and four fingers on my left so each one could cover one note. As compared to the standard two-finger approach, your speed is doubled immediately. You can play twice as many notes while exerting only half the energy. It's really about economy of motion. It's totally effortless. I've always had a really strong background when it comes to understanding harmony and knowing how to deal with it so the techniques came after I had the knowledge of the fretboard. I matured as a musician before adding these techniques.
Do you have an exercise you could suggest to someone wishing to adopt your 4-finger right hand technique?
Yes. The basic principle is that the thumb is indicated by the number 1, index finger is 2, middle finger is 3, and ring finger is 4. The motion that works best for me is simply a downstroke with the thumb (1) followed by index (2), middle (3), and ring fingers (4). The first step is making sure that each finger is completely independent of the others so practice doing downstrokes with your thumb as fast as you can go on a single string followed by just your index, middle, and ring fingers. Do all of them separately. The next step is to combine fingers such as 1 and 2, 1 and 3, as well as 1 and 4. Do all of the remaining combinations: 2 and 1, 2 and 3, 2 and 4, 3 and 1, 3 and 2, 3 and 4, 4 and 1, 4 and 2, 4 and 3. Then, work through all the three finger combinations followed by using all four fingers. To practice string crossing, for example, between the E and A strings, you can play the E string with your thumb followed by your index, middle, and ring fingers on the A string. You can also practice playing the E string with your thumb and index finger followed by your middle and ring fingers on the A string. Or, play the E string with your thumb, index, and middle fingers followed by the ring finger on the A string. There are a lot of possibilities to consider. I would then experiment with exercises to break up the pattern and place accents on different beats. It's a very thorough process that you work on one step at a time. My bass technique book will cover all this material starting with basic exercises like this that progress through scales, arpeggios, and eventually culminate with specific bass lines from my tunes using all four fingers.
The solos you have recorded on your projects are very sophisticated-sounding. How do you approach improvisation and soloing?
For every chord, I like to have three or four alternate reharmonizations of that chord. For example, if I see a C major chord such as CMaj7, I'll give myself the options of playing C Lydian or C Lydian Augmented in addition to the major scale. I like to incorporate a lot of chromaticism too. I like to reharmonize all the major, minor, and dominant chord types. When I'm phrasing, I like to pretend that I'm a horn player or singer. I'll take a breath before I play a phrase just like a horn player or singer naturally would, and then when I'm out of breath, I'll end the phrase. I'll stop for a moment to take another breath and continue my next statement. When you think about breathing, it adds a human element to the phrasing. It's just like speaking. You will speed up your voice when you are talking about something that is really interesting, and you are trying to get your point across fast. You also use dynamics, and sometimes you speak loudly while at other times you speak softly. I'm really into human vocalization on the instrument. When you are practicing, try to think about how you speak, and transfer that into your soloing. It will add individuality to your phrasing. I also listen to a lot of Indian music and the way string instrumentalists slide around on their instruments in bluegrass music trying to reach for notes. That really influences the sounds I try to emulate in my music.
What aspects of music and bass playing do you stress the most to your students as an instructor at The Bass Collective?
I like to have my students just sit back for a minute before they even pick up the bass and seriously analyze themselves from a technical, harmonic, and ideological point of view. What do you do on your instrument that makes you a musician and not just a bass player? What are you striving to accomplish? What I'm trying to get across is that you don't just strap on a bass, start playing, and then hope for the best. You have to think about these things. You have to invest time in the thought process, your instrument, and the music. By organizing your thoughts, you can really bypass a lot of useless information. In the end, you'll learn that you are your greatest teacher. Of course, I also cover right and left techniques and harmonic studies in lessons.
I believe that with a serious amount of work and determination anyone can accomplish their goals. Everyone's path is a little different. Some people just have a natural musical inclination and can do these things very easily while others have a more difficult path and have to work a little harder. We're all capable of playing. It's been proven because if someone else can play something, so can you. It really comes down to the amount of time you are willing to devote to practicing. It's about motivation. I see guys go through a transformation, and it's really an amazing experience that gives me goose bumps.
In 1998 you founded GarrisonJazz Productions. What factors played a role in your decision to release projects independently?
It was a combination of seeing what was happening to my friends who were signed to record labels, seeing where technology and the Internet were going, and the ridiculous offers that were being made to me by some of the record labels. It's been difficult because there have been a lot of doors shut in front of me. I understand the business side of it, but I just don't want to deal with it. I'd rather put in my own hard work and see the success.
Over the past couple years, I've taken over administratorship of my dad's estate. I now really see how much he was cheated out of things that should have been his, and that was a motivating factor for me in starting my own independent label and wanting to deal with people directly. I'm deeply committed to not letting those things that happened to my father repeat again. When you are on top, everyone is your friend, but when you are not, nobody cares, and this mentality is much worse today than it was thirty years ago. Big record labels are scrambling and will drop you without thinking twice about it, and I'm just trying to stay away from it as much as possible with my own music. As an independent artist releasing my own material, I have complete control over everything. I just don't want anybody telling me what I'm supposed to do or how I'm supposed to do it. I just want to do it, and I'm going to continue positioning myself in this direction.
How has your website, GarrisonJazz.com, affected the marketing strategy of your recordings as independent releases?
My website is my store front. It allows me to connect directly with other people. It contains my information, and I can sell all my projects from my website.
What upcoming projects from GarrisonJazz Productions will be released next? Will you be doing any new sideman projects?
Upcoming releases will include a songbook of transcriptions of Matthew Garrison and Shapeshifter. The bass techniques book is done, but I want to do it right and add video to go along with the notated examples.
Since I have a small label, all the resources I receive go straight back into completing and releasing future productions. I learned a lot from the DVD-making process. Many mistakes were made, and we are going to correct those errors on the next DVD which I'm already planning. It will be done in a trio format really focusing on what I do as opposed to a full-blown band project. We are going to get really deep into using surround sound. The music from Shapeshifter will be there along with lots of new material. We are also going to incorporate lots of visual effects. I think the next DVD is going to be really incredible. The release of these future projects all depends on the resources. The ideas are there, and the work can be easily completed, but I have to have the resources to finish them.
I'll be working with Dave Liebman, Wallace Roney, and Gary Husband. My band will be touring next year, and it will be called "The Shapeshifter Tour Series 1-4." We are going to be doing four separate tours. I think Scott Kinsey and Gene Lake will be doing those tours with me. Hopefully we can capture a couple of those gigs on video. I've never toured with my own band before, and 2005 is going to be a really busy year.
Do you have any interests or hobbies outside of music that you like to do when you are not playing bass?
My whole life is music, computers, and electronics. I use to really be into martial arts, but I don't have the time to really dedicate to it anymore.
What advice could you offer our viewers who are trying to make bass playing their career?
If you decide to make music your career, you have to be prepared for ups and downs. There will be moments of great success and joy, but there can also be a lot of heart break. At some point you have to decide that you are going to dedicate your life to it or basically just do it as a hobby for fun. If you make music your life mission, then you have to do it to the best of your ability. You have to be determined, and you have to stay motivated. If you are a gifted musician and you feel that you have something special to offer, you have a duty to get your music out. It's your job.
Matt Garrison Live: DVD/CD
With Herbie Hancock
With Joe Zawinul
With John McLaughlin
Live In Paris
The Heart Of Things
With Steve Coleman
Def Trance Beat
Tao Of Mad Phat Fringe Zones
With Bob Moses
Time Stood Still
With Dennis Chambers
With Jim Beard