Jerome Harris On Acoustic Bass Guitar
By Bill Milkowski
Sun, 1 Nov 2009
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IT WAS ON A EUROPEAN TOUR WITH SONNY ROLLINS in the late ’80s when Jerome Harris first got turned on to the acoustic bass guitar. Jerome had been playing a Fender Precision Bass with the legendary tenor saxophonist, but after encountering the warm, round tones of the acoustic bass guitar one afternoon in Amsterdam, Harris was inspired to acquire one for himself. “I wanted something I could play on a straightahead jazz gig without getting the hairy eyeball,” says Harris. “That’s generally how straight-ahead cats would look at me when I’d pull out my Fender P-Bass. I’ve certainly studied upright jazz style, but I’ve never taken that beast on,” says the native New Yorker. “I thought about getting a double bass when I was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, but I couldn’t find one I could afford. Since I was already playing guitar and bass guitar, I figured I’d have to drop something if I were to seriously study double bass. For me, the acoustic bass guitar was the answer.”

Harris recorded prolifically on electric bass through the ’80s and ’90s with the likes of Rollins, Oliver Lake’s Jump Up, and Bobby Previte’s Latin For Travelers, and made appearances on recordings by Bill Frisell, Bob Moses, Ray Anderson, Ned Rothenberg, and Don Byron. More recently he’s played acoustic bass guitar in bands led by jazz drumming greats Jack DeJohnette and Paul Motian. “More than half of my bass-playing career has been on an acoustic instrument,” says Harris. “For me, the acoustic bass guitar is a better fit than a typical solid-body.”

Since 1996, Harris’s main ax has been a Steve Klein-designed Taylor AB-1, which he first showcased on his album Rendezvous [Stereophile, 1999]. “It’s been an evolution,” says Harris of his infatuation with the acoustic bass guitar. “My first was a budget-priced Martin Sigma. I used that bass on Hidden In Plain View [New World Records, 1995], which was my exploration of Eric Dolphy’s compositions. But the Sigma was a plywood instrument. The action on mine was really high, and it didn’t have an adjustable truss rod. Eventually I wanted an instrument that had a richer tone.” Harris found it in the Taylor AB-1, and is now focusing his attention on his 5-string Ribbecke Halfling Bobby Vega Bass, an instrument he has not yet laid to tape. “I’ve never owned a 5-string before,” says Harris. “I’ve wanted one for years, but hadn’t gotten around to pulling the trigger. I’ve been in settings where people have written down low and I’ve had to detune my 4-string, which can be awkward. I’d much rather have this fifth low string.”

“In terms of amplification, the choices I’ve made have had to do with good sound, but also there’s also the element of practicality, being someone who lives in New York City,” says Harris. “The Mesa Walkabout, which I can easily carry with one hand, has become my go-to ‘round-town bass amp.”

Upcoming gigs for Harris include dates with Paul Motian’s sextet, Adam Rudolph’s 30-piece Go Organic orchestra, harmonica virtuoso Richard Hunter, alto saxophonist Marty Erhlich, and guitarist Kenny Wessel. Harris is also involved with Jack DeJohnette’s Intercontinentals project, featuring stellar South African vocalist Sibongile Khumalo. “Jack’s got a few irons in the fire, and I’m really fortunate to be part of his musical world,” says Harris. The multi-faceted, open-minded bassist is also playing in clarinetist David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness and Abraham, Inc., a new band that fuses klezmer, funk, and hip-hop, and features former James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley and Yiddish rapper So-Called. “I’ve got my hands full,” laughs Jerome. “It keeps me from getting bored.”

HEAR HIM ON

0.bp1109_bn_sr_nrSonny Rollins, Road Shows, Vol. 1 [Emarcy/PGD, 2008]

 

 

 

GEAR

0.bp1109_bn_sr2_nr

Basses

  • 5-string Ribbecke Halfling Bobby Vega Bass
  • Taylor AB-1
  • LaBella strings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 0.bp1109_bn_sr3_nr

 

Rig

  • Walter Woods head
  • Eden cabinets
  • Mesa Boogie Walkabout Scout 1x12

 

 

 

 

 

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