If one symbol of Hollywood could sum up Bass Player LIVE! 2011, it would have to be a pair of shades, as this year’s thumpfest boasted more mega-watt star power than any previous BP LIVE, and likely any other Tinseltown event during the mild autumn weekend of October 22-23. At each end of “rumble road,” the three-mile stretch of Sunset Blvd. between S.I.R. and the Key Club, once-in-a-lifetime gatherings of such groove gods as Larry Graham, Jack Casady, Marcus Miller, Pino Palladino, Stanley Clarke, Anthony Jackson, Verdine White, James Jamerson, Jr., Abraham Laboriel, Lee Sklar, Darryl Jones, and Rickey Minor were commonplace, particularly in the green room of the Key Club, with photo ops that brought to mind the classic 1958 portrait, A Great Day in Harlem. Throughout, no star shone brighter than Graham, a vision in white who was followed at all times by five cameras from the Africa Channel documenting his receiving a Bass Player Lifetime Achievement Award.
The weekend launched Saturday morning at S.I.R., with a record number of exhibitors booths, including Fender, Ibanez, MTD, Fodera, and Kala basses; Warwick, Ampeg, Gallien-Krueger, and Ashdown amps; DR, GHS, and D’Addario strings; Tech 21, Boss, and Source Audio effects; specialty items such as SKB cases, and much more. The ensuing opening pair of clinics featured dUg Pinnick, Blasko, James Lomenzo, and Dave Henning in a revealing rock roundtable moderated by BP Editor Brian Fox, and an fascinating solo seminar by South American 8-string bassist Igor Saavedra. Additional weekend-long clinics and performances could be found in the rooms of Musician’s Institute (headed by new bass department chairman Stu Hamm and boasting Darryl Jones and Putter Smith, among others) and Warwick, with their talented roster of artists. At 12:30, Janek Gwizdala paired with drummer Tom Brechtlein in his clinic, while Oskar Cartaya brought in his smoking 7-piece Latin ensemble, Enclave, to demonstrate and dazzle. The considerable comedic and musical stylings of JoStLe, with Jonas Helborg, Steve Bailey, and Lee Sklar were up next, while in Clinic Room B, Brian Bromberg amazed with his solo upright skills and made one of the pivotal annoucements of the event: the impending launch of his all-bass internet radio station, Bass on the Broadband, which will play music featuring bassists in all styles, and accept submissions from signed and unsigned artists [visit www.bassonthebroadband.com for more info]. The afternoon concluded with inspiring clinics from Abraham Laboriel, interviewed by BP Senior Contributing Editor Chris Jisi, and Rickey Minor, expertly backed by guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr., drummer Ronald Bruner, and keyboardist John Beasley.
With much momentum, attendees head west to the Key Club, where at 8PM Anthony Jackson gave an impassioned speech about Jack Casady, one of his two bass mentors, before presenting Casady with his Bass Player Lifetime Achievement Award. The Jefferson Airplane bass legend thanked many and then settled into an intimate yet riveting duet performance with his Airplane-mate and Hot Tuna co-founder, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. The pair covered Tuna classics as well as selections from their excellent recent CD, Steady As She Goes. Jackson returned to wax equally eloquently about his other prime bass mentor, James Jamerson, who was honored with Bass Player’s inaugural Posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award. James Jamerson, Jr. accepted the plaque from Jackson and spoke poignantly about his dad, as a tribute octet led by guitarist Allan “Doctor Licks” Slutsky, and featuring drum legend James Gadson, prolific session singer Jim Gilstrap, and bassist Phil Chen on second guitar, took their places. With James Jr. strapped into a sunburst P-Bass, the band launched into a seriously cooking set of Motown hits and obscurities, all selected to show the many sides of Jamerson Sr.’s genius. Songs ranged from Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her,” a Jamerson classic, to “The Flick,” an instrumental written by the Funk Brothers that they performed in clubs. Mid-set, Pino Palladino emerged with his signature flatwound-strung P-Bass to provide his powerful pocket presence on Junior Walker’s “Roadrunner.”
As the stage was cleared, Marcus Miller strode out to present Larry Graham with his Lifetime Achievement Award. Miller related Graham’s legacy through personal reflections and humorous anecdotes, and a gracious Graham thanked one and all in a heartfelt acceptance speech. With six members of his Graham Central Station, Larry then threw down like it was 1969, blending Sly & The Family Stone hits like “Thank You” and “Dance to the Music” with such GCS classics as “Hair” and “The Jam.” For an encore, he ventured out into the crowd and brought Miller and Verdine White onstage for a thrilling three-way thumb-off that quoted GCS’s “Release Yourself” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star.” But Graham was not finished; at the urging of jam musical director Steve Bailey, Larry returned to lead nine jammers, including Tal Wilkenfeld, Alex Al, Bromberg, Jamerson, Jr., Andrew Gouche, Hadrien Feraud, and Jack Casady (!), through “Sing a Simple Song.” Bailey then led a tribute to Jamerson with the final jam song, “What’s Going On,” featuring Jamerson, Jr., Al, Chen, Janek Gwizdala, Robert “Bubby” Lewis, and Jonas Hellborg, which morphed into a jam in A to give drummer James Gadson “some.”
The return to S.I.R. Sunday morning for another day of clinics and exhibitors booths began with an insightful, timely hip hop bass roundtable featuring Divinity Roxx, Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, and Bubby Lewis, moderated by BP Senior Editor Elton Bradman. Adam Nitti displayed his plucking and teaching skills in Room B. Jack Casady returned for a live interview clinic with Chris Jisi, covering his influences, the Airplane, Hot Tuna, and recording with Hendrix, as well as demonstrating musical and tone concepts on his signature Epiphone. Across the venue, Tim Lefebvre, with drummer Adam Gust, demonstrated and discussed the use of effects. At 2:15, Allan Slutsky led a Jamerson Appreciation Panel with Jamerson, Jr., Chen, and Palladino, in which he shared stories behind his book and film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, played selected Jamerson tracks, and had the three bassists pass around a P-Bass and play and talk about their favorite Jamerson bass lines. Meanwhile, faithful fans filled Room B to watch Andrew Gouche and his gospel-funk unit turn it out.
For the final hour, Hadrien Feraud brought the brothers Bruner and keyboardist Ruslan Sirota to augment his cutting-edge clinic, while in Room A it was the Larry Graham show part two. After his introduction by Brian Fox, Graham, with drummer Brian Braziel in support, performed his biography to a variety of grooves, including the story behind his invention of slap bass. Noticing Marcus Miller and his bass standing on the side of the stage, he invited his fellow thumbslinger to the pop ’n’ pluck party. Miller first asked all the questions he had for his slap mentor and then the two got down pushing the finger art envelope with slaps, strums, chicken pickin’, harmonics, thumb plucks, and percussive pats and slides, first on a bright groove and then slowed down by Miller for a rousing finish culminating in the two crossing their fingerboards and grinding across each other’s strings with Larry’s full distortion engaged. And then it was over, the silence serving to dramatically emphasize the incredible music heard all weekend. Bass Player LIVE! 2011 in summation? To paraphrase and earlier reference: A great two days in Hollywood.