“It really felt like an awakening, like a lightbulb moment,” says Aidan Carroll of his realization, at age eight, that he would be playing music for the rest of his life. “Not so much a choice but a calling.” That early vision initially propelled him to play drums and percussion, but Carroll eventually turned bassward and carved out a career path on upright and electric. After landing successful stints with Donald Fagen, Warren Haynes, Fred Hersch, and other prestigious artists, the dexterous doubler has spent the last few years laying a firm foundation for stellar vocalist Lisa Fischer. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Carroll attended UCO on a jazz scholarship before setting his sights on New York City in 2006, where he sought out the guidance of John Patitucci at City College of New York. Patitucci was more than impressed with the young bassist’s abilities. “He is easily one of the best students I have ever taught in 30 years,” says John. “Aidan has that great combination of talent, work ethic, time, feel, and ears. He’s curious about all kinds of compositional, harmonic, and melodic aspects of a variety of musical styles, and he plays acoustic and electric bass with a high level of integrity on both. I’m very proud of him, not only for his playing and overall musicianship, but because he is a person of humanity and integrity.”
How did your background as a drummer and percussionist inform your approach to playing bass?
I was heavy into marimba and mallet playing during my drum studies, and I think the marriage of that with rhythm and groove is what led me toward the bass. All the preparation I did on mallets learning scales, theory, and reading both bass and treble clef primed me for years to come. The bass just made sense because it encapsulates all areas of music I love: rhythm, harmony, and melody. All the possibilities are there.
What advice can you offer bassists about musically connecting with a drummer?
Listen! Your ears are your best friend. One thing I would suggest is to be malleable; have a strong sense of groove and time yourself, but don’t forget to be flexible, because we are all human, and imperfections in the beat are what sometimes make a beautiful pocket. Another tip would be always to try to listen from outside yourself and hear the drums and bass as a whole unit while onstage. And last, restraint. This is a tough one; it’s a fine balance between being yourself and having fun onstage, versus fulfilling your musical role of “holding it down.” I think all the greats understood this fine line, whether it was instinctual or conscious. On old records with, say, Chuck Rainey and Bernard Purdie playing with Steely Dan or Aretha Franklin, these guys were such great teams, and they knew how to complement each other without getting in the way.
In what ways did John Patitucci help you?
John is such a deep person and musician who’s been incredibly supportive of me since the time we met. I’m very grateful for his presence in my life. The first thing we worked on when I came to study with him at CCNY was technique. Mine was a mess! I had been playing with more ear than technique, so he really helped my left hand on upright, and my bow hand too. He has such a beautiful and relaxed technique on both basses. He also helped me to reach out beyond my comfort zone. We’d do these exercises on upright where we’d improvise a random melodic line starting in the lower register and moving our way up, and he would tell me to just throw my hand way up into the upper-register stratosphere! Sounds crazy, but it helped me get over the fear of playing high up on the double bass. It was very freeing to do this. John was always working on some deep stuff harmonically, like Messiaen’s scales, and he would share those explorations as well.
Tell me about your experience playing with Lisa Fischer.
It’s been pretty much life changing. Lisa is a timeless artist and one of the most naturally talented musicians I’ve ever worked with. To work with someone who came up singing with masters like Luther Vandross, Tina Turner, Sting, and the Rolling Stones is quite humbling. She is a complete master of her instrument—her voice—which makes performing with her very inspiring on a daily basis. She gives us total free rein, so we’re able to approach the various musical styles we play with an open palette and more of an improviser’s perspective. It’s been a blast so far!
Aidan Carroll, Original Vision [2015, Truth Revolution]; Sullivan Fortner, Aria [2015, Impulse]; Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Pound of Dirt [2012, MRI]; John Camp, Mistral (EP) [2015, Soul Clap]
Basses 1973 Fender Precision Bass, Callowhill PBass 5-string, 1940s German double bass
Amps Aguilar DB 751 or Tone Hammer 500
Cabinets Aguilar DB 410 4x10 or SL 112 1x12
Strings Black Diamond Black Coated Nickels for 5-string, D’Addario Chromes Flatwound, Pirastro Evah Pirazzi (G, D, A) and Spirocore (E)
Effects Aguilar Filter Twin, Aguilar Chorusaurus, EBS Octave, Moog MF Drive, Malekko Ekko 616 Analog Delay