FOR THE SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR, SUNSET Boulevard in Los Angeles served as the stylish backdrop for BASS PLAYER LIVE!, on October 24 and 25. With the event scheduled seven days earlier than last year’s Halloween-weekend tilt, and with one of the most comprehensive lineups yet assembled, there was nary a hint of a sophomore jinx. In fact, BPL 2009 tallied its highest-ever number of exhibitors and attendees. The proceedings actually began on the evening of the 23rd at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, with a screening of Rambling Boy, the new documentary on the life of jazz legend Charlie Haden. Haden—who joined Tower Of Power groove god Francis “Rocco” Prestia as recipients of BP’s 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award—spoke afterward, along with filmmaker Reto Caduff.
The next morning, S.I.R. Studios was once again the location for a day’s worth of clinics and exhibitor spaces. As low frequencies seeped into the far corners of the facility, Stu Hamm and Justin Meldal-Johnsen took to the two clinic rooms for the first pair of seminars, followed by Rickey Minor and Bakithi Kumalo, Andrew Gouche and Alain Caron, and Tal Wilkenfeld opposite the Bass Builders Roundtable. Caron joined Hadrien Feraud and 2006 Lifetime Award recipient Tony Levin in an active Markbass/Ernie Ball Music Man room; Minor and Kumalo guested in Aguilar’s room (shared with Spector, EMG, Dunlop, and Coppolo); and in the main exhibitors room, pros and fans alike made their way to the booths of T.C. Electronic, SWR/Fender, Warwick, MTD, Ampeg, G-K, Carvin, and many more.
Shifting westward on Sunset to the Key Club for the BASS PLAYER LIVE! Concert Saturday evening, attendees—including 2006 Lifetime Award recipient Lee Sklar—were in store for the event’s most diverse show to date. Shortly after 8 pm, Haden received his award from Helene LaFaro-Fernandez, sister of the late, great Scott LaFaro (who graced the cover of BP’s Holiday ’09 issue). Haden and pianist Alan Broadbent then performed three soulful standards to a rapt, appreciative crowd. Raucous was the next emotion, as Mars Volta metal bass guru Juan Alderete enlisted Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and drummer Gene Coye to throw down the sounds of his solo project, Vato Negro. With jazz and rock fans sated, R&B made a grand entrance via the presentation of Rocco Prestia’s award by fellow Bay Area bassist Bobby Vega. Behind them, Tower Of Power’s rhythm section—drum legend David Garibaldi, keyboardist Roger Smith, and guitarist Mark Harper, plus lead vocalist Larry Braggs—took their places, joined by surprise guests T.O.P. saxophonist Tom E. Politzer and trumpeter Adolfo Acosta. The septet steamrolled the club with five T.O.P. classics, ending with the anthemic “What Is Hip?”
Always the most anticipated and unpredictable portion of the concert, the annual three-song jam began with Rocco and his T.O.P. rhythm mates staying in place for “Squib Cakes.” They were joined by jam musical director Steve Bailey, Vega, Hamm, Wilkenfeld, Rufus Philpot, Jimmy Earl, and Larry Kimpel for a full-on fingerstyle funk summit. Next, all bass guitars were cleared in favor of acoustic and electric uprights manned by Bailey, Brian Bromberg, Kumalo, Bunny Brunel, and John B. Williams, on a sympathetic, swinging version of Charlie Haden’s “Blues for Pat” (with Kirk Covington on drums). Finally, in tribute to Motown’s 50th Anniversary and Motor City master James Jamerson, Bailey and Covington led Gouché, Feraud, Janek Gwizdala, Russel Blake, Sekou Bunch, and 2008 Lifetime Award recipient Verdine White through a bodacious burn-down of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”
Bleary-eyed but bass-ready, the throng returned Sunday morning to S.I.R. for more gear groping and clinic crunching. Norwood Fisher and Chris Chaney began sessions in their respective rooms, followed by Haden and Gwizdala, Prestia and Philpot, and Alderete and Bailey. As the last bass string was plucked, both staff and attendees were left to savor another successful event, rife with momentum for the next BPL gathering—leaving only one question: Will it be out west again, or will there be a return east?