Bunny Brunel & Stanley Clarke Team Up to Celebrate Bass

Bunny Brunel and Stanley Clarke have been best bass buddies since meeting at the late-’70s wedding of Chick Corea’s manager.
Image placeholder title

Bunny Brunel and Stanley Clarke have been best bass buddies since meeting at the late-’70s wedding of Chick Corea’s manager. Back then, Clarke was amid his School Days-fueled solo glory, and Brunel was Chick’s new bass ace (thanks to keyboardist Patrick Moraz bringing Corea to see Bunny play with Tania Maria in London). Although the two have played together countless times, it has taken until now for them to team up on a project—one that serves as a stewardship of the instrument they helped revolutionize. Bass Ball sports a loaded lineup, with ten top bassists who field new and classic compositions by Brunel (on fretless, fretted, and piccolo 5-strings) and Clarke (on standard, tenor, and piccolo electrics, plus acoustic bass). “Slap & Tickle” boasts Victor Wooten, Hadrien Feraud, and drummer Dennis Chambers; “Lopsy Lu” is revisited with Steve Bailey, Billy Sheehan, and drummer Simon Phillips; “Stand Out” and “Nothing But the Bass” feature Armand Sabal-Lecco; and five of Brunel’s plucking pals from his native France, including the excellent Marc Bertaux, also appear. We asked Bunny about the big dance.

How did this project get started, and what was the concept?

The title came first, many years back from the late George Duke, who thought “Bass Ball” would be a good name for a bass project. About five years ago, Stanley and I began talking about making a bass-centric album that would feature other bassists, as well. The idea was to start out with our two basses and a rotating chair of great drummers, and then fill out the roles typically played by other instruments with additional bassists. Due to Stanley’s label obligations, we put out the record under my name.

Image placeholder title

You and Stanley have contrasting but complementary styles.

We have the experience to know how and when to support the other, and when to step forward. We were both fortunate to play with Miles Davis’ ’60s sidemen—Chick, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter—who all know that ultimately, if you make the whole band sound good, you sound good.

You also both have a gift for soloing outside of the changes.

We’re jazzers using classic chord substitutions in the tradition of Miles and John Coltrane—Stanley is a master of it. As I tell my students, on bass we have a distinct advantage over the trumpet, the sax, and even the piano in that we have a visual, geometric grid that we operate on. We can play a C major scale and move up a fret and play a C# major scale; that’s very complicated to do on other instruments. Whether you’re playing a scale, a pattern, or a melodic phrase, those kinds of half-step shifts will make you sound “out” in a hurry.

What’s next for you?

Stanley and I would like to take Bass Ball live, and the plan is to do a Bass Ball 2, with the bassists we couldn’t get in time for the first album—everyone from Marcus Miller to Federico Malaman. I’m also trying to get the original CAB back together, with Brian Auger; I borrowed some of Brian’s arrangement of “Freedom Jazz Dance” for our cover on Bass Ball. And I’m working on a new project with Patrick Moraz and Virgil Donati called iNow.


Image placeholder title


Bunny Brunel, Bass Ball [2017, Nikaia]


Basses ESP Bunny Brunel Signature LTD BB-1005 fretted and fretless; BB-1004 fretted and fretless; Bunny Brunel Electric Upright Bass; Carvin BB75 piccolo bass
Rig Eden EM275, EC 15, and TN 2251 combos
Strings La Bella M42 Hard Rockin’ Steels (.040, .060, .080, .100); La Bella 7720 Series Upright Bass
Other DigiTech pedals, ART preamps, Snap Jack cables


Stanley Clarke: Reflections of a Root Revolutionary

It’s been over 40 years since stanley clarke liberated the low end, but the crowd at Manhattan’s Iridium jazz club has a collective look of astonishment as Clarke swiftly spans the full scale of his upright fingerboard, coaxing warm, resonant notes that both lead and support the music.

Men in the Mirror: The Bassists of Michael Jackson How Alex Al And His Predecessors Pumped Up The King Of Pop

THERE’S A REVEALING EXCHANGE ABOUT FIVE MINUTES into This Is It, the documentary about the late Michael Jackson’s planned world tour, in which the Gloved One is encouraging his keyboardist to play the answer riff to the penetrating bass line of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” funkier. “It’s not there yet,” he says gently, before singing the entire two-measure groove flawlessly in the pocket, while playing air bass. Real bass seems to have always been at the forefront of Jackson’s music, whether it came from studio savants in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York, or his landmark use of synth bass that remains in vogue to this day. Alex Al, Jackson’s bassist since 2001 and a member of the seven-piece band featured in the film, concurs. “Bass was the most important instrument to him. He’d make references to Paul McCartney’s melodic playing with the Beatles, James Jamerson being upfront and center with Motown, or Stevie Wonder’s left hand.”