Bass players marvel at his tone and feel with the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, but Carlos Henriquez is searching for more. On his debut album, The Bronx Pyramid, Henriquez celebrates connections with the people who helped him become the person he is today. “I called my album The Bronx Pyramid because I wanted to show the world that I have many people in my life who are a part of my pyramid,” he says from his home in New York. “I consider my musical growth a pyramid that has not yet been fulfilled—it’s still growing—and these are the cats who helped me out. I credit them in the liner notes, but I’m also paying tribute in the music.”
Throughout, the album is a robust broth that mixes Cachao-like mambos with flavors of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. On quieter moments like “Al Fin Te Vi,” a duet with trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, Henriquez showcases classical bowing technique honed with John Schaeffer, former Principal Bassist of the New York Philharmonic.
A Bronx native, Carlos studied bass extensively while playing in clubs and at New York’s prestigious LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, before Wynton Marsalis picked him to join the JLCO in 1997. With nearly two decades as the group’s bassist, Henriquez finally felt ready to let his music take the driver’s seat on The Bronx Pyramid.
Your compositions dominate the record. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing and arranging since I got into the band, just trying to figure out my voice. I took some of the compositions I’ve made throughout my life and selected the ones that reflected what I do. It took me a while to figure out and understand my roots as a bass player and a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, and what I know how to do.
As a bass player, you have to be secure. You’re holding down everything, so you have to be sure about what you’re doing, regardless if you can hear yourself. If you’re not confident, everything else falls apart.
Do you start writing on the bass?
It depends on the song. Sometimes I write down a melody and come back to it on the bass. On the song “The Bronx Pyramid,” I took a generic bass line that I’ve played many times in old Afro-Cuban big-band charts, and came up with a melody that’s influenced by Juan Tizol’s composition “Pyramid,” which he wrote for Duke Ellington.
My concept of writing is fluid, and I try to use intervals that are very noticeable to the ear. When you use the 4th and minor 3rd of a chord and move them back to the tonic, those types of intervals are sacred. It’s unbelievable how it moves people. I used them on two ballads on the record, “Nilda” and “Joshua’s Dream.”
It sounds like your right hand knows how to get that fat, round old-school sound.
You have to feather the string. Most bass players pull the string downward toward the fingerboard, but I pull the string outward and my fingers never hit the fingerboard. It’s an old-school way of plucking, and you get a really hollow whoom sound. And when a microphone picks that up and amplifies it, it’s ten times better.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR UPRIGHT
“I was lucky to study with cats who were professional musicians in the ’40s and ’50s, and I was able to ask them questions about how they pull sound. The biggest thing they told me was that pulling the string hard is not going to give you a big sound.
“Bobby Rodriguez told me that each string has a threshold, and once you find it, practice so you can hit that threshold every time. You can only go down or up to that threshold you’ve been working on—that’s all you and your bass can do. It took me a long time to find the sweet spots; I played chromatic scales and figured out what tone was right for what I was trying to play.
“Once you figure out your instrument’s tone and threshold, that’s it—that’s your bass sound, your voice. Some of my students tell me they’re not comfortable or secure with what they have, but they sound great. It’s because they’re trying to be something that they’re not. You have to learn how to use your sound with the sound around you … and make it yours.”
Bass Unidentified French bass from the 1880s, handed down from Bobby Rodriguez; generic 1910s German u-size bass
Strings Pirastro Evah Pirazzi synthetic-core strings; Pirastro Chorda Carlos Henriquez set
Bow French-style bow by Brazilian maker Marco Raposo
Pickup David Gage Realist LifeLine pickup blended with a DPA d:vote 4099B microphone
Rig Aguilar Tone Hammer 500, SL 112 1x12 cabinet