WITH OVER 100 SATISFIED TRAVELING bassists now using his revolutionary folding upright, Nashvillian Charlie Chadwick has secured a place in the history of the instrument. A few years ago, Nashville session great Dave Pomeroy broke the news of this innovation in these very pages. Now it’s time to let readers know a little more about the man himself. Charlie is obviously a talented inventor, but those of us who live here in Music City also know him as an extraordinary, well-rounded player at home not only in the jazz idiom, but in roots music in general. Chadwick also maintains a busy session schedule as an engineer/ producer in his own home studio, with dozens of records to his credit. I talked with Charlie in his home- studio–workshop.
You grew up in San Diego. Did you start out on upright bass?
No, I started out on electric bass, playing blues and rock & roll. As I evolved, I found myself listening to more jazz and progressive music. I landed some gigs with a bandleader and sax player in San Diego by the name of Joe Morrello, and I had to learn standards, mostly on fretless. Around that time, I heard the Bill Evans Trio’s Village Vanguard records with Scott LaFaro, and the sound of LaFaro’s upright just blew my mind! That’s when I knew that if I was going to continue in that direction, I really needed to start getting into upright. I bought an 1890s Knilling flatback, and off I went.
What inspired your move to Nashville?
Some of my peers in the San Diego area—Nathan East and Cliff Almond, to name a couple—had become successful and gone on to bigger gigs. Their success made me realize that it was possible to move everything into the national arena. I just wanted to get out and see the world and play with bigger acts. I realized that in order to do that, I had to move to L.A., New York, or Nashville. I’m not sure why I chose Nashville; it just felt right. After I got here, I met Dave Pomeroy, and he steered me into who and what I should be listening to, and it’s worked out just fine for me.
What were your first few gigs like in town?
Dave let me know right away that in Nashville, the song and songwriters were king. Before that, I always looked at lyrics as if they were what took up space between the playing! I now know otherwise. I learned the other side of bass playing—support for the tune and the soloists. I started gigging with local songwriters like Kenny Walker and Nick Pelligrino. I can’t stress how important this is and was. It leads to sessions and gigs.
You’ve also had a few big country gigs as well.
I’ve been very lucky to have toured and recorded with some amazing artists: Pam Tillis, Crystal Gayle, and Shelby Lynn, to name a few. I’m now working with the great Suzy Bogguss in a cool little trio.
I personally love your work in the realm of Gypsy jazz, in particular, with John Jorgensen’s Gypsy jazz band. How did you end up so adept at that?
I began working with a local Gypsy group, the Gypsy Hombres, and I just fell in love with that style. It really set me up for my gig with John Jorgensen. I played in that group for five years. It was awesome to travel the world with such a great group of players.
Was this road work what inspired your folding bass?
Absolutely! I was doing an appearance on Jay Leno, and the rental bass that they brought me was so hideous, that it just pissed me off . I knew that somehow, some way, I could build something that would make my life better and more consistent on the road. I wasn’t a fan of electric uprights. So, I began taking basses apart, trying to rebuild them into a travel bass that was a real bass. The turning point was when I came up with the idea of folding the neck into the body of the bass instead of removing it. Then I hooked up at a NAMM Show with bass maker Sam Shen, who was so intrigued that he helped me by providing basses for me to destroy!
You’ve shown a willingness to incorporate ideas provided by your customers. How important is that to you?
Very—a lot of my design improvements have come from stuff that happens to my customers. With the brutality of air travel, things break. When they do, I try to find a way to make them better and more durable. It’s a policy of mine to retrofit all of my basses with these improvements. I’ve only had two people return their basses, but only because they were not carved tops—they just missed that sound. Well, guess what? That’s now my next project, a carved-top folding bass!
CHADWICK FOLDING BASS
Builder Charlie Chadwick
Location Nashville, Tennessee
Notable players Christian McBride, Barry Bales, Charles Humphrey III, Alan Bartram
Contact foldingbass. com
Suzy Bogguss, American Folk Songbook [Loyal Duchess, 2011]; Leon Russell, Moonlight & Love Songs [Leon Russell, 2002]; John Jorgensen, Ultraspontane [Pharoah, 2007]
Upright basses Various Shen uprights, Chadwick Folding Bass (on the road), Unknown carved bass, 1890s Knilling carved ﬂatback
Electric basses Custom fretless 4-string with Seymour Duncan pickups, Yamaha TRB5 with Bartolini pickups and Aguilar preamp, Fender 50th Anniversary Custom P-Bass, Höfner 500/1
Rig Fishman Full Circle pickup and Shure SM98 mic blended through a Headway EDB-1 Acoustic preamp, and on to an Eden Traveler (or whatever rig is available)