"Don’t obsess and trip over the best bass and equipment – get something that’s comfortable for you," says veteran bassist Reggie. Pic: Camille Millerand

You’ve had a varied career, Reggie.

Over the last 20-plus years I’ve been a part of a vast tapestry of music. I’ve performed, recorded and toured with Branford Marsalis, Steve Coleman, Roy Hargrove, Cassandra Wilson, the World Saxophone Quartet, Jef Lee Johnson, Chico Hamilton, Mike Mainieri and Steps Ahead, John-Paul Bourelly, Vinx, Cheick-Tidiane Seck, Meshell N’degeocello, Don Byron, Kenny Kirkland, Lester Bowie, D’Angelo, Oz, Will Smith, Uri Caine, Oliver Lake and Ronnie Cuber to name a few. All have been a high point for me!

What gear do you use?

I play Phifer Designs four-string Signature Series basses and a Tyrolean flatback acoustic bass from around 1850. I also use the Epifani UL-502 bass head and the UL-310 cab. I recently pulled out my old Boss Octaver pedal – big fun!

Who were your bass heroes when you started out?

There were a lot, since I was listening to so many different kinds of music – Sam Jones and Jimmy Garrison (my favorites), Oscar Pettiford, Larry Graham, Paul Jackson, John Paul Jones, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, Reggie Workman, Ron Carter, Bob Babbitt, James Jamerson and Bootsy Collins to name a few.

How did you get started on bass?

My brother Kenny and Marcus Miller went to school together in the 70s. Marcus would come over to my house in Staten Island from Queens at weekends and sometimes after school to learn about jazz from my brother. I would sit in the corner and absorb everything going on. He always had his bass with him and would let me play it. He thought I had some skills, so he started showing me things on the bass.

What's the secret of being a good bass player?

Listening to different things and respecting the history. Music is a language. In order to understand and play music you have to know where it comes from. I’ve been very fortunate to play many different genres of music – jazz with cats from New York, reggae with rasta cats, go-go with cats from Washington DC, gwoka music with cats from Guadeloupe and blues with cats from Chicago. Get it from the source, or at least intensely listen to it, not at it, and embrace where it came from! Another thing is learning to play with others – unless you’re a phenomenon and you don’t need anybody else, it’s good to find a favorite drummer or become a favorite bassist. Don’t obsess and trip over the best bass and equipment – get something that’s comfortable for you. Ultimately it’s you who makes the sound.

What tips would you give bass players who are just starting out?

Listen and enjoy yourself. It’s not a race to see who plays the most notes. You have to crawl, then walk… slowly. Take your time. It’ll become clear in a moment.

Who is the best bass player ever (alive or dead) and why?

That’s hard to say. So many players have graced stages and recording studios around the world, but Sam Jones was the guy for me, because the notes he played were right, his feel was so happy and full of life (he had that ‘bounce’) and his sound – you could hear him down the street. I took those things from him and made them my own.

What are your five favourite bass parts?

1 ‘A Remark You Made’ (Jaco Pastorius)

2 ‘Mr. Pastorius’ (Marcus Miller)

3 ‘Angel Of My Heart’ (Bernard Edwards/Chic)

4 ‘Tricotism’ (Oscar Pettiford)

5 ‘God Fear And Money’ (Meshell Ndegeocello) 

Related