From left: Lee Sklar, Jim Roberts, Nathan East, Jennifer Condos, and John Patitucci in 1991.
WHEN IT WAS TIME TO CHOOSE A cover for this issue, we had a problem. Sitting on my desk were two well-written articles featuring great British bassists: Tony Bacon’s story about Mark King, and Chris Jisi’s interview with Pino Palladino.
Well … why not both of them? Fortunately, our intrepid art director, Paul Haggard, was able to arrange a photo shoot by Chris Taylor. (It was in London, I think.) Mark and Pino showed up, basses in hand, and had a great time with each other. We got a terrific cover image—plus a bonus shot for the Contents page.
As much fun as it was working that out, I had an even better time at a unique roundtable event that became another article in this issue. Thanks to Kimberly Shearer of Yamaha, who made all the arrangements, I got to hang out in an L.A. conference room with four outstanding bassists and talk about nothing but bass playing. So there I was, listening to Jennifer Condos, Nathan East, John Patitucci, and Lee Sklar as they got to the bottom of things. Here’s an excerpt.
John Patitucci: As the bass player, you’re playing all the time. It’s not like you’re a horn player, or a keyboard player who’s playing a pad here and there. You’re totally responsible for everything; if it ain’t happening, they’re going to look at you and the drummer.
Lee Sklar: Even the drummer can get away with more; if he blows a fill, he can play through the downbeat. A guitar player or keyboard player can wait for the downbeat to see where it’s going. But if the bass player doesn’t know where the downbeat is …
Patitucci: Forget it.
Sklar: I was hired to do a tour with Phil Collins in ’85, and they sent me tapes of all the songs. I spent days sequestered in my room, learning every song—and when I arrived in rehearsals, I had to teach them to everybody else. Even Phil had forgotten half the songs. People say, “How come you get so uptight about all this stuff?” And I say, “Because I’m the only guy who has to be there for the downbeat.” It’s the nature of the beast.
I think bass is the most stressful instrument because everybody looks at you. I remember doing a gig with James Taylor when we had just learned a new song before the show. So James gets up, points at me, and says to the crowd, “If there are any mistakes, it’s him.” We play the song, and every bass note is wrong. When it’s over, James has this look on his face like, “What are you doing?” It turns out he had played the song with his guitar in D tuning—but it was supposed to be in E. Every note he played on the bottom end was a whole-step off—but he still had the audacity to think it was me screwing up.
Nathan East: They always think it’s the bass player. Even when there’s feedback, the first person they look at is you. “It’s not me! Promise!”
Sklar: If there’s something going on with the PA system, some kind of low-frequency rumble—they’re busting you for it.
Patitucci: Or if the keyboard player’s got too much low end on his rig.
Sklar: I think one of the greatest tragedies today is the way a lot of guys mix live sound. To them, the concept of a good mix in an arena is a great drum sound. You can’t hear any bass, but there’s this [pounds his chest]. It’s just this bass drum kicking you.
I love the idea of being Marcel Marceau onstage. You’re looking good, you’re dancing your ass off, you’ve got all the right moves …
Patitucci: And nobody hears a note.