Jeff Berlin - bass-icon and dedicated teacher
The invention of new playing concepts never conceived before by other bassplayers - this especially is a major achievement of Jeff Berlin and deservedly made him one of "the" bassplayers. However Berlin did not stagnate in the position of the idol - as founder and teacher of the "Players School of Music" and writer of columns in numerous Bassplayer magazines he is dedicated to the education of young musicians worldwide.
Jeff Berlin´s music is - as it has always been - rooted in Jazz, R&B and classical techniques - but there´s much left to tell about "the Jeff Berlin of today". And tell us he does ...
Carina: You started on the violin at the age of 5 - in your early teens you chose the bass guitar as your main instrument instead. One reason was the impression that bands like the Beatles made on you. Why didn't you ever pick up the violin again and what made you sure then that the bass guitar was the "one and only for you"?
Jeff: The violin was an instrument of my youth. The bass is the instrument for the rest of my life. By the time I reached sixteen years of age, I just didn't enjoy playing the violin anymore. When I made the change over to the bass, I never regretted it. I was freed from the confines of classical rules and entered rock and jazz with great enthusiasm.
I think that the bass became my "one and only" the more that I realized how good I felt about playing it. The more I practiced and gigged, the better I loved playing the bass. Soon, I simply couldn't stand being without it. I never cared if I got famous on it. I just had to play to maintain a healthy balance in myself.
Carina: In an interview with the "Guitar Player" (6/1981) we can read that you were an active boxer - weren't you afraid of hurting your hands? - Most musicians try to avoid sports, that bear any risk for their musical carrier. - And what sports are you doing today?
Jeff: I was never an active boxer! I was - and am - a fan of the sport. I go to the gyms to work out, to train and to spar. - I was recently in a car accident that messed up my back, so I think that my sparring days are over. - Still, I love the sport and I continue to train - time permitting! - and watching the fights. I run, I jump rope. I hit the mitts and the bags. I'm a "gym rat"! You have to keep active the older you get! - As for my hands, I've hurt them more "fixing the sink" than I ever did in the gym ...
Carina: Your latest CD "In Harmony's Way" is only available through your website - why? You are the founder of the label "M.A.J." - is it especially for publishing the music of your own band or do you have other plans for it, too?
Jeff: I founded M.A.J. Records (which stands for Middle Age Jazz) because I wanted the best chance to put my CDs into the hands of those people who wanted to hear my music. I used to be signed to a couple of record labels in the past. These labels never made any publicity about my releases, nor distributed my CDs very well.
Jeff Berlin - "In Harmony´s Way"
In short, I felt that I could do a better job than they did to publicize and distribute my CD's by providing only one source for my music: my website. No distribution problems, no disappointed fans wondering how to get the CD. I'm glad that I did this!
Carina: You were and are regarded as one of the greatest bass soloists in the music world. How does that feel for you - or don't you think about it?
Jeff: I do and I don´t! I´ve studied so much music that bass players normally don´t study, that my bass playing has taken a turn into very special musical areas. I play things on the bass that bass players normally cannot play, because what I play comes from musical studies instead of technical ones.
Technically and melodically, I´ve never been more free on my instrument. I´ve invented a couple of new playing concepts that I´ve never heard any bass player play before. Plus, my improvisational skills keep growing and developing. It´s a great time for me in music.
In another way, I ignore the "Greatest Bass Player" title because all bass players want to do their very best! If someone is trying to play the best that they can, then they should be applauded for the love and attention that they are showing to their art. I cannot be considered better than any player who love music and are giving it their best efforts just like me.
Sometimes, I am humbled when I meet musicians who do it for the love of music alone. It's a pleasure to know people like this.
Carina: After so many years of playing - what is more important for you: to play in a group or to play "solo"? Which is "easier" for you?
Jeff: Both are easy! I am equally at home with both concepts. You have to remember that a musician plays only two ways: his way, or the leader's way. Because I know this, I am a strong sideman, giving the leader what he wants. I am also a strong leader because I have a clear vision of what I want.
Carina: You have written a column for the "Bass Player Magazine" for a long period of time. You taught young musicians a lot. - You are also the founder and a teacher of "The Players School of Music" - and you have special opinions about musical education and teaching in general. Perhaps you could give an example of a central point where your teaching approach is different ...?
Jeff: My entire concept of teaching falls into this statement: "You Can't Play What You Don't Know!" - No handgrip, metronome, chops building concepts, speed exercises etc. etc. etc. will help a player to learn how to play better! No technique exercise will help me to speak German. If I don't know the words, I can't speak the language! It's the same with music.
mit Dave Weckl ('Players School')
Still, I am amazed how many musicians all around the world don't know this and can't figure out why they are not getting better as musicians even after owning and playing their instruments - sometimes for years!
Carina: What would you say is your main focus musically - is it R&B, is it Jazz ...?
Jeff: It is R&B, it is Jazz, it is classical - it is a hybrid of all these things. I've noticed that many CDs stick to one musical style. I wish that I could do this on my own recordings. But, in the end, I'm doing a little of this and a little of that. This is the style of "Jeff Berlin music" - I can't stay in one area! I feel the need to try everything. It's just my way when I am the leader.
Carina: You didn't only play "classical material" on the electric bass, you also used to transpose music for reed/horn instruments into "bass-material". For what reason do you do this - and what is your favorite material today?
Jeff: I started doing this because of the knowledge it gave me. I still do it today. There has never been a bass player in the history of the instrument - both acoustic and electric - who has the melodic skills that someone like Cannonball Adderley or Bill Evans had! I´ve been transcribing non-bass players' solos for thirty years because they came up with music that I would never have thought to play on my instrument without their influence on me. I needed them to stimulate me and move me into new musical directions on my bass.
Today, my favorite music to study is David Liebman's book - "A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody". This book is my "bible" right now. I've learned more from this book than anything else that I've studied for years, except for Charlie Banacos' lessons!
Carina: You played with Isaac Hayes and John McLaughlin - which were your individual impressions about them? Is there some story about them that you have still in mind??
Jeff: Isaac was fun! I played with him twice, once in England and once in Los Angeles. The English gig was by far the best of the two because the band was superior. It was "smoking".
I played with John McLaughlin for six months. We had some personal difficulties and I ran into a problem with my wife´s visa in America and couldn´t do the US leg of his tour. I haven´t seen him in nearly thirteen years. - But, he is one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived and I learned a lot by playing with him.
Carina: Plans for a new CD, for some special events at your school ?- Is there anything left that you weren´t able yet to make reality?
Jeff: I´m already writing for the new CD! But, I won´t record until next year sometime. What I want to do is to tour! My band is "smoking" and we can´t wait to get out there. But - Jazz is hard to book! I´m looking for an agency that would book us. A lot of guys that I know book themselves because we aren´t pop stars. - Steve Smith books himself!
Jeff Berlin "backstage"
But, I would like to find a jazz agency to bring my band to Europe. I have gigs in England and Italy this autumn. Maybe I can swing into Germany and play there because the Germans are terrific music fans. They love music because it is music! It's fun to play for people like this.
Carina: What inspires you for your music? Have you got a special philosophy for life?
Jeff: My son had cancer. He's now cancer-free! His recovery inspired me and showed me that I have a lot to be grateful for. My kids are in great health. I am creating and growing every single day in music. Life itself is an inspiration to me. I really mean this!
I can tell you that I am happy because I do what I love. I see the children I love. I teach musicians to get better at their instrument. My CD is selling. My reputation is continually growing. New gigs and recording sessions are coming up. - Life is good. Life is good!
Jeff Berlin im Internet: www.jeffberlinmusic.com/
Advance Music, 1991 - ISBN: 3892210306
mehr bei Jazzdimensions:
Jeff Berlin - "In Harmony´s Way" - Review - (erschienen: 29.7.2001)