Friday, March 12, 2010

Remembering a life that is passed, but not gone.

A few weeks ago I stayed home with my ailing grandfather while the rest of the family went out to some Colombian restaurant. Something very interesting happened that day, and it's something that I can't help but write about.

First of all, you should know that my grandfather has very late stage Parkinson's disease and is practically bed bound or chair bound. He can no longer really talk, and when he tries it comes across as mumbling or just groans. In recent months he's been sleeping most of the day and fairly unresponsive. There are times of lucidity for him, but even then, it is extremely difficult to communicate with him.

The day I stayed with him my mother asked me to sit in the kitchen to be able to keep better watch of him. I was able to do so since that day I only really had to work on copying transcriptions, and that could be done anywhere. So, we put on the TV to the channel that plays music all the time, this time to the classical music channel. At a certain point my grandfather started making some noise, possibly to try to say something, but there was no way I could understand it.

Suddenly, the Brandenburg Concerto #3 by JS Bach came on. I was pleased since I know and love that piece, but I was more surprised by my grandfather's reaction. He sat up and listened, with his eyes open. I couldn't believe it, and it almost brought me to tears, as is writing this now. I stood next to him while the piece played, and he looked at me and acknowledged me. I asked him if he remembered this piece and with just the slightest nod he was able to convey a yes.

Memories flooded my mind. I remembered when I was younger sitting in his office and talking with him about so many things. We would talk about chess, God, medicine (he was a veterinarian) and so many other things, not the least of which was music. He knew I was a musician. He'd seen me singing in church at 3 years old. He'd seen me playing piano and trumpet. We'd talked so much about classical music, hymns and different instruments. I know he had a love for music and a true appreciation for it. I remember playing through some violin pieces that he had on the piano and discussing it with him. It was a bond we shared. Hearing that piece on the TV with him being so aware of it instantly reminded of him in my life.

Sadly, it also reminded me of him not in my life. I realize he will die one day, but even now he is not as I remember him. That day I missed him. I was standing right next to him, but I missed him. I believe that he is still there. I believe that his mind is still probably working, at least close to what it used to be. The tragedy is that we can't communicate with him, or him with us, the way we would like. I miss that. When I first moved here to Florida he was still able to stand, albeit with the aid of a walker. He would listen to me as I practiced my upright bass and a few times I would stand him up and let him play it. Now, sadly, that's not possible.

I was talking with a friend of mine about this the other day, and he commented on how interesting it is that music can communicate where words cannot. True. Still, I miss my grandfather, even though he's right here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bass amps and country music

This past weekend I played a festival with country singer Shelly Starks. The legendary Charlie Daniels played later on that day. He was amazing, I only wish I am that good and that alive when I'm his age, but this post isn't about him.

It's about a bass amp. I was told I had to use the bass rig they had already set up. Too bad it was an Ampeg. Now for some people this would be heresy, but I couldn't stand the sound of this amp rig. I couldn't get the sound I wanted or the volume I needed. Ampeg is heralded as a premier bass amp and this is the second or third time I've been able to use a full rig in a band setting (you know, more than just messing around in the store) and even when I was just messing around in the store, I must say, I'm not impressed. Maybe I'm just used to my GK (1001rb2/sbx410) or maybe the Ampeg sound is just not I hear in my head, I'm not sure. All I know is that I won't be buying an Ampeg any time soon.

This got me thinking though. Since this is my first post on here, I'd like to put something up I wrote a while ago. A post I wrote when I was still living in NJ seems apropos right now, although I could update it a bit, but I won't.

Rediscovering Bass

some time in 2001 i got my first drumset. it was a very exciting time because i had always been fascinated by the drums and would practice as much as i could at school or at church, and now... i finally had my own set that i could play at any time. well the reality was slightly different because the drums are quite loud, loud enough in fact that the whole block resonated with the sound of drums when i played. obviously this fact limited the times of day that i could actually play, but nonetheless i practiced extensively when i first got it.

while i was in college a couple of friends of mine were throwing around the idea of starting a band to simply have some fun with it. i - always wanting to have fun with music - of course joined up. i took my bass to the first rehearsal and we ran through all the covers that we knew (mostly rage against the machine and metallica). that band, while fun, quickly dissolved for a number of reasons, one of which being that the drummer was involved in other things. the remainder of the group still wanted to play so i offered to fill the drum seat because we knew another bass player. eventually from that group of friends i got involved in another band in which we covered pantera, metallica, rage, deftones, stp, white zombie and a few others i can't remember right now. that certainly challenged me on drums never having been required to play that fast or that hard, for any duration of time. this was also when i got my first double bass pedal, a new skill of coordination to work on!!

around 2004 Seeking Through Silence began to take shape and i chose to stay with the drums for this incarnation of the band. as we progressed in the band, the music that we were writing became increasingly challenging for me, intentionally most of the time. we have a penchant for changing meters in our songs and playing unison parts and accents and the like. all of these things and my honest love for the instrument forced me and pushed me to immerse myself even more into the instrument that is the drumset. i studied technique, improvisation, rhythms from various styles and musical backgrounds. i delved into the world of drum construction, cymbal alchemy and all the things that a drummer should know (or at least i think should know). this is certaily not uncharacteristic of me. drums became a true passion of mine, i wanted to know everything about them.

i certainly don't regret my choice to become a drummer, except for this one fact. i neglected my first musical passion, the bass. how could i have neglected it like that? even to the point of no longer considering myself a bass player at one time and thinking that i would no longer be a serious bass player, relinquishing it to occasional use. even though throughout this whole time - and still now - i listen very much to the bass, and in the context of the band i rely heavily on the bass, i was no longer thinking like a bass player. i had converted all my thinking to that of a drummer, thinking less in terms of harmonic structure and content and strictly in rhythms, pulses, and feel. while those are also very important to a bass player, my approach to them were different now that i had sticks in my hands. nevertheless the bass was not totally gone from my life. i would continue to play occasionally and certainly began to notice the decline in dexterity of my hands due to a lack of practice. (on the converse, my paradiddles, doulbe stroke rolls, and particularly single stroke rolls have been improving tremendously of late)

there was one person though who always encouraged me to stay with the bass. he first met me as a bass player and only later, after having known him for a some time did i tell him that i played the drums as well. musically, there's something very important when the bass and drums are working together. it's something that is absolutely necessary but not always achieved. often it takes time to develop a rapport so that the proverbial "groove" can just happen. such was the case for me with one drummer, remy. we played so much together, in church and in a hip/hop group we produced, that we were musically tight. it became instinctive. the only other drummer that i've had that with is a gentleman by the name of richard lee. a friend of mine to this day, he has been a big supporter of my adventures on the bass, often expressing to me that i've got something special in my playing, in my musicianship and versatility. i certainly do appreciate the confidence, and really i do believe it, not because of arrogance; certainly not. rather the opposite is true, i tend to believe that i'm not good enough and that my performances are not up to my (sometimes exorbitantly) high standards. but he has not been the only one to give me unsolicited praise for my playing. and that is always appreciated. (i'd like to make it clear that i never solicit anyone for praise)

these past two months have been a sort of renewing of my thoughts, musically anyways. while i have still been immersed in the drumming world (listening to neil peart, steve smith, matt cameron, art blakey, danny carey and others) and have continued to push myself in terms of learning and developing technique, i have also seriously begun the road back to the bass. one night i visited my friend richard and brought my bass so we could jam. after nearly 20 minutes of jamming on different styles ranging from jazz to bossa nova and even touching on some hip hop, i looked up and said to richard "wow, i really miss playing the bass" and it was absolutely true. that night i was able to develop coherent bass lines and what's more, develop interesting chord progressions and melodies from them; and that excited me. i was rediscovering my passion. from that night on i was no longer satisfied to have the bass as merely a hobby of mine, i resolved to make it the forefront of my musical career. if at the very least it would share the forefront with the drums for right now. as is characteristic of me, when i am passionate about something i develop this urgent and pressing desire to know everything about it, and so, i study. i did it when i first picked up the bass 12 years ago. i do it now. to this end i have recently had my contrabass repaired after having been out of comission for at least 9 months. i desire to learn the bass in all its stringed manifestations, electric bass, contrabass, even the guitarron (in due time). these past few days i have had alot of the same music on my ipod, with some minor exceptions, but have been listening differently. where previously i would focus entirely on the drummer, now i have been listening to the bass again. i've been reacquainting myself with some of the serious bass players: jaco, geddy, ben shepherd, john wetton, and of course, cachao.

to you who have read this, i thank you. i thank you for having taken the time to read this that i've put time and thought into, and even for caring enough about something that could seemingly be so trivial, but important to me. now you know a little more about me, i'm on the road of rediscovery.