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Columns > Patrick Buzby

Published: 2003/10/29
by Patrick Buzby

A Coversation with Steve Hashimoto Part 2

In the second half of my conversation with Steve,
he got into some intriguing thoughts on jazz and
rhythm sections as well as providing more details
about his path to becoming a professional musician. *PB: I remember you mentioning once that Jack Casady
was a big initial inspiration when you got into
improvised music.*
SH: Yes, definitely. *PB: It seems that bass players of a certain generation
mention him a lot, although younger musicians
do not necessarily share that enthusiasm.*
SH: Yes. A lot of guys now don’t know very much about
him, which I think is a shame. If any jazz bassist
who likes Jaco Pastorius would listen to Jack Casady
in the prime of the Jefferson Airplane’s career,
around ’69 or ’70, they would see that he was
absolutely, I think, the most adventurous bass player
of the time, while still functioning as a bass player. I think there were other bass players at the time who
were doing fairly revolutionary things, but sometimes
you couldn’t really say that they were filling the
bass function.
PB: Are you thinking of, say, Jack Bruce or Phil Lesh?
SH: Yes, well, not so much Lesh as.who’s the bass
player in Yes?
PB: Chris Squire.
SH: Yes. An enormous player, incredible, but by the
very nature of the band and the nature of British
versus American rhythm sections.I’ve always thought
that the role of the bass in English rhythm sections
was very different than in American rhythm sections,
so you have to take that into account. With Jack
Bruce, like you say, a lot of times he was not playing
bass but it was fine, because the whole band was
thinking that way.
PB: Yes, and possibly the same with McCartney.
SH: Uh-huh, exactly. He was writing more from a
compositional standpoint, and so his basslines were
always perfect for the song. But a lot of times, if
an American band tries to faithfully reproduce a
Beatles song note-for-note, even if everybody’s
playing the right notes and the drummer is playing
exactly what Ringo played, it just never feels right
because we [Americans] can not think in that way. And
I think sometimes it works the other way around, too,
when an English band from that period or even now
tries to play a Motown groove. *PB: So there was Jack Casady, and were you also
listening to a lot of jazz back then?*
SH: Not really. When I first started playing music, I
wasn’t playing the bass at all, I was playing trumpet,
but even then I specifically remember.my dad and I
used to have little arguments about music because he
had been a musician and wasn’t crazy about rock and
roll, but somehow he had gotten a hold of an article
in Life or Look magazine, an interview with Count
Basie, and they had asked Count Basie if there were
any good musicians in rock and roll, and for some
reason Basie said that the bass player in this band
called the Jefferson Airplane was a fine player. That
just made me focus a little bit more on what Jack was
doing even though I wasn’t a bass player at the time.
Then when I became a guitar player, it became easier
to figure out what he was doing, but then when I
became a bass player it really became obvious to me
what an incredible musician he was, how he had
completely created his own vocabulary that was still
functional. As we were saying about improvisation,
who knows if he could have come up with that with
another group of musicians? But I still listen to
that music a lot, albums like After Bathing at
Baxter’s or Crown of Creation, and I’m still blown
away by things that he does.
PB: So you worked your way from there into jazz?
SH: I guess so. It was still quite a long time
before I became a bass player, but along the way, as a
guitar player, I was listening to a lot of Motown and
I realized that even though I didn’t know who James
Jamerson was, the feel and the basslines to those
records were something special. I got into jazz
fusion before I got into jazz proper, so I was
listening to electric Miles, so I could make the
connection between Motown and that style of jazz, and
when I found out that [Miles’s 70’s bassist] Michael
Henderson had been Stevie Wonder’s bass player, it
made sense and it made more of a path of connection
for me. Then when I started to get more into
straightahead jazz, I found myself drawn more to
fundamental bass players like Ray Brown and Percy
Heath, as opposed to Scott LaFaro or Eddie Gomez. I
could listen to those guys and realize that they were
incredible players from a technical standpoint, but it
wasn’t speaking to me as much as Ray Brown or Jimmy
Blanton walking a line or even Mingus, who employed a
lot of extended technique but whose main thing was
always, "it’s gotta swing!" I think that’s always
been my criteria for the bass function in the band,
and that’s what Motown does and even bluegrass.
I was a bluegrass guitarist for a long time, and I
listen to the bass players in really good bluegrass
bands, and they’re only playing the root and fifth,
but it has a very definite kind of swing to it that’s
not easy to do. A lot of jazz bass players take it
for granted that they could play a bluegrass gig if
they had to, but they can’t. *PB: In the course of the 70’s, you became a bass
player?*
SH: 1979 was my first gig as a bass player. *PB: And it got fairly quickly to where all the gigs
you were doing were bass?*
SH: I was still splitting between bass and guitar for
a year or so, but for one thing, I realized that I was
never going to be as good a guitar player as I wanted
to be, whereas from the minute I picked up the bass, I
felt like I was going to be able to do whatever I
wanted. At that point, I wasn’t interested in being a
chops player, but I wanted to be a feel bass player.
I felt like I was going to be able to do that. On my
first bass gig, this older bebop guy in Evanston named
Jack Hubal called me up. His drummer was also a vibes
player, and he was the vibes player in my band Mothra,
and Jack had a gig and his regular bass player
couldn’t make it, so his drummer said that he thought
I could do it. Jack happened to have an electric
bass. I said I’d play the gig, so I was Jack’s bass
player from that point on. I’d never played a bass
guitar before for some reason, but I sort of had a
concept about basslines, and I guess I figured out the
feel from listening to Mothra’s bass player, a friend
of mine named Erwin Yasukawa, who I always thought was
a great feel player. With the combination of Jack
hiring me and Erwin having to leave Mothra to go out
on the road to make a living, all of a sudden I was a
bass player.
PB: Were there enough openings in the Chicago market?
SH: Yes, there seemed to be a shortage of bass players
for some reason at that time, and now there’s just a
ridiculous glut (laughs) of bass players. But when I
started I guess there weren’t a lot of bassists or a
lot of upright players, so guys were a bit more
willing to hire an electric bass player to do a jazz
gig than they are nowadays, when there are probably a
hundred fine upright bass players in town. *PB: Again, it seems like you came into an area where
there was a demand, partly by accident.*
SH: Yes. *PB: I get the impression that that’s how it tends to
work a lot of the time.*
SH: Luck has a lot to do with it. *PB: The conventional wisdom now is that prospects are
bleak for the professional jazz musician. Would you
dispute that?*
SH: I don’t know. For instance, the whole jamband
phenomenon is a very positive thing. It’s opening up
a lot of young ears to being able to listen to music
that’s not canned or tightly arranged. I’ve always
felt like that’s a key part of the path of evolution
towards playing or listening to jazz. To be able to
listen to pure jazz music, your ears and mind have to
be open, and unfortunately, for a long time the pop
music business was promoting closed minds. God bless
the Grateful Dead.
PB: Do you notice that bleeding into your jazz gigs?
SH: A little bit, especially with the younger guys I
play with. For the most part, they’ve come out of the
academic system, but if they’re lucky, they’ve come
out of it fairly unscathed. But these are guys who
not only know Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington and
Miles Davis, they also grew up listening to Phish or
R.E.M. or acid jazz. I notice this especially in the
young black players from Chicago’s South Side.
There’s a whole crew of jazz musicians who’ve come up
in the last five years or so, and when they come up
north to sit in at the Green Mill, they are absolutely
straightahead jazz players. But when I come south to
play on their gigs, I’m in their world, and I find
that they don’t draw a distinction between different
genres. They’ll play a Parliament tune, then a Miles
tune, then an old Duke Ellington tune and then an Ohio
Players tune. They all know the latest 50 Cent rap.
To me, it’s so cool that there’s a strong thread of
connection in the entire black music historical
framework for them. That’s an important sign of
vitality for jazz, that people are able to make the
connection between jazz and the street.

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