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Conversation with Steve Rodby by Jason Heath

Meet Jason Heath

Our Bass Musician Magazine feature this this issue focuses jazz bass legend  Steve Rodby. Rodby has played bass on every Pat Metheny Group record since 1980, co-produced the group’s last five albums and won 10 Grammy Awards with the group. He has toured with jazz greats Joe Henderson and Tony Bennett, and also works regularly as a producer.

This interview was conducted by jazz double bassist Kells Nollenberger. Kells has launched a new podcast called the Jazz Exchange, which can be found at www.jazzexchange.org. This podcast features interviews with and performances from a wide array of jazz artists, and I encourage listeners to check out the great things that Kells is doing over there.

For more interviews from prominent double bassists, be sure to check out theContrabass Conversations podcast network, and check out doublebassblog.org for daily bass news.

About Steve Rodby:

From the Northwestern University Alumni magazine:

As a youngster growing up in Joliet, Ill., Steve Rodby (Mu77) loved the television showCaptain Kangaroo. One character particularly intrigued him.

“It was Mr. Green Jeans — Captain Kangaroo’s sidekick,” Rodby explains. “I would see him play on the show when I was a little kid, and I fell totally in love with the bass.”

Rodby grew up in a musical family. His father was a choir director and composer. At age 10, Rodby would listen to his dad play guitar and play along on bass by ear.

Lyric Opera of Chicago violinist Peter Labella (Mu77), Rodby’s childhood friend and Northwestern roommate, remembers jamming on the piano alongside Rodby as early as elementary school.

By the time Rodby arrived at Northwestern, he was already working with bass legend Warren Benfield of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He went on to study under jazz great Rufus Reid (Mu71) (“Making Music,” summer 2003) and play for then Northwestern jazz band director Cliff Colnot (GMu77).

When he wasn’t jamming with Labella, Rodby started playing in downtown jazz clubs, including Chicago’s legendary Jazz Showcase on the North Side. Soon Rodby became the house bassist, playing five nights a week.

After he graduated, Rodby dabbled briefly in basic studio work, playing on television commercials and pop records. But within a few years, he received a call from an old friend from a pre-college band camp — guitarist Pat Metheny of Kansas City. Metheny, whom Rodby frequently went to see at the Evanston club Amazing Grace, was searching for a new bassist for his band, a contemporary jazz group. Rodby turned out to be just the guy and joined the Pat Metheny Group immediately after his first audition.

“This was my favorite band before I was even in it,” he says. “I can’t believe my good fortune to be in it now and to be making music that is so fresh, alive and current.”

Rodby has played bass on every Pat Metheny Group record since 1980, co-produced the group’s last five albums and won 10 Grammy Awards with the group along the way. He is excited that after 23 years together, the group continues to grow and progress.

Not even living in different cities slows the band’s recording process. For a given song, Metheny will often record his part in New York and send the tape to Rodby’s Chicago apartment, where Rodby will refine the track before sending it out to pianist Lyle Mays in Los Angeles.

Aside from working with Metheny, Rodby has become a frequently recruited studio musician and producer. He has toured with jazz greats Joe Henderson and Tony Bennett, and lately he has taken an increasing interest in producing. He likens the role of a producer to that of a film director, assembling the team and coaching the performance.

Refusing to restrict himself to one genre, Rodby enjoys all types of music — even modern bands like Radiohead — and says a future collaboration with a contemporary pop artist is not out of the question.

“I’m way more into pop than most jazz guys,” he says, “but I was way more into jazz than most classical guys and way more into classical than most pop guys.”

Whatever form of music it is that he is playing, you can bet Rodby won’t be putting down his bass anytime soon. After completing the next Pat Metheny Group album later this year, Rodby says the group will likely embark on a tour in 2005.

“I hope to make music forever,” he says. “Teaching, playing, producing… music’s what I’m all about.”

– Michael DePilla (J04)

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