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Interview With Tom Kennedy

 

I have received such a great response to my last article that I have decided to try the same format again. I’ve done an interview with bassist Tom Kennedy that I will share with you in this issue. I am currently on tour with Tom, Mike Stern and Dave Weckl. Also in the band is saxophonist Bob Franciscini. We are in Paris today and have a show later this afternoon. Tom was kind enough to take some time out of this incredibly grueling tour we are doing to talk to me about a number of things that most bassists will find useful and interesting. Here is a bit of

Toms background:

Tom Kennedy has been a first call bassist on the music scene for more than 25 years. He began playing the acoustic bass at the age of 9. It was only one-year later that he and brother/pianist Ray Kennedy began building a high-profile reputation in and around St. Louis. By his late teens, Tom had already worked with such jazz veterans as James Moody, Peter Erskine, Bill Watrous, Barney Kessel, David Sanborn, Eddie Harris, Nat Adderly, Freddie Hubbard, and Stan Kenton. His interest was primarily mainstream jazz, until his introduction to the bass guitar at age 17.

Tom moved to New York City in 1984 and became involved in numerous musical projects on both acoustic and electric Bass. He appeared on master-guitarist Bill Connors’ album “Step it”, and toured with the legendary jazz group “Steps Ahead,” bringing immediate recognition. Since then, his credits include performance and recordings with such greats as Al DiMeola, Tania Maria, Michael Brecker, Don Grolnick, and Steve Gadd.

Tom has truly found his home as an original member of the Dave Weckl Band, and is featured on all DWB recordings, including: “Rhythm of the Soul”, “Synergy”, “Transition”, “Perpetual Motion”, “LIVE (and very plugged in)”, and the latest release, “Multiplicity.” Tom also appeared on Dave’s debut recording, “Master Plan,” in 1990.

Tom released his debut solo CD “Basses Loaded” in 1997, with his second solo project, ‘Bassics,” which featured jazz legends Mundell Lowe and Joe LaBarbera. He performed on guitarist Al DiMeola’s release “The Infinite Desire,” “A Tribute to Bill Evans,” with Dave Grusin, and a new classical/jazz release “Two Worlds,” with Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin. Tom also has continued his “Who’s Who” list of performance credits with Joe Sample, Alan Pasqua, Ernie Watts, Jeff Beal, Vinnie Colaiuta, Clay Jenkins, Virgil Donati, and Simon Phillips.

So let’s talk to Tom!

Can you describe your bass rig?

I have several setups, but my normal rig is a MARKBASS 800watt head with a 4-10h enclosure. This is pretty common system for any type of gig, be it a small pr large room.

What do you look for in a rig?
Plenty of power… at least 800 – 1000 watts. I always look for warmth and punch in the low frequencies, a variable midrange that can be tailored to a room’s acoustics, and crisp clarity in the extreme high frequencies.

How many amps and basses do you have? 
I use MARKBASS amps, and have basically 3 complete rigs varying in size and power. I use Fodera electric basses, and currently have 2… a vintage 6 string monarch model, and a TK model 5 string.  I also have 2 upright basses. One is an exceptional recording instrument, and the other is great for live work.

Do you bring multiple axes and/or amps to a session? 
Depending on the music, I am frequently asked to play acoustic and electric bass on the same session… sometimes a fretless electric as well.

Do you tailor the rig to the session?
I don’t find myself using an amp in many recording situations, but it is definitely a different sonic sensibility from live work. I think the main difference would be going for a more round sound using the preamp in the amp head… I don’t think I’ve ever recorded with a mic’d speaker cabinet.

What kind of strings do you use?
I use Fodera strings on all of my electric basses, and Spirocore Thomastic strings for the double bass.

What are your favorite mics?
Believe it or not, I actually prefer small diaphram mics for my acoustic bass. Neumann KM84s seem to work well, and I usually use 2… one in front of the bridge center, and the other close to the F-hole on the G-string side.

What do you like in your headphone mix?
I usually have plenty of myself, and I always pump up the drums to really lock-in the time. Everything else is nominal.  The main thing for me is not to get the mix too loud in my ears; so I usually gauge the volume by getting a comfortable volume on myself… the rest normally falls into place.

What kind of headphones do you like?
I usually like closed headphones, mainly because they tend to focus the lower frequencies. I have been using a pair of Sony DJ headphones for the last 3 or 4 years, and have developed quite a comfort level… consistency is really the key.

What’s the best gig you ever did?
Many! I would have to say that working with Dave Weckl in The Dave Weckl Band has been the most gratifying situation for me. I also just started doing more work with Mike Stern (also with Dave), and what a joy it’s been!

What’s the best session you ever did?
Again, The Dave Weckl Band CDs have been a complete joy, as the band and recording situation is so consistent… I feel so “at home” on those sessions.

Any advice for someone starting out? 
My best advise is to prepare for the things you are going to be asked to do, be it a recording or live situation. Many students feel that facility and speed are the most important aspects of becoming a “known” player, but the truth is that a good utility player will always prevail. Not to say that you shouldn’t have those elements, but they should be tools to hopefully create something musical.

Any advice for someone just starting to record? 
Find the ‘sweet spot’ in your sound. Many players have a tendency to overplay the instrument, while other guys don’t really get the inherent character out of it. The trick is to find that in between place where you can really hear the vibration and sustain of each and every note. Duration of notes is also a good thing to be aware of, especially in pop or contemporary jazz music.

What do you consider your big break?
I was asked to play with Michael Brecker in the group “Steps Ahead” in 1985. I think so many opportunities have stemmed from that experience, and it was definitely my first national and international touring situation with such a highly esteemed group of musicians.

What’s your favorite type of music to play? 
My main thing is groove and feel. I started out as a mainstream upright bassist, and have never shed those roots. I remember playing with so many great “bop” drummers in the early years, and later realized that the same intensity and swing could exist in any kind of music.

What’s your playing Strength? 
I like to think that I have a good solid feel and groove, and in that light, capable of enhancing whatever situation I’m in. I also feel at ease as a soloist in virtually any situation thanks to my experience as a jazz musician.

What kind of gigs are the most fun?
Again, I like creative situations… gigs that allow me to really stretch out and create a spontaneous musical experience with the other guys in the band. It’s so great when you feel that you’re truly communicating something on such a profound level.

What do you hate about recording? 
The sterility of it from time to time. There are times when a producer is only trying to get something completed as quickly as possible, or more concerned about the business end than what’s happening musically… that can be very frustrating.

What do you hate about bass playing?  Nothing…

Tom can be contacted at www.tomkennedymusic or at MySpace at www.myspace.com/tomkennedymusic

I will see you next month with another interview!

Dennis

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