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Victor Little by Brent-Anthony Johnson

Meet Brent-Anthony Johnson –

Isn’t it a wonderful thing to be a bassist in this new Millennium? How wonderful it is to hear about new talent, and new breakout releases from the legion of bottom-dwellers who are changing the world, and how we listen to music, from its very foundation and floating to its angelic heights! I love being a bassist!! In this edition we’re chatting with Bay Area-based monster player, Victor Little – whose premier release “Inner Portrait” should be on every bass player’s must have short list! Throughout the offering, Victor’s kinetic melody lines weave and shadow box with his deep groove, incredible drum programming and effervescent keyboard sound choices!

Victor the man is much like his playing suggests: sagacious, discerning and generous! We talked, and laughed, and had a genuine hang in very short order! His stalwart 4-string commands the well-played and equally well-produced release. But, even more than that… the tunes are the true feature. “Inner Portrait” is an incredible disc, and you are going to enjoy meeting, Victor Little! You can read, hear, and see more at www.myspace.com/victorlittlemusic and at www.victorlittlemusic.com

BAJ: Vic! Hey man, what’s happening? Let’s begin by telling our readers about your Chicago upbringing, and when you first picked-up the bass guitar!

VL: Chicago is a great city for music from blues to gospel to funk to Latin music. There are so many different ethnic groups in Chicago that the music is virtually endless. I grew up listening to whatever we had in the house, of course. My mother liked Aretha Franklin and all that stuff, while my father listened to Coltrane and over jazz artists. My grandmother loved B3 Organ jazz. While my other grandmother liked gospel.

My first instrument was trumpet, before I moved to the bass guitar. My father played sax and other woodwind instruments, but not double reeds. I played some in church not much but enough to know that there were great musicians in the gospel world… including family members! But it was just how I happened to grow up, you know? Music, church, sports, art, girls… But, there was always music in my house from Aretha, Sly, Coltrane, Miles, Sonny Stitt… and a lot of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5! Actually, I would also add Kool & The Gang, and a lot of Parliament/Funkadelic. I remember I use to like Elton John’s “Benny And The Jets”, and I think I bought the 45 (laughter)! Later, I moved to the suburbs; where my grandparents lived, and I got into the rock thing – like Hendrix, Zepplin, Rush… I was always into Zeppelin, because I thought they were funky! Great bass and drums, right?!

When I went to the first High School I attended, the music teacher found out I played bass… and that’s when I was exposed to learning music formally – reading charts and so forth. We moved many times so I went to 3 different High Schools and experienced different people and different environments. During High School, I took bass lessons from this guy who played in the band Weapons Of Peace. I don’t remember his name… but he was baaaad! (Laughter) I remember going to his house on Saturday late morning and he was still in his robe having coffee! He showed me a few warm-up exercises and my hand started hurting! I was thinking to myself, “I don’t like bass!”

BAJ: What events brought about the writing, tracking and release of “Inner Portrait”? I mean, where were you in your career… and what understanding did you bring from your years of being a sideman to your project?

VL: Different things came together at the right time I guess. I was hanging with my friend, bassist Myron Dove, who is also an excellent bass player and producer! He and I met years ago and he mentioned that we should start working on a solo CD for me.

Anyway, I sent a tune to him to check out and he dug it… So the process of putting together a CD had begun in a very relaxed way. It was great working with a fellow bass player because I felt like he knew where I was coming from! Also, because he is such a great musician, Myron was able to help put things together, and the process was easy for me. Also, at that time, gigging and sessions started slowing down and it was just a good time to start a project under my name.

The one thing I thought about when bringing in different musicians was not to tell them what to play! I say that because when you’re a sideman, artist always tell you what to play… and I didn’t want to be that guy, you know? I feel that you can get more out of musicians when you don’t say too much. (Laughter) But when I wanted something played it was pretty easy to communicate with the players I hired. Ruslan Sirota (keyboardist/Stanley Clarke), for instance, would create most amazing parts from tracks I would send via e-mail! Only once did I ask him to solo in a “Herbie vein”, and it didn’t work! So I was like, “ok, I’ll just be over here!” (Laugher)
That guy is amazing! Dennis as well… amazing of course! I said to him, “can you do that Dennis Chambers thing?” and he cracked up! I mean all these guys helped me so much and made the process really easy for me.

BAJ: What situation, for you, is the “perfect” writing environment? Also, what tools do you reach for when you’re crafting one of your melodic pieces?

VL: For me the writing process happens kind of naturally. I sit and play chords on the bass and figure out melodies from there… That’s the process I use, and you well know everyone does that differently. I work a lot in Garage Band and Logic Audio at home. So, I find a loop in one of those programs and play chords or a bass line. Then I would write a melody… and then begin thinking about what basses to use for the tracks.

BAJ: You’ve mentioned that you were reluctant to “do the bassist as leader” thing, and you’re also outspoken about your connection with the 4-string bass guitar! Let’s talk about that, man!

While we’re at it… let’s talk about the instruments in your stable, and how your favorites help shape your tonescaping capabilities!

VL: Dude… there’s so many badass players out there, I didn’t really want to be one of those guys who’s trying to be another “solo guy”… because I’m not! (Laughter) I’m a bass player first… the other stuff comes after that for me. Even though I soloed on every tune that’s not the live approach I’m planning to take. I’m always thinking how I can make the music feel good – as opposed to making it feel like a bass player playing too much! The reason for me to come out with this CD is that I wanted to accomplish this in my career and generate more work opportunities! Mostly, I used a pair of F Basses and a couple of Alembics Basses. I also own a Fender Jazz Bass that I didn’t use this on this CD.

BAJ: Who are the artists you find yourself gravitating to in those areas of production and musical vision?

VL: So many, songwriters blow me away… Great singers, mostly! I mean, as far as bass players who have produced they’re own records there’s Stanley (first), then Marcus Miler. Marcus is just so musical! I really like other players… but Marcus, D’Angelo, Me’Shell are favorites. Man, this is a good question because I had to start thinking of so many producers and artist from the Beatles, to Stevie Wonder, to Sting, to Peter Gabriel, to EWF… I mean in the history of music there are just too many to mention.

BAJ: When you “sharpen the blades” (work on your chops) what are those areas you work on? Also, can you describe your general technique and approach to the instrument?

VL: Arpeggios and Bebop licks, mostly, I guest. I also work on thumb technique and playing through chord changes. A friend of mine from Spain stayed with me over Thanksgiving holiday, and he shared some Flamenco techniques that blew my mind! So I’ll be working on that for a lifetime… it never ends. You know really for the most part it depends on gig, and I’m not trying to recreate the wheel.

BAJ: What is an area you have worked hard to improve in your general musicality, and how have you built your musical vocabulary?

VL: I’ve been working on transcribing and ear training, lately. Luckily, I’ve been around a lot of music throughout my life, and I’ve just stayed open to learn what different artists have to offer. I work in a World-music project called Wobbly World and the band consist of guys from all over the World: Bulgaria, Morocco, Lebanon, Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela, and the Bay Area. I’m working hard to play all those styles correctly… but it’s a real challenge.

BAJ: You worked in a wonderful-sounding family of chord changes for “Inner Portrait”! What are the chords you gravitated toward during the writing stage for the disc?

VL: I don’t know… The song “Inner Portrait” I uses #11 chords with some minor chords… and space. “People Talkin'” was based on a DMaj7 chord. So it just depends on the overall vibe I’m going for.

BAJ: Describe for our readers how you lead the sessions, and how you lead your band. What valuable life lessons have you learned about leading others to give their A-Level performance for your project?

VL: The reason I hire people is to get out them what it is they already do… and I try not to get in the way of that process! For me, what I want is for people to be comfortable playing my songs. So, I push my ego out of the way.

BAJ: What’s next for this project, and who will be playing with you as you tour in support of your music?

VL: I have so many people in mind! I know amazing musicians here in the Bay Area and on the West Coast, in general, that it’s ridiculous. Putting the band together is a challenge of personalities, styles, singers… and availability. And that’s just for a start!

BAJ: Thank you for taking a little time with us, man! Is there anything you would like to say in closing, to our readers?

VL: Learn the roll of a bass player! Be positive and set goals for yourself. Also don’t take this gift of groove for granted! Life is TOO short. Don’t underestimate yourself and work hard no matter how long it takes to get things done. Follow through… and practice, practice, practice!

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