I had the privilege of growing up outside of the United States in Puerto Rico for a total of eighteen years. To my great benefit, I was exposed to a wealth of music that came mostly from Latin America but rarely found it’s way to the mainland US. This is the driving force that has made me look outside this country to experience the amazing talent and artistic expression that so many bass musicians worldwide have to offer.
Up to now I have been focusing my efforts on our World Wide CD review. But now I have been given the opportunity to interview our first Bass Musician from Latin America, Igor Saavedra from Chile.
[Raul] Welcome to Bass Musician Magazine Igor, It is a great pleasure for me to get to know you better and share this with our readers. You didn’t pick up the bass until the age of 22. What happened? What made you decide on the bass?
[Igor] In the first place, thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with the bass community what I’ve learned through the years.
Going to your specific question, it was not only the Bass that I started to play at 22; it was also the first time that I seriously grabbed a musical instrument and got real interested in music. Before that age, ever since I was a child, my life was one hundred percent dedicated to sports. I was a Kung Fu instructor. I was in fourth year at the university to become a Physical Education teacher, and I was also practicing Track & Field sports being third in my country in the Hammer Throw.
One day at the end of 1987, I was training with the hammer at the university, and a Jazz group was invited to perform a free evening concert for the students at the gym. I had nothing to do in my lunch break, so I finished my training and I went to the gym to take a look at this “strange music.” Believe it or not, it was the first time that I saw live music of any style. It took 10 seconds to kill all of what I was before this day and to give up my career, my athletic projects, and all my plans to continue my martial arts preparation in China. It was just magic, a pure and unsearched “initiation”, that means “Being born again to a new life”. I left the university literally the same day, and never came back. My trainers, my family and everybody I knew were completely mad at me. It took them many years to understand, but eventually, when they started to see me on stages, TV, newspapers, magazines, etc, they understood it was a correct decision.
[Raul] What is the Music scene like for a bassist in Chile? I noticed that you are comfortable playing most traditional Latin styles but you have dived into Jazz and Classical music including “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. Is this usual for Chilean musicians? Also can you share what makes Chilean music unique from other genres?
[Igor] Every artistic activity in my country is hard to achieve and to perform. I’m here, down under, always screaming and struggling to get trough the frontiers in order to be able to express myself. There are not as many bass players here as you might imagine, and there are really just a few professional ones. Everybody knows everybody, and like in a small town, as soon as you achieve more things, life gets immediately harder for you if you know what I mean. It’s a waste of time expending your energy to “compete” on the Chilean musical scene (if we can use this word which I think is not the appropriate for the artistic expression), because in order to prevail and build a legacy, you have to plan on making it beyond your small country. If somebody says that I made it on the Chilean bass scene, I can be grateful to that person and take it as nice compliment, but it really means very little to me in terms of my self-confidence. It is like somebody saying that you are the most relevant bass player on the block. That’s why I made an important part of my career in the United States, and now I want to add Europe to the equation.
Regarding Latin Music, even though I love it, is not what I like the most. What I really love is Avant Garde music, Jazz and Fusion. To give you an example, my favorites are Allan Holdsworth, Tribal Tech, Wayne Krantz, Dave Weckl Band, etc… I like Classical Music, but in the specific case of “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, I recorded that only to check the advances of my SBFS, which is the technique I had been developing for the last 17 years. I did that in 1997 and everybody told me that this was surely the first time in the world that a bass player recorded the original version of the piece with the fingers. Is fair to say that Manowar bassist Joey De Maio recorded a completely adapted and simplified version with a pick some years before.
In terms of Chilean music, I think it is proper to say that “South American Music” in general is very different from what is usually known by “Latin Music”. “Latin Music” is the Afro Cuban, and Caribbean music that is mostly known throughout the world. I even separate “South American Music” from “Brazilian Music”, which even being obviously from South America, is a completely different music world in itself.
I would say that South American Music has been influenced the last 400 years by African music mostly in countries like Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Uruguay, In Chile, we have been more influenced by Spanish Music since their arrival in the 15th century. In general terms the rhythms are much more simple and less syncopated, and the Spanish guitar is the most influential instrument.
[Raul] You have gone beyond playing the bass and have demonstrated a knack to be an innovator both in the area of Instrument design and musical Technique. Please tell us about some of your instrument modifications like the “Mic Ramp”, the “Virtual Cabinet” and the “Rear Truss Rod Access”. Also, do you build your own basses?
[Igor] I’ve done my bass devices with my hands, but I have a great respect for the luthier’s work in general, so I don’t make my own instruments. I design them completely and entrust the luthiers to build them for me.
Regarding my instrument innovations, the Virtual Cabinet was a complex bass speaker system that I designed in 1997 with a Chilean friend and great architect named Jaime Pavéz, while I was living in the USA. This system consisted on 4 boxes. The biggest was a cabinet loaded with an 18″speaker that faced the floor. The cabinet had four tuned internal pipes that communicated with air vents that faced the front of the cabinet. It was really weird, but the low end was outstanding. It had two more boxes that were 2×10+horn cabinets each. The last box was a 3-space rack for the amplifier. I named it, “The Virtual Cabinet,” because the 18″ speaker cabinet was supported by four 12″ long metal legs that left a space below the cabinet, which acted as a virtual cabinet, saving a lot of space due to the fact that you were able to remove those legs when you wanted to transport the whole system. The best thing was that the four cabinets were like a puzzle with hinges everywhere, so when you finished the gig you could disassemble them and get a “dolly cube” with wheels so you could transport it in just one motion.
The RTA or Rear Truss Rod Access is so simple that I don’t understand how it is that all electric basses and electric guitars are not built like that. You just have to take a look at the head of my 8 string bass and see that it has an open space right in the middle. Well, on my first bass, I just dug a hole on the back of the head to access the Truss rod and didn’t have to move the strings. Nobody could see that from the front, but then I said, what’s the problem with that, it will even look great, so I passed straight trough the other side and I loved how it looked.
The first official RTA was built by the great Chilean Luthier, Alfonso Iturra for my first 8 string bass in 1999. For more than 15 years I haven’t known what it feels like to remove or loosen the strings to access the Truss Rod… don’t you think this is so simple and obvious that it is ridiculous?
I think my main contribution to the bass instrument scene in terms of a “device”, is the “Mic Ramp.” The idea came in the first place from the Gary Willis’s Ramp. I met the great Gary Willis, who is one of my favorites, in 1992, and later I told him the idea I was working on. He surely is not going to remember that conversation, but he found it a great idea. I came up with the first prototypes in 1995, and the first official version of the Mic Ramp was again entrusted to be built by Luthier Alfonso Iturra in 1999. Both ramps serve the same purpose, but the big difference is that the Mic Ramp “contains” the pickups and always has been height adjustable. This is very significant, because it makes the ramp offer you its surface with all the pickups below, so you get its benefits playing right in front of the microphones. I want to add that the height adjustment of the Mic Ramp has always been nice, because the Allen screws come from the back of the bass, so you never get to see them from the front. That allows you to get a nice and clean surface to play on.
The Willis Ramp goes “beside” the pickup, and originally was glued to the body. Many years after the Mic Ramp, Ibanez added front screws for the Willi’s Ramp height adjustment. At the same time players like Matthew Garrison and Gary Grainger were putting a ramp between both Soapbar pickups, which also was a very different thing.
Now you can see my Mic Ramp in many top basses made by the best luthiers in the world. I have shared all the images of my Mic Ramp on Internet since 1997, and mostly from 2000 when I inaugurated my website. The Mic Ramp I have on my actual bass is just perfect. It’s the 7.0 version, and it’s loaded with two custom made Nordstrand DC 8 pickups. Nordstrand specially made these pickups for this Mic ramp, and I would like to thank Carey, Coop and Steve for all their support.
[Raul] I wanted to address your technique innovations separately. Tell us about “Symmetric Bass Finger Sweeping”.
[Igor] This is perhaps the most important thing for me, because has more to do with music itself. I have to say here that the Mic Ramp was originally developed specifically to facilitate my right hand technique. You’ll understand why.
I started developing the SBFS in 1990 influenced by Frank Gambale’s sweep picking. Taking a close look at it, I realized that the efficiency was awesome compared to the common bass pizzicato technique. I said to myself, “This must be possible with the fingers”, so I took the risk and I switched everything I learned before. It took me a whole year, avoiding every gig that was offered to me, but it paid off. The biggest motivation to switch the common bass pizzicato technique was that I wanted to be able to play the same things that a pianist, sax player, or guitar player were able to play, but with the same relaxed attitude that I could see and feel from them. It’s true that with the common bass pizzicato you can play a lot of things on a bass, but the threshold is always so close that you just have to take a look at the vast majority of the bass players face’s when they have to go on those fast runs with the common pizzicato to understand what I really mean. A very important thing to say is that my main goal has always been to play “everything” with the SBFS. That includes walking Bass lines, Latin tumbaos, Funk grooves, Soloing of course, and everything else. The idea is to “Make it sound like it’s not being swept”, with a full, punchy staccato, as opposed to some great bass players that later applied my technique exclusively for fast runs and arpeggios with a more “guitarristic” sound.
As I did with Gary Willis, I also talked to Frank Gambale in 1994 when he came to Chile again, and told him what I was developing. He was really nice and encouraged me a lot to persevere. I’m sure that, like Gary, Frank is not going to remember this short conversation with a “Young down under the world fan” after his concert, but it was very important and unforgettable for me. Through the years I added more fingers to the equation, and now it is a very complex technique, which has little to do with the original thumb/index that started everything. My goal is not playing fast, even though the speeds you can achieve with the technique are really awesome. A good example is to compare going on a VW Beetle at 60 Mph on the freeway, and compare that to go at the same speed on the same freeway on a BMW 760i. In both cases you are going at the same legal and normal speed, but the comfort sensation and the threshold distance feel are ridiculously different. That’s why I play an 8-string bass. I rarely play the last 8 spaces of the high F string. The more strings I have, the less movements I make. As an example, I can play a three octave Ascending Mayor Scale applying 13 pure movements instead of 44 with the common pizzicato… Sound good?
In terms of speed, just to give you an idea, I’ve been able to play sixteenth notes at 310 bpm either on one string or moving across them. I really hate falling into that and what I’m really looking for is a complete relaxed sensation at any “realistic musical situation”. Even at the fastest tempos, like a 190 bpm sixteenth note bass solo for example, where I just play effortlessly, because my physical limit is so far beyond that is serving a different purpose. The goal is to play relaxed at any slower speed. Music is first, for everyone else, and I think it is better than going to the circus.
I call the technical concept now “Vectorial Synthesis Technique”, and I’ll be releasing a new book at the beginning of 2010.
[Raul] Are there any innovations that you are currently working on???
[Igor] My head never rests. Some years ago I developed a system to mute the tweeters of my cabinets from my pedalboard. The great thing is that you can use it on any cabinet, and not only on the ones that come prepared for that from the factory. The pedalboard that I’m talking about is also another mad creation of my head! It was in my mind for a long time, and finally, I found the right person to help me built it, you won’t believe what it is. It was finally made by Groove Electronics.
I also designed an aluminum cabinet system 4 years ago, which consisted of two 2×10+ horn cabinets. It looked and worked great, but it was so hard to make that I only used the first prototype for a few months till I blew it…hahaha. This system had aluminum legs that you could install and uninstall easily which I later used for my Schroeder 1210L cabinets, so this way I can place them in angle on the floor if I want. By the way these cabinets are just awesome… Jorg, you are the man!!!
[Raul] You came to the US for about five years to teach and perform. What was your experience like here???
[Igor] That was an awesome experience. I came to the US, more precisely to Los Angeles, CA in 1995 with only six and a half years of experience on the bass and in music in general. Before that I did many things in Chile though, playing with the most popular artists in my country, teaching a lot privately and in one of the most important schools of my country.
The first thing I did on the US was to buy “The Recycler” newspaper and watch for auditions. The first one I saw was an audition for bass teacher at a music school. The audition was being held at an important music school in the San Fernando Valley. I went through the whole process with twenty more American professional bass players. I won that audition, and a new world opened for me. That work helped me a lot. I taught for 4 years at that school. My main thing was obviously to play the bass, so I started to go to different auditions more related to Jazz and Fusion. Obviously the money was not in those gigs, but that was not the main purpose of my travel.
I had the opportunity to play with great international Jazz and Fusion players like Bob Sheppard (Saxophonist for Chick Corea, Mike Stern and Tribal Tech); Hanz Zermuhlen (Keyboardist for Air Supply and Frank Gambale Group); Fareed Haque Quartet (Guitarist for Sting, Joe Zawinul, Garaj Mahal, Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval); Tom McMorran (Keyboardist for Tom Scott, The Rippingtons and Robben Ford); Jim Paxson (Drummer for Robben Ford, Stanley Clarke, Alanis Morissette); Jan Fabricky (Drummer for Marc Antoine and Karen Briggs); Jean Marc Belkady (Top L.A Scene Guitarist, GIT teacher); Miucha Buarque (Famous Brazilian Bossa Nova diva); Antti Kotikosky (Guitarist who recorded his solo album with Vinnie Colaiuta); Marcelo Berestovoy (Guitarist for Ricky Martin, Selena, Daniela Romo, Bebu Silvetti, MI teacher, featured at Guitar Player Magazine); Walfredo Reyes Jr. (Drummer for Santana, Cristina Aguilera).
I lived in the United states for five years, and the experience was amazing, I returned to Chile in 1999, but I have returned several times to perform in different NAMM shows. I grasped that 95-99 experience as my first approach to the US. Now, I’m preparing to visit quite often, because I think that my career has developed much more and I have a lot more to say through my music.
[Raul] The list of prominent musicians and groups you have played with is very extensive. Who did you enjoy playing with the most and why?
[Igor] In some cases I played with some of those famous musicians once or just a few times, and I was not “on the road” with them. In other cases I played many times with them. Either way, I would say that Bob Sheppard, Jan Fabricky, Tom Mc Morran and Fareed Haque impressed me the most. The reason is simple. Extreme musicality, absolute technical control, and a great sense of what Professionalism is.
[Raul] Your teaching experience spans almost two decades and includes publishing texts. What does bass education mean to you? In your opinion, is a focus on theory more important than free expression like finding the “Groove”? What advice would you give aspiring bass players today???
[Igor] Even though I have some books out there, and I’ll be releasing two more books soon, I consider myself “A Bass player who teaches”, and not “A Bass teacher who plays”. That statement is so crucial to me, because it defines who I am. I think that everything I can teach, invent or propose, has to be supported by my playing. I just don’t trust those “theoretical teachers” that are always telling you what to do and what not to do on the instrument. If you listen to their playing, “it’s just not happening”. I think that all the musical information available is not a purpose in itself. It’s obviously just a meant to serve the real purpose, which is to complement the rational area of any feelings, where the groove inhabits.
A good piece of advice that I can give to aspiring bass players is something that I always tell my students. When they are on stage, “they don’t have to think”, “they have just to feel”. The thinking was supposed to be done while they were studying or practicing. Is the same as in the sports, if you want to hit a Home Run, you have to focus on how you feel the bat, how you feel the ball throwing, etc. If you start to think you’ll get immediately nervous and you will be lost.
[Raul] Ok, so I am saving this one for last. What do you think the future holds for Bass players in the music business in Latin America?
[Igor] Well, that’s a good question for me. The music business is a concept that I’m not personally interested in. I always say that the music I like, to begin with, cannot be related with business at all. I’m really a purist with this statement and it’s just a personal opinion. I think that if it’s “Music”, and deserves to have this name, it can’t be business. This means that for me one term cancels the other. A different thing is that somebody could be interested in paying to listening to what you play, but what you performed should have never considered that potential consumer in any form prior to the composition or the performing. I know that great classical composers were hired to compose some of their most famous pieces with very specific purposes, but this doesn’t change what I think. In other circumstances they composed great music.
Anyway, I perfectly understand the gist of your question, and I think that we, the Latin American bass players, need to learn a lot from the professionalism that the top American professional bass players have achieved. Unfortunately, the Latin American peoples idiosyncrasy is, in general terms of course, too relaxed for the professionalism issue. Specifically for the common Latin American musician, being on time, having the equipment in mint condition, learning the musical and technological alphabet, learning the parts prior to a rehearsal and even prior to a concert, are not very common assets. You won’t believe how many problems I’ve had with many people in my tiny little country, which still consider that a professional attitude means immediately that you are an egotist, exaggerated and uncomprehending person. I want to stress that there are always some exceptions to this. What I’m talking about is what usually happens in our countries with the common musician, and I’m totally convinced that any top professional Latin American player will agree with me on that.
Finally and somehow related to the question, I would like to say that if you study and work hard and also if you behave as a real professional, you would achieve all your goals even if you live in the Antarctica. My story is the one of a hard worker and a dreamer, and because of this kind of attitude I’ve been able to write in the most prestigious bass magazines in the world and also be interviewed in them. Now I’m sponsored by the some of the best bass brands, which endorse me even considering that for now that most of my career has happened in South America. One month ago Pavel Instruments, that is one of the finest luthiers in the whole world (I’ve seen the amazing reviews that BMM has done about him), gave me all his support, and he will endorse me and will make the custom bass of my dreams following all my specs. I also have my own signature La Bella strings model in Chile named “La Bella Igor Saavedra Signature Bass Single Strings”. I’m officially endorsed by Aguilar Amps, Schroeder Cabinets and Nordstrand Pickups… really I can’t ask for more.
For me the real value of those achievements is not that I can satisfy my ego appearing in different publications, or that I don’t have to pay for my equipment…. The real value of this is that it makes me feel that I’m doing my job in a proper form working hard and honestly from midday to midnight.
[Raul] Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me Igor. I will take this opportunity to share with our readers that they will be hearing more from you as you are joining us as a Staff Writer.
Visit online at www.bajoigorsaavedra.com