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Conversation With Dan Lutz

by Mikel Combs –

Dan Lutz is a first call bassist in Los Angeles. His successful career is credited to his strong groove, versatility, experience and dependability. Playing both electric and upright bass, Dan’s 15 years on the scene has proved himself to be a seasoned professional and respected musician able to swing, groove, improvise, and enhance any musical situation. Whether as a Music Director or sharing stage with the greats of the jazz world, Dan brings a funky and innovative style to the stage and studio alike. He has toured the world over with various artists, played on countless sessions for commercials, movies, and television, and maintains a busy schedule in L.A. on the local club circuit. Dan is comfortable in many styles including gospel, rock, jazz, R&B, pop, and soul.

Dan Lutz is a first call bassist in Los Angeles. His successful career is credited to his strong groove, versatility, experience and dependability. Playing both electric and upright bass, Dan’s 15 years on the scene has proved himself to be a seasoned professional and respected musician able to swing, groove, improvise, and enhance any musical situation. Whether as a Music Director or sharing stage with the greats of the jazz world, Dan brings a funky and innovative style to the stage and studio alike. He has toured the world over with various artists, played on countless sessions for commercials, movies, and television, and maintains a busy schedule in L.A. on the local club circuit. Dan is comfortable in many styles including gospel, rock, jazz, R&B, pop, and soul.

MC: I had a chance to hear you play in the early nineties when we were both in Texas. When I listen to you now, I can hear the continuation and growth of what you were doing back then. What kinds of things have helped you stay on that path; for instance, personal thoughts or experiences that may have reaffirmed your direction?

DL: Well, when I left North Texas, I went to Florida to play in the Disney All-American Band. After that I decided to move back home to California were I continued studying at Cal State Northridge and got my music ed. Degree. It was when I was at Northridge that I started meeting a lot of musicians in town. I had this mindset to say “yes” to any gig or rehearsal or anything that would benefit my playing. I didn’t care if it paid or not, I just wanted to play and meet people. That’s one thing I tell students or other people: just put yourself in as many different environments and playing experiences as you can because who knows who you’re going to meet. Someone may be looking for a bass player or someone for their band. I was always trying to put myself in any position or situation from jam sessions, to birthdays, to weddings. As I did this, I started to meet more and more musicians and would play with them more frequently. That was my mentality. I would take whatever I could get. In fact, one of the big gigs that I got was touring with Tony Danza. He had a Vegas-like show. I got that gig because I could sing and play bass. There were great musicians on that gig and one thing led to another and I started to be able to make a living playing. Through the years, the circle of musicians I was playing with, hopefully all of their careers would keep going up into the next level, and I maintained relationships and connections with those people and my career moved up with them. I’ve just been able to keep doing a bunch of different things. Eventually, as the gigs got better, I could become more selective and I wouldn’t have to play a wedding or Bar Mitzvah on the weekend. From that I was able to do a little more touring, got some pop gigs, did more sessions, and lot of jazz stuff. I kind of went from there. It all started from that mentality of “put yourself in as many musical situations as possible” and try to play your best no matter what. My old band director used to say, “You’re only as good as your rock gig.” What he meant was you always have to be playing at your best and you always have to be respectful and honest with the music. Don’t think that people aren’t listening or aren’t hearing you in any and every situation. Bring you’re A-game to every gig and hopefully that will lead to the next thing.

MC: Very true. Would you say it’s advantageous to be in a larger metroplex, like LA, to experience these things or do you know of stories, outside of your own, that mirrors that to some degree or another?

DL: I think that a big city that has a thriving music scene is going to allow you more opportunities than you would find if you were in smaller cities or towns. I think that anybody’s talent is going to take them pretty far. You always hear of these young, amazing players that are coming out of random cities. You know, these great high school players who are getting scholarships and going to colleges. Of course, your talent is only going to take you so far. But after that, you could be able to play all the Jaco stuff or slap for days and days like Victor Wooten, but if you’re not getting experience and playing with different people and trying to cultivate the business aspect, and the relationship aspect of your musicianship then you’re going to be one of these people who can do all these things and have all this technique but nowhere to really play, except your bedroom. The larger the pond you’re in, the more experiences you’re going to have and the more chances you’re going to have to cultivate an actual career where you can raise a family and make something of yourself instead of living from gig to gig. It’s a matter of being a pro and putting yourself out there in as many situations as you can.

MC: What words of advice would you give about listening?

DL: I love that question. It’s different for every person, but I love listening to anything that people would recommend and anything from classical to jazz to pop to gospel to hip hop. If there was something I didn’t like, I wouldn’t write it off. I would figure out why I didn’t like it. Specifically from a bass standpoint, I ask myself, “Why don’t I like that? Is it the tone of the instrument? Is it the feel of the rhythm section?” Once I figure it out, I try to avoid doing it myself. I like to learn from those situations as opposed to just moving on the next thing. Conversely, when I like something, I figure out those aspects and try to incorporate those into my playing. No matter what, if you’re listening to a broad spectrum of things, I’m sure there’s something to learn, even from the stuff you don’t like.

MC: We are constantly making these choices when playing as well.

DL: Exactly.

MC: How do you feel about time and where to put the beat?

DL: It’s tricky. When playing jazz, I like to play on top. Often, with younger players, when you tell them to play on top of the beat, they’ll start to rush. There’s a fine line between keeping a forward, linear motion or feel, and rushing, where you’ll push the band the whole time and make it feel uncomfortable. That’s something I’m always trying to learn and do it the right way, and sometimes I do rush and it can feel uncomfortable, especially if the drummer and I aren’t on the same page. Luckily, you get to know drummers and you get to play with a bunch of guys on a regular basis and you can figure out where it feels comfortable for them. My whole thing, hopefully, that I’m trying to do is get to know what people want. I don’t want to just go into a situation and force my method or my feel onto the band. I want to try to meet everybody where they’re at and make a comfortable feel for the tune. There’s a little bit of getting to know your voice and your approach. At the same time you’re trying to understand the role of the bass player, which is to be supportive and make everybody sound good and lay down that foundation that everybody’s comfortable with. Sometimes that means sacrificing exactly where you want to put it for the sake of the band. If you want to work you have to have that mentality. Otherwise you’ll be known as the dude who always pushes or drags.

MC: Great point. The word ‘foundation’ can often be misunderstood. We hear it and read it all the time: “the bass player provides the rhythmic foundation.” What that really means is that the ‘foundation’ doesn’t have to be embedded in bedrock all the time. It’s flexible and organic, and it’s important to be aware of that.

DL: That’s great, absolutely. Being flexible is the key to a feel, but also to your approach as a bass player in trying to build your career. You have to be flexible. The exception is if you’re going to be a solo-bass-player artist and you’re developing your own thing, and the way you play is the way you’re going to play. Some people have done a really good job of doing that. A good example of that is Mark Egan. I saw him at a jazz festival in Reno with Pat Metheny a while ago. The whole time he was laying it down in the pocket, you know, way in the back not being anything special, so to speak, just being real supportive. When it came time for him to solo he just ripped it. It was incredible. When you mention Mark Egan you think of his work as a fretless solo artist. From then I had a new level of respect for players like that, who can do both, but understand the role of the bass and they understand how they need to be supportive. Then, when the time comes, they’ve developed this technique or the ability to solo or be melodic that’s way beyond the normal expectations of the average, everyday bass player.

MC: Let that be a testament to why Mark Egan’s name is known and how he has managed to stay in the business for so long.

DL: Absolutely.

MC: There’s always room for making something artistic but part of the art is the craft. Would you agree?

DL: Yeah. There are so many aspects to playing an instrument: being able to find the right moment to make a statement, musically, being sensitive to the feels of each player in a band, particularly in the rhythm section. I’m playing with Patti Austin now and her band is huge. There are two keyboards, bass, drums, guitar, and three background singers. There’s a lot of stuff going on. I approach it from an R&B/pop perspective, but to really find your place, you have to be aware of what the horn parts are doing, what the guitar is doing, how the drummer is approaching the tune. Is he playing on top, behind, is it greasy or right down the middle? All that stuff goes into how you shape your overall feel, groove, and approach. If you walk in thinking about a bass line that you want to play you’ll miss the point. You have to listen to every aspect of that musical moment happening around you, and make your best effort to contribute musically to that situation.

MC: It’s better to make the band happy with one note than to make yourself happy with ten notes. (We chuckle)

DL: Exactly, and you’re going to get hired again.

MC: Have you had any epiphanies lately?

DL: You know, lately, I’ve been into note length: the space between notes and something as simple as a dotted quarter and an eighth note and how it contributes to the feel. It’s dramatic, as a bass player, to be conscious of the space between notes and the length of your notes and how that affects the feel and the groove of any tune. That carries over to how I’ll think about my right hand placement or how much pressure I’m using with my left hand. Then I’ll zone into the high hat or bass drum. How I match with those depends on whether the feel is an eighth note feel or a sixteenth note feel. Altering the note length or the space between notes allows me to approach a tune I’ve played a hundred times with something fresh and continue to contribute something new each time.

MC: Excellent. That’s a whole other level of the awareness of time mentioned earlier. What would you like the people to understand about you as a person, and as a musician, and how you balance the two to maintain your success?

DL: I’m very conscious to not let the idea of success for me be what gig I have. The idea of success for me is to have a healthy marriage, strong friendships, a sense of spirituality and a career that allows me to play in as many different situations as possible. If that stuff gets out of order and I start to place success of what gig I have, and who I’m playing with, then I think I’d get out of balance. For my career, I’m trying to be as diverse as possible. I love playing jazz and straight-ahead, and I love playing R&B and pop, and doing the sessions that I do. I love teaching. I love playing both basses. I love playing Broadway shows here in LA. I love going on tour with a rock or gospel thing. I wouldn’t necessarily be happy if I had to choose one genre within music. I just like playing the bass. I like playing the bass in any genre and trying to make that happen.

Dan Lutz uses Nordstrand Basses, Agiular Amps, and Elixir Strings.

Visit online at www.myspace.com/triplelutz

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