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Keep an Eye On With B.A. Johnson: Anthony Crawford

Meet B.A. Johnson

Chops and intelligence?! HMMM… It was bound to happen. I remember teaching a particularly competitive student as a teenage bass instructor in the early 1980’s. In a desperate attempt to get this person to understand that music is not a competition, I made the unknowingly prophetic remark, “man, there is a musician who’s yet still a baby who may grow up to be a remarkably innovative bassist!” Little did I know, then…

Anthony Crawford was born in 1981 to a very musical family that includes his father (drummer) Hubert “H-Bomb” Crawford and his gifted uncle (saxophonist) Hank Crawford! So, when we made friends on FaceBook I knew it was only a short matter of time before I would be allowed to introduce him to a wider audience! I love my job…

Anthony’s “Urban Jazz” features a wealth of deep grooves, 2-hand tapping, majestic soloing and melodic interplay. The compositions are (thankfully) beyond the scope of the typical “bass player makes a record no one digs”. I am convinced that much of what I am hearing from this adroit young bassist is the slightly unconventional influence of players such as Doug Wimbish, dUg Pinnick, and Mike Inez in his technical approach – instead of the typical list of players I find in a bassist’s bag. COOL! Again: thankfully. “AC” shows himself to be an instant classic, and he’s had an incredible journey since sitting-in with his dad with the Bette Midler band – at the age of 14! Here is Anthony Crawford!

BAJ: Hey man! Welcome to Bass Musician Magazine! Its good to hang for a few minutes and hear from you! Let’s start with the premise that produced “Urban Jazz”… what was the main theme you wanted to bring to your listening audience, and what was your primary goal for the disc’s release?

AC: Well the primary goal behind “Urban Jazz” is to approach a solo bass record with a pop-ish urban feel and, at the same time, bring fresh original music that everyone can enjoy. I’ve always thought that it would be cool to do a bass record but I wanted to have a different concept behind it. I hear a lot of bass records all the time… But I wanted to have a concept that would make me stand out from others bassists. Although I am a bass player, I am also a producer – as I have produced songs for rap and hip hop artists. I listen to a lot of urban stations and I always imagined what it would sound like if I could capture the urban feel of today’s music and turn that music it into a “bass album”. I also wanted to bring something unique to the listeners’ ears – while taking them on a (musical) journey. I wanted each song on my album to say something. Whether through the melody, or the way I played the solo, the vocals, and the groove… I hoped the listener would feel like I am taking them someplace they usually wouldn’t go themselves. Stanly Clarke told me to find what makes me unique, and write songs based upon that quality. So I took that idea and I came up with the “Urban Jazz” title – which is a “bass jazz album from an urban point of view”.

BAJ: Please describe your 2-hand ‘tapping’ technique and how you have developed it over the years?

AC: My 2-hand tapping technique… Hmmmm…. Well, there is a lot of Victor Wooten’s influence when it comes to my 2-hand tapping technique. I got his “A Show Of Hands” release when I was 16. When I got that album I said, “there is no way 1 person can be playing all of this!” (Laughter) So, I listened to that album and figured out what he was doing. I began applying what I thought he was doing to the bass. I sat with my CD player for 8-hours at a time figuring out how he was playing those songs the way he did. When I finally got the concept down, I took the same concept and played it my way. Then, I began learning other songs by learning the bass lines and melody at the same time.

As I started practicing that way I began to see a pattern. I realized that every time I tapped out songs… they felt like grooves! So, instead of thinking about a lot of notes, I looked at songs as 1 big groove! After that, a lot of songs started to come more easily, as far as 2-hand tapping technique is concerned.

Later on, as I got more comfortable with tapping, I started to approach tapping the way a piano player would. For example, if a pianist is soloing, they will play chords with their left hand and solo with their right hand. Sometimes they might also alter the chords with their left hand while playing the corresponding lines with their right hand to give an extra edge. I use that same concept.

BAJ: Unlike many young bassists, it seems you were listening to your dad’s music more than others bother to! Good! You site Geddy Lee and Eddie Van Halen as refreshingly unexpected influences! (Editor’s note: Geddy was my commencing influence – however I began playing in the late 1970’s!) What tunes really “hit you over the head” when you were younger?

AC: I have heavily influenced by rock musicians. Van Halen is one my favorite groups! The first album I got was “For Unlawful Carnel Knowledge”. The first song on that album, “Poundcake”, blew me away and I was hooked! Then I started to get their older recordings. Also, Geddy Lee always blows my mind when I heard him play! I love the way he writes songs. He always has his own sound, and he is very musical. BAJ, you’ve also said that you were into Geddy Lee in the 70’s! But, I didn’t get into him until “Roll The Bones” – which came out in the early 90’s. Like I did with Van Halen, I went back and got the older RUSH albums. Then I got a video that featured a lot of older RUSH videos. I used to watch that videotape, again and again, learning those songs and being amazed every time I saw Geddy! Just talking about this brings back good memories!

Another great band that was a big influence was Living Colour. The first record I got of theirs was “Time’s Up”. Every song blew me away! Then “Stain” came out…! That’s how I discovered Doug Wimbish. Doug’s style and approach opened up many doors for me! My favorite song that I still listen to from that album is “Go Away”!

BAJ: Even though you site a number of rock influences, you released a version of “Giant Steps” on “Urban Jazz”! Nicely done. That said, tell us about your approach to the tune, and what was the central theme of your brief, blazing solo?

AC: “Giant Steps” is a song I always wanted to learn how to play. I leaned the basics a while back, but I wanted to be able to solo over the changes. It is a really good exercise to be able to play though any difficult tune. So, I wanted to capture that aspect on my CD, and I wanted to surprise listeners with a version of this great tune. Even though my disc is an urban approach to jazz music, I also wanted to feature a jazz standard that every jazz musician would know and feature myself on that song.

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