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SA Bassists With Martin Simpson: An Interview with Jason Green

Meet Martin Simpson –

After spending some time out of town – interviewing Graham Jacobs and Schalk Joubert in the Western Cape, and Garth de Meillon in Pretoria, it’s time to come back to Johannesburg to interview Bass Instructor Jason Green. Jason runs a local music school called The Campus of Performing Arts – which is situated just a few kilometers East of Johannesburg’s City Centre. This is what Jason told me recently.

How did you get started Jason?

In high school we noticed that the two guitar players seemed to be getting all the girls. So, we started a band. Since I was the last guy to arrive at our first rehearsal, I became the bass player.

Can you give us a brief history of your career?

Once the bass bug bit, I took private lessons for a few years before enrolling at the Pretoria Technikon Light Music Department. I studied bass there for 3 years with Marc Duby. On graduating, I did freelance theater and session work and started teaching bass at The National School for the Arts. For the last six years I have been teaching Bass, Theory, Culture, Live Performance Workshops and Music Business at the Campus of Performing Arts. I also try to fit in as many freelance bass gigs around my teaching as possible, because playing bass is the reason I was put on earth.

What was your inspiration in music?

Some of my early bass influences were Cliff Burton, Tom Araya, and Nikki Sixx. Your basic heavy metal nightmare. Once I started studying jazz I got into Ray Brown, Christian McBride , Ron Carter and Dave Holland. As I got more interested in Jazz music I discovered the electric players like Jaco, Marcus Miller and Brian Bromberg. That is the opposite of how most people discover those musicians but this is how I discovered them.

What are / were your musical influences?

I like to listen to as much music from different genres and countries as possible. I hope that having been as open to as many sounds as possible will influence my playing positively. As for bass influences, aside from the ones I mentioned earlier, I have been influenced by a number of South African bassists that may not be as well known. These include Mark Duby, Denny Lalouette, Victor Masondo, Gito Baloi, Martin Mitchell, Pete Sklar and Pat Smith.

What have been your favorite recordings?

The first two live cd’s I recorded with Louis Brits, early in the year after I graduated from the Pretoria Tech, stand out as they were my first recording experiences and they feature one of my only recorded bass solo’s. Other cd’s I enjoyed playing on were 180’s last album, Arde’s debut cd and Nianells live dvd “Lifes Gift”. I also did an album of Jacque Brel’s songs with Danielle Pascal, which is the only album I recorded on double bass. Also every episode of Noot Vir Noot was recorded live, so I have a lot of great memories with that band.

You spent a few years on our TV screens playing in the Noot Vir Noot (Note For Note) quiz show. Please tell us a bit about your experiences during that time.

The 6 years I spent with Noot vir Noot were some of the most important in my musical growth. Some local musicians don’t take the show seriously because a good deal of the music is Afrikaans pop music. The musicians in my opinion are some of the best in South Africa at the moment, particularly the drummer, David Klassen. While we did play a lot of Afrikaans music we also did a lot of jazz, funk and R&B with the various artists. We had limited rehearsal time and very few takes. So the live show is us reading a lot of charts and most of the performances were first takes. One of the important lessons I learned was how note attack can affect a groove. Some country and folk styles have to be approached with subtlety as opposed to just hammering out the notes in time. I also learned that just because a 2 feel sounds easy making it groove and feel good is harder than it sounds. I also performed with some of the biggest artists in South Africa and being watched by 6 million people every episode was also very cool.

What are some of your most memorable gigs?

Touring Italy and Norway stand out as my favorite tour experiences. As far as touring in South Africa; playing to a sold out show at the Sun City Superbowl with Steve Hofmeyer; playing Double Bass With Nataniel at the Bloemfontein Theater; and any gig with one of the original bands I have played with where the audience enjoys your original songs as much as covers.

What equipment do you use?

I have had the pleasure of playing a lot of different basses from Cort to Warwick. Currently my main five string bass is a Lakland 55-02. It has an ash body and Bartolini electronics. Personally, I prefer basses that have a single piece of wood for the body as opposed to instruments with multi-laminated bodies and tops. I find that single pieces seem to have a stronger character to their sound. (My opinion.YRMV) I also use a Fender Jazz Bass for a more traditional sound. Recently I got a five string Lakland Joe Osborn . It’s possibly one of the best 5 string jazz basses I’ve ever played. I have never liked the sound of Fender’s B string, which I always found to be very blurry sounding. The Joe Osbourn has a 35 inch scale which really tightens up the B string. I also really enjoy the fact that it’s passive because I prefer to have the amp providing the tone adjustments. I find that some bass players use an active bass into an effect, then into an amp and then into the desk and their sound can be lost in all the electronics affecting the signal. Both Laklands also have ash bodies which I find cut through more than alder.  Amp wise, I am currently using Markbass amps . I like the fact that their amps have a neutral sound but also have lots of tone shaping options. Your bass sounds like your bass through them, but they also allow you to sculpt the sound dramatically. If I want to add a different tone to my basic sound I’ll use a Sansamp VT Bass for a bit of tubey drive or a boss OC-3 for synth type sounds. I used to use more effects but I find that both live and in the studio i prefer the sound of my bass through the amp or being pushed through the Sansamp. Too many effects seem to introduce noise and can tend to get lost in a mix. All my bass gear is supplied by Music Connection.

No mention of fretless bass guitars – do you ever play them?

One of my biggest regrets was getting rid of my Manne Acoustibass fretless. I don’t use fretless as much as I would like but I do play a fretless Cort with Nylon Tapewound strings to get a nice Double bass type sound in a duo band with a singer/guitarist. I’m a huge fan of both Jaco  and Mick Karn but it’s difficult to play their type of bass style in music that is not similar to the music they play. It’s the same thing with slapping. Bass players practice it all the time but if we are honest, besides at a Saturday morning blast in a music shop or during a sound check or solo we rarely use it in songs. That’s not to say that slapping is a bad or unnecessary technique but practicing timing, dynamics and note duration is just as important if not more, to playing bass yet there is almost no tuition on these concepts. Maybe I should release an instructional DVD series called “Note duration and Attack for the serious musician” I can’t see it selling much but it probably should.

You also play Double Bass – do you currently own one of these instruments?

I don’t own a double bass at the moment. The cost of up-keep, storage and the amount of time needed to be competent on the instrument were just too prohibitive. I love the instrument and in some applications it is essential but I respect that I did not have the time to keep practicing both electric bass and double bass at the level I would have preferred. There is nothing worse than an out of time, out of tune double bassist. Also, my electric basses don’t scare the crap out of my cats. I play A Dean Pace electric upright for the occasional jazz gig where the band wants the look of a double bass but the feel and sound are not the same as an acoustic instrument. It’s just to fool the brides’ mother so she still pays the band.

What are your thoughts on the multi-stringed electric bass guitars that are on today’s market?

I played a Yamaha John Myung 6 string bass on my last season with Noot vir Noot. I personally don’t care for 6 string basses. I understand the concept and thought put into them but unless you’re Anthony Jackson or John Pattutucci, I don’t see the need for the high C string. Used in a jazz improve context or for chordal ideas they can be great, but a lot of players who own 6 strings have a lot of dust under the C string because it never gets used. It sometimes comes across as an ego thing and yet Carlo Mombelli, Doug Johns and Victor Wooten don’t seem limited at all by 4 strings. There are of course exceptions, Dennis Lalouette, Rixi Roman and Dave Askes being examples of South African bass players who use 6 string basses to great effect. I personally am finding myself enjoying playing a passive 4 string jazz bass a lot these days and more producers and band leaders seem to be going for that sound too. Again that is my opinion and experience. Please refrain from whipping me with your C string.

Do you set a limit to how many strings there are on the basses that your students bring to class?

I tell my students that I don’t care if you use your nose to play the bass as long as it sounds and feels good. Similarly I have had a number of students who play 6 string basses. I make sure they learn the entire neck and can play the scales and arpeggio excercises across all 6 strings so they get used to the entire range of the bass.

What are your goals with regards to teaching?

I try to teach my students not only what and how to play, but to understand why they are playing it. If I teach a scale for example, I want them to understand what chord it’s compatible with and how you can use the scale for fills, bass lines, etc. We also have the students performing live every week so they get used to working with other musicians and playing various genres of music, not just their favorite genre or “what’s popular” right now.

What are some of the mistakes young players make?

Some younger players confuse technique with musicianship. Particularly as they start to progress beyond the beginner stage and start to develop slapping, tapping and playing fast takes over grooving. It’s a process for some players who then develop great groove playing as well as technique but some just want to slap and play Parker solos, and learn the hard way that a lot of bass gigs require them to play simply with good time, and too many notes are not what the song requires.

What are your future musical plans?

I have started working with two talented songwriters. One is more of a rock/pop type writer and the other has a piano lead alternative sound. I am currently producing and arranging material for both and will have full album releases’ for both in the near future. Besides getting more involved in production I am also managing a band. I still love playing bass and want to continue playing with as many artists in the differing genres.

What do you get up to when you’re taking a break from music?

I should probably say something deep like saving the planet one ferret at a time but truthfully I still try to practice during any downtime I get. I also have rediscovered the many faceted joys of X box. Not life changing but a great distraction from death and taxes. I wish some of my students would spend less time on the end of level boss and more time on the bass curriculum… But that’s just me.

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