Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) – Latest Installment, an Interview with Bassist Tim Carmichael
Who are you, and what do you do?
Well, the good news is that unlike a Barbara Walters interview my story will not make you cry (laughs)… I am a professional bass player/musician with a background of over 25 years of playing experience. My favorite flavor of the month has always been jazz, which is an art that has intrigued and challenged me as long as my musical brain goes back in time.
To get away from a formal bio and “blah, blah, blah”, about myself… I must say, that, as a person, I am someone who has always believed that music is the best vehicle to promote and expand the ideal of Peace! As far as my thoughts on music go… I am mindful that I am far from being an expert.
As my Grandpa Carmichael has repeatedly quoted so eloquently, “An ‘ex’ is a has-been and a ‘spert’ (edited: spurt) is something coming out of a faucet”. So, there goes any thought of being an “expert” anything!
Who are your primary musical influences?
Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Bob Marley, Geddy Lee, and Jimmy Haslip. Of course, as a bass player, Jaco Pastorius has stuck out in my mind over and over. To me, someone like Miles Davis, for instance, was always impressive in his ability to recreate himself through the decades in the ever-changing face of music. He kept up with the times and maintained his musical integrity in such fashion that he was able to do exactly what he wanted to do in spite of the critics.
What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
Lately I have been checking out more world beat/ethnic music. Bass players like Matt Garrison and Kai Eckhardt have changed the way I look at the crossover of jazz and world music styles. I’ve become a huge fan of percussion as opposed to (simply) drums, or drumming. I have an idea that music at it’s best has a very earthy organic sound.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
My main instruments are an early 1900’s Czechoslovakian upright and a walnut 5 string Tobias “Killer B”. I call these 2 instruments my “work horses”. Both basses have a distinctly unique sound and flavor. I also have a 4-sting fender fretless that gives me a bit of both worlds of the fretted bass guitar and the acoustic contra bass.
I like to quote Jaco in saying, “the sound is in my hands”. My voice is simply a reflection of many influences and styles. I think of music the same way I think about cooking. Cooking is simple, if you know what you like and have a concept of what the end result will taste like. As a player, I can think of genre as ingredients and present concepts like, “Would anyone care for some Jazz stewed with a dash of Reggae, R&B, and Funk?” Just, don’t forget the groove gravy! (Laughs)
Describe your musical composition process.
As I often say to my bass students, “what often seems to be your worst mistakes can end-up being your greatest ideas!”
The best thing I have found when writing is to listen to the environment around me. That’s why I love going into the mountains, here in Colorado, and hike. Nature has a million voices and ideas to share with us if we just open up our ears and clear our minds! This one example of how ideas come about for me. I just try to take those concepts and apply my musical knowledge to chart out something that is palatable. I love starting with an idea and letting the other musicians add the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that express the original concept from their individual standpoint. Here I go again… more musical stew! I like musical stew, apparently!
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
I live in beautiful Loveland, Colorado, which is really just a small mountain town, (50-70 minutes) North of Boulder and the Denver Metropolitan area. I have been playing a regular jazz gig downtown Loveland, in recent months. But, it’s not music that you typically hear in this community. I have found that the response is something of a shock, but people are happy with its arrival. The growing listening audience seems to dig it, and they take a little pride in the fact that it is one of many things that makes this little town so unique. Loveland has a great Arts community, and there is a lot of openness here! I also appreciate that about this area, and that’s why I choose to continue living here.
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
(Laughs) Okay…! Now, you’re making me think! Ouch! This is a loaded question, indeed…
When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a pilot. I figured that if Tom Cruise could do it (in the movie Top Gun) I would be a shoe-in for the job! Besides, I am way better looking than Tom Cruise! Other than that childhood thought, I would like to have studied to become a world-class chef – as most of you might have guessed from my previous answers! I really dig the art of food! Being a great poet would make the “what would I be…” list as well.
Some of you are probably wondering if I am trying to live up to the “starving musician” stereotype? Well…
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
Oh… you mean the idea of actually having money! Not having money, or making a lot of money, has been a sacrifice I suppose.
Then again, I have made a full-time living from music for the past 10 years, which is very cool! That is very difficult to do in this country at this time! However, being a musician has truly taught me how to value what is important. Also, I view my wonderful wife Bonnie, and my family and close friends as being a part of my musical journey. Their support has gone, and continues to go, far beyond words!
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
What…?! Who practices…?! Actually, my practice routine has morphed quite a lot in the past few years! It only takes a moment of listing to my own recordings, and I can tell right away what my biggest weaknesses are!
Most recently, I am revisiting the Simandl bass method and the Mark Levine series of jazz studies. I have also been working on reading melodies, and I have made it my plan to read through the entire 6th edition Real Book in the next 2 years. Finally, I am going to try and take some lessons with a guitarist to learn more about harmonic voicing as it applies to bass. Technique-wise, I am trying to work out a 3-finger, guitaristic vocabulary for my right (plucking) hand. Other than that, I expect to be where I want to be in about 40-years… give, or take!
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
Music is such a reflection of one’s own personality. To me, music reflects my faith, politics, humanity, connection to others, and a sensibility of how music affects other people. My contribution should be to glorify not myself but the idea of bringing some happiness to the world around me. Music is so much bigger than my tiny, little being and that hits me at the deepest level, you know?
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
Not everyone has to speak the language of music to know what we are saying on our instrument and what we want to convey. Speaking the Language is something else, though! I believe that understanding the Language of music has to be a selfless venture with a willingness to listen to what’s around oneself.
Then again… Does a bird singing in a tree understand the language of music? Absolutely! Though, I am jealous that they don’t deal with intonation issues! I believe nature understands things that are absolute more than those of us with dealing with free will! (Laughs)
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
Mostly by the seat of my pants! It has taken many years to obtain a vocabulary on the basses that allows me to speak with other musicians in a competent and heartfelt way. All of the hard work and influences come through when I’m in the middle of a song! I try very hard, at times, not to think too much and to let music flow… hoping that my technique and understanding of music will allow for articulate fluidity. Like most musicians, I am a work in progress.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
Why does the word “cage” come to my mind when I hear the words “commercial music”…?
If music doesn’t reflect true freedom, then we should put it in a cage and control it! If music does what its supposed to, then we’ve got to get beyond the “commercialism” and the idea of some corporate “commercial music maker”, and let the music fly! So, music is only commercial if what we’re seeing is actually music.
The world enjoyed music long before we ever had it recorded and/or analyzed by critics, and accountants. People had more peace with music before there was a destructive music industry. Pop culture is sold to us for a price that is far too expensive, and far less than accurate, considering all that true Music entails. Pop culture simply uses music! If we continue to think that American Idol, or The Voice, or any of these other pop culture “reality TV shows” represents music, with its recycle prone fashion, we are in deep trouble as a people. “The Man” has obviously won if musicians can’t survive unless they find a job playing versions of already existing music on some television show.
Ok, go ahead and say it…Hippie!
But, this society is upside-down, and far too corporate, as far as music is concerned. Music, here, is being used as the soundtrack for a country that is forgetting about music.