The 50th Anniversary International Society of Bassists Convention took place June 5-10 in beautiful Ithaca, New York.
Convention host and Ithaca College double bass professor Nicholas Walker put together a stellar roster of talent and represented the last half-century of bass playing tremendously well.
With nearly 1500 attendees and countless concerts, sessions, exhibitors, and clinics, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. I spent the entire week bumping into old friends, making new acquaintances, doing interviews, trying out new gear, and checking out concerts.
After making it back to my home in San Francisco for some much-needed sleep, I sat down to organize my thoughts. Here’s a list of my ten favorite moments from this outstanding week of bass love.
- Interviewing Gary Karr – Ever since I started my podcast, I’d dreamed that one day I’d have the chance to interview Gary Karr. Well, it finally happened this June during the convention, and it was an epically cool experience.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from my chat with Gary:
“Leonard Bernstein walks in and sits down. He’s the only one in the whole auditorium. I was really grateful that I’d worn rubber underwear!”
“The bow is your breath. The bow is that thing that binds you with the instrument.”
“Koussevitzky… the way he played it [the bass he gave to Gary] was very different from the way I played it. I was playing with a lot of orchestras all the time. Concertos. In fact, I don’t know how he played his own concerto with such a heavy orchestration and be heard. But I was determined that I was going to be heard.”
- Seeing Gary Karr and François Rabbath meet for the first time – Though both Gary Karr and Francois Rabbath launched their careers in the 1960s, they had managed to perform across the globe for the past 50 years without ever running into each other in person. It finally happened this convention, and it was a moment that none of us in attendance will forget.
- Christian McBride’s burnin’ bass recital – I can’t believe that I’ve gone my whole life without seeing the great Christian McBride perform live. He flew across the fingerboard of his beautiful Benedict Puglisi bass, delighting the crowd with his first-class playing and incredible charm.
- Hearing Sam Suggs redefine solo bass playing – As the winner of the 2015 ISB Solo Competition, Sam Suggs performed an opening night solo recital. Sam started with his Daft Punk Chaconne for solo bass and continued to wow the audience throughout his performance. Sam combines approaches associated with looping and electronic music and manages to recreate these effects without any electronics whatsoever. Simply incredible!
- François Rabbath’s recital – At age 86, it is incredible to see what the revolutionary teacher and performer can do in a live performance. Every time I see François play, I am reminded why his approach to the instrument is compelling to so many people. He plays with grace, elegance, tenderness, and vigor for each and every piece. Watching the smile come across his face as he and his pianist son Sylvain get into a groove onstage is an unforgettable experience.
- Patrick Charton’s B21 “Suitcase Bass” – Flying with a double bass is a real pain, and there’s no sign of it getting easier any time soon. Companies are experimenting with all kinds of potential solutions to get basses into smaller cases and avoid excess baggage fees. Patrick Charton’s B21 bass is truly, as he calls it, “a bass for the 21st century.” Everything from the neck and soundpost to the tailpiece and F holes has been examined, and those elements which do not have an acoustical effect on the instrument have been redesigned in fascinating ways.
- Sebastian Dubé’s recital – Sebastian Dubé was the big surprise of the convention for me. I had no idea to expect when he started performing, and by the end of his performance I was convinced that I’d heard the next Edgar Meyer. Words can’t really describe the uniqueness of Sebastain, so check out this video of him in action (and note the 5 string bass with a high C string and low C extension!).
- Hosting the “Making of the ISB” panel – I had the opportunity to host “The Making of the ISB.” This opportunity was graciously offered to me by former University of Texas at Austin double bass professor David Neubert, and I happily accepted.
The panel was a who’s-who in the ISB world, including Gary Karr, Paul Ellison, Jeff Bradetich, Madeleine Crouch, David Neubert, Barry Green, John Clayton, Tom Knific, David Murray, Kristin Korb, and Douglas Mapp. We also had videos from Lawrence Hurst and Barre Phillips.
- Learning details about the 2018 European Bass Congress – I was able to spend a week in the fall of 2016 at the European Bass Congress in Prague. Bass Europe puts on a summer conference during even-numbered years (the years that the ISB conference don’t happen). I had a great time meeting people and exploring Prague, and I was excited to learn about the details for the next European convention.
The 2018 European Bass Congress will be held in Lucca, Italy. Lucca is a city in Tuscany and is filled with musical history and beautiful architecture. I hope to see you there!
- Meeting “Internet friends” in real life – As a guy who spends a large percentage of his time creating content for the web, I tend to forget that what I do is connecting with real people across the globe. An event like the ISB is a welcome reminder that I’m actually communicating with real live human beings.
Jason Heath is the host of Contrabass Conversations, a podcast devoted to exploring music and ideas associated with the double bass. His blog and podcast are highly regarded in the music world and have been featured as top offerings in the world of arts and culture for the past decade. He is the author of Winning the Audition and Road Warrior Without an Expense Account.