This is the first of a two-part interview with Gerald Veasley. We spoke just days after the passing of Joe Zawinul. Gerald has been Joe’s bassist for many years now, and we spent some time talking about their relationship, which I felt should be included as part of this interview out of respect for one of the music industry’s greatest contributors.
Gerald: This news was expected and not expected. I knew he was ill, but didn’t know how serious it was. I called and talked to his son Eric and he told me it didn’t look good. Yet, there was a hint of optimism. Joe himself was looking forward to touring in the fall, and making another record, but that’s classic Zawinul—to be positive till the end, and forward thinking.
Jake: You spent a lot of years playing with him.
Gerald: Yes, almost 8 years. You know, I was talking to my daughter the other day about kind of ‘envisioning your life’, and it was almost unfair—she’s only 10.
But talking to her got me to recall when I discovered Weather Report, and falling in love with that music. And just looking at those album covers, every single one, and envisioning what it would be like to be in a band like that, and to play with masters like that, and make great music like that. I did that for a long time.
Life kind of took me, actually, kind of “prepared” me for playing with Joe. I started playing with a band called Revere. We played quite a bit of Weather Report and music similar to Weather Report, and tried to fashion ourselves after that band.
I then started working with a saxophone player, and as a result of that connection, I formed a band called the Rochester-Veasley band, and it just so happened that we recorded some of that band’s music. And when Cornell, the drummer, got in Zawinuls band, he played a song for Joe hoping that Joe would want to play some of his music, which was pretty much a stretch because Joe more or less let everybody know that he was the composer for this band. But the act of him playing that recording was how I got to meet Joe, because when Joe heard the recording he said, who is this bass player, and as fate would have it, he called Cornell and Cornell told me, “Your not going to believe this, Joe wants to meet and hear you.”
Joe was coming to LA, and I just happened to be going to LA myself with Grover Washington Jr. Scott Henderson picked me up after my Grover concert and drove me to Joe’s house in Malibu. So, hear is this man that I had seen on all these album covers, and my impression was that he was kind of rough, and ultra serious, and then after meeting him I discovered he was a fun loving guy, so full of life.
We sat down in his music room and I assumed it was an audition, and when we played, I felt like I had been playing with him my whole life. I understood him both personally and musically—it was kind of magical.
Jake: In reference to how you met him, I’m going to kind of go out on a philosophical limb here and state that as time goes on, I tend to feel that possibly, there are no accidents. I’ve heard so many stories like this over the years, music related and not, as well as my own experiences, and this is the conclusion I always seem to arrive at. Said another way, it’s getting harder and harder to use the word coincidence.
Gerald: I agree, there was something providential about it. I guess what holds us to the idea of happenstance and coincidence is that we feel—I don’t really deserve an experience like that, though I’ve longed for it, and visualized it. So many things in my life have happened like that. Things that I’ve prayed for, or asked for, or just imagined. Somehow I guess you have to have enough enthusiasm to prepare, and believe that something like that could happen.
Here’s another story in the same light of what we’ve been discussing. Yesterday I was teaching, and hadn’t been at the school for a while and felt a little unprepared, so I grabbed the first thing I could put in my hands besides my bass, which happened to be a real book, and went down to teach. Towards the end of my lesson, I pulled out the book to show my student something, and a piece of music fell out. Not noticing what it was, we continued. After the lesson I finally looked at the piece of music and, you’re not going to believe this, it was a chart of A Remark You Made by Zawinul. That was the only piece of music in the book. It was from a project I did about a year ago. I had put together a bunch of charts for that particular band, as we were playing at my club the Jazzbase, but this was the only one in the book. I get some chills thinking about that.
Jake: I sometimes wonder if having a full time position of involvement in the artistic realm opens the door a bit more to some of these, dare I say, almost religious experiences.
Gerald: I think we’re blessed. We have the kind of life that allows us to have space and time to reflect, at the very least. Let’s forget these more or less extra paranormal experiences. Having the time to reflect and to think about our lives to me seems advantageous, as opposed to simply running and chasing after it. We have an opportunity to be fully involved in our lives, and more or less create a life.
Creating a song is one thing, but to have the extra time to create a life is another. To be able to have and act on our creative calling is a privilege. And sometimes we forget that, till we run into someone who lets say can only make music on the weekends. Someone who has other responsibilities the rest of the time, and every now and then can play in a band. This is when I realized that having music as a vocation is a blessing, irrelevant of the challenges it sometimes presents.
Jake: This all kind of ties to a question I wanted to ask you, that being your “Music Lab”, which I believe the focus of, is interviewing noted players and trying to discuss the challenge of being a creative person in this world.
Gerald: Music Lab was actually a television show run by a producer named Tom who also produced something called Studio Jams for a few years. He brought musicians together from different genres, and put them in a studio setting, and filmed them working through creating a piece of music, or playing a tune that everyone knew and shared their vocabulary. It’s not so much about the product they produced, it’s about showing the process people used to make the music come off, a very cool idea.
Then he got the idea to do something different. This is the concept of Music Lab. It’s a one-on-one talk with me as the host, talking to a creative person about how they make their music. What kind of things inspire them, or what kind of training or influences brought them to the place they are now in their careers. And then we’d do some playing, which was a nice touch. Actually, it was originally shot in standard definition, and then he shot some episodes in hi-def. We still have a lot of those shows in the can that have not been broadcast yet with Chick Corea, Joe Sample, and other major voices in jazz, as well as other styles of music. So we’re hoping to get that picked up and aired soon.
Jake: In our December issue, we will continue with Part 2 of Gerald’s interview, discussing his Bass Camp, his radio show, and some personal insights on his approach as a player, and his new CD, which will be released in early 2008. Until then, find out more about Gerald by visiting his website, www.geraldveasley.com.