Bunny Brunel came to the states in the late 70’s to record with Chick Corea and was immediately acknowledged as a serious new voice on the scene. Featured on fretless for that album, and receiving the attention he did at that point in time (prime Jaco time) is a testament to how strong his voice really was. With his Grammy nominated CD CAB2 under his belt, a tour this December with the CAB band, and finishing up two CD’s he’s currently working on shows that there seems to be no end in sight to this mans presence on the scene.
Let’s forgo my thoughts for a moment and share a few words from some people you might recognize…
“Bunny is a long time friend of mine and a tremendous bass player and musician”. Stanley Clarke.
“Bunny’s melodic approach to improvising on the bass has always been refreshing to me. There is always melody and a singing feeling in his solo lines as well as in his bass support playing. Also his use of chords and guitar like harmonies from the bass is unique”. Chick Corea.
“Bunny Brunel’s style and ability as a bassist have afforded him numerous opportunities to play music of diverse concepts and ranges”. Patrice Rushen.
Add to that a resume sporting such names as Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, Mike Stern, Al Dimeola, Jack DeJohnette, and Al Jarreau to name just a few, and you can see that if you haven’t heard this player, you’re missing out on a truly talented musician.
Jake: First off, tell me about your band CAB and the recordings you’ve done with them.
Bunny: CAB has been together for quite a few years. We’ve done four albums. In the beginning, it was just a trio concept with Tony MacAlpine on guitar, Dennis Chambers on drums, and myself on bass. That was the first CAB album. One of the tracks on that album also featured Brian Auger on keyboards. When we started playing live, we actually brought Brian on to play keyboards, even though Tony has the ability to play a keyboard solo with one hand and guitar with the other, at the same time- he’s pretty amazing at that. On the second album, we brought in Patrice Rushen on keyboards- wonderful player. The third album was actually called CAB 4. We kind of jumped over to four and tried to stay with even numbers, if you get what I mean. We featured both Brian and Patrice on that one. When we went out live at that point, we brought in Virgil Donati on drums, and that band ended up doing a double live album.
With our present band, we will be using Mitch Foreman on keys, and will be doing a tour in India next month.
Jake: You came to the states in the late 70’s to record and work with Chick Corea. With the business being as it is today, what are some of the challenges you face now, as opposed to back then?
Bunny: It used to be that people would get a record deal and sign a contract for three albums. They were pushed by the system to always come up with something. I never had that kind of deal, so I always made my albums little by little. Dedication was an album that I did for Musidisc Records at the time; it has been re-released by Universal Records a couple of years ago. They asked me to record a straight-ahead album. I used Vinnie Coluiuta on drums, Mike Stern on guitar, and I played acoustic bass for that project. We mainly played jazz standards, with a couple of my own compositions. Billy Childs was on piano on that recording as well. Herbie Hancock was booked for that session but was unable to make it, which was ok, because Billy is a fantastic player.
There was also a track on there with my old friend Chick Corea, which was great, it sounds like the old “Now He Sings Now He Sobs”. We recorded everything direct to 2 track at Capitol Records in Hollywood with Bernie Kirsh and Leslie Jones engineering. It was funny, because even with these players on board, I never received any reviews in France, which is where I’m from.
That’s one of the problems with the French. The French media and record companies seem to prefer American jazz players. They wouldn’t sign a French jazz player, and it is the same for festival work as well – they just didn’t care. So I did what I had to do, more or less prove them wrong, and this was one of the reasons I moved here. That same attitude carries on even today. I’ve worked with some of the most famous jazz players in the world, and that still doesn’t make any difference to the French. They’ll recognize the American black musician in a heartbeat- that’s kind of strange because it seems to me to be reverse discrimination. Once in a while you’ll hear about a jazz musician from there. Two come to mind, Dominique Dipiazza, and a new young player named Hadrian Feraud, but that’s only because they have played with John McLaughin, or someone of that stature. Both these guys are great players, but they’ll never be on the cover of a bass magazine in France- that’s absurd! I had a chance to play with Dominique. He’s a great player and a very nice guy.
I also remember seeing that same more or less discriminating attitude happening here in the states as far as rock and roll was concerned. The British for quite some time were the kings of rock and roll, and they had some great players. There were great rock players here as well, but the record companies always went to the British first. They seemed to be the first ones to get a deal. An example of that was Jimi Hendrix having to go to England to get famous. Here in the states, a black guy, playing rock and roll- forget it. That thought process definitely paralleled the French point of view.
Again, speaking to the challenges that you asked about, a positive thing that has opened up for players is the internet. First off, if you have a good product, and want to get it out, your going to have to find someone to help you with that process beyond the advantages that the internet has to offer.
The good news is that at this point, you don’t have to go in the studio and pay $500 an hour due to the digital revolution that has come about. For a long time, people just didn’t have enough money to go in the studio. My first album Touch was made in the south of France. We paid for the album with the help of Daniel Goyone’s uncle and also by giving the studio my Lexicon Prime Time Delay, which was outrageously expensive in France at that point. On top of that, I had to change the cover, because record companies ruled over what you could do, so now it reads Bunny Brunel and Daniel Goyone. You had to prove yourself to the record companies before you could sport using your own name.
Even after that, after working with such players as Tony Williams and Chick Corea, I still had trouble booking jazz festivals in Europe. Nobody was interested even though I had a great lineup—it was hard back then. After that, one of the first moves I made was building my own studio. I’m now able to do recordings as well as production work right at home. One of the projects I worked on was with a famous French singer named Michel Polnareff with whom I toured with for six months in France. We played a gig on July 14th, Bastille Day, in front of over a million people – an amazing gig.
I was then able to work on the album we did right here in my studio. This is the advantage I have now that I did not have before. I can actually do most of the projects I’m involved with right here. Having the studio can really help you to come up with a perfect product for much less money. So you see that when you were recording for the record companies, well, they really had you by the balls. You’d be signing some ridiculous contract just because they had the power. You’d be opening up an area where you’re asking people that do not even know how to play an instrument to help you make music. This scenario in my opinion has helped to produce a lot of garbage. But these days, a player can put out an album without the intimidation of the record companies, and without spending their life savings as well. But you have to follow that up with a lot of advertising, mostly done by yourself. This will help you get more product out, and create a better chance for you to be heard, and this is where the internet really kicks in.
Jake: Improvisation is definitely one of your strong points. You have a unique harmonic approach to playing through changes. Could you tell me what you’ve focused on over the years to develop your voice?
Bunny: I’m blessed to be able to hear a chord and hear the scale that fits that chord immediately, and use it. I remember when I first played Dolphin Dance. I was told the changes, and then for the solo I’d ask Rick Hannah the Guitar player that was part of the Alphonse Mouzon trio to play the first chord and I would play the scale, then the second chord and play etc., and that’s how I used to do it. I mentioned Dolphin Dance because it’s kind of complicated. Usually, when playing more normal changes, you don’t need to practice it, you can just hear it. So when I started giving bass lessons here in America, I realized I’d have to figure out what I was doing. So I started putting down all the information I had basically just been doing by ear. I kind of mapped out everything and it came together very well. I made a point to keep it simple, because it can look very complex. So a Dm7 would be D Dorian, the 2nd degree of C Major. A G7 would be G Mixolydian, which is the 5th degree of C Major. If C Major is the next chord, you’re totally in the key of C, a II-V-I in C Major. Everything can work in this manner- here’s this chord, and this scale will work with it. So I began teaching the major modes, and along with that the harmonic minor modes, which are not taught in classical harmony which I had studied at a conservatory. I started to see that what people were teaching in the schools, no matter what type of music you were playing, was the Baroque system. And the Baroque system is beautiful for Baroque music, but it doesn’t work for anything else we play.
The Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” is a great tune that is totally wrong from the Baroque point of view but I’m sorry, I think that this is a great composition!
Most kids are taught- here’s the major scale, and here’s the natural minor scale, not telling them it’s part of the major scale, the 6th degree of the key. So I tried to clear all this up, and when you learn my system, you can understand all these things we’re talking about. I explain the harmonic minor modes as well as the major modes, and their applications. Another example of what we’re taught that can be confusing is looking at the melodic minor. This scale goes up in melodic minor and down in natural minor- good luck making sense of that as far as application goes. Are there any compositions that use that? Not to my knowledge. And then there’s the great Bela Bartok who comes to us with “You’re all wrong, it’s actually in a different key, it is it’s own key”. So he’s presenting melodic minor as it’s own key, and it’s not. It’s not the Major7 with a flat 3rd as the 1, it’s actually the dorian scale with a Major 7th the second degree of the key. They are still teaching that melodic minor can be the 1, but harmonically speaking, it’s actually the 2. If you see it that way, then everything fits perfectly and makes sense harmonically. And this all leads back to my original statement that each chord has one scale. You can of course substitute other scales if you choose to, and sometimes that initial scale for a chord can change depending upon the chords that come before or after it, but there is always a natural scale that goes with the chord. This approach works very well when tackling a tune like Dolphin Dance, which I mentioned earlier, that has no key center. So using my system can help you solo through a tune like that, and if there is a key center, it makes it even simpler.
Jake: Are these some of the things you cover in your Cyber School of Bass?
Bunny: Yes, exactly. Basically my first book called “The Complete Book of Bass Essentials”, published through Mel Bay, covers most everything I’ve talked about, and it comes with a DVD as well.
Jake: Can you tell me about some of the players that have influenced you over the years?
Bunny: One of my first influences was Willie Dixon, who was a great composer as well. After that came players like Sam Jones, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and at the same time I was listening to the bass player with James Brown. I loved the rhythm and the funk I was hearing from him. Actually, most of my funk thing came from listening to him. Another player I enjoyed was Tim Bogart from the band Vanilla Fudge. He played some incredible lines with that band. I also really enjoyed the bassist from Blood Sweat and Tears, Jim Fielder. Then I was enlightened, as far as soloing goes, through the playing of Eddie Gomez. I heard him play in the Montreux Jazz Festival with the pianist Bill Evans and I said, oh my God, I want to play like that. After seeing him I started practicing 10 hours a day. And then there was Stanley Clarke, and his playing on the Chick Corea album Sometime Ago and Light As A Feather. Fantastic playing by Stanley, and he’s become one of my best friends. I can tell you that live, if you put all the great bass players on stage, no one holds up to that guy. So I wanted to play like Stanley and solo like Gomez. I was practicing on electric at that time just as much as acoustic, and what developed is that my technique on acoustic is not the traditional technique. I play it more like an electric bass, which gave me great facility on the acoustic. Another player I must mention is Paul Jackson, Mr. Funk. This guy hears everything upside-down. He used to play Cuban music by the way, and also played a lot of salsa with Santana. So I took a lot of ideas from all these players.
Now, I’m enjoying players like Brian Bromberg, Stevie Wonder’s bass player Nates, Freddy Washington, Alain Caron, Victor Wooten and a bunch of others, also another great player that played with Alan Holdsworth, Jimmy Johnson. I also greatly enjoy what Dominique Dipiazza is doing. And finally, not to be forgotten is Jaco. I think one of the strongest points I learned from him was how to put together a melodic solo, not just a bunch of notes. I already was improvising like I do now; I am probably the first bass player that could solo over Giant Steps in the early 70’s. But the melody Jaco had in his solos was killing me. What a musician. The compositional aspect of his soloing, along with his melody driven lines always in my eyes made him completely unique, and I truly loved that part of his playing.
Jake: Thanks for your time Bunny.
Bunny: My pleasure.