Discussion With Ric Fierabracci… For those of you who are not familiar with Ric Fierabracci, it would be well worth your time to check this man out. I first heard him on the Hemispheres CD with band mate Joel Rosenblatt (former drummer with Spyro Gyra), which we reviewed in an earlier issue, and was very impressed with his work. Then I was able to catch him live at Bass Bash at the 2008 Namm show and got to see (hear) what he could do. Amazing player. A quick insight into his personality showed up when I was following him after his performance to set up an interview with him, and he noticed me trailing him and turned around and said, “Do I owe you money?” I liked him right away.
His credentials are strong, having worked with the Chick Corea Electric Band, Billy Cobham group, Dave Weckl band, Frank Gamble group, Scott Hendersen, Eric Marienthal, and Randy Brecker to name a few.
Groove, taste, and stunning solo chops make this bassist a regular call for some of the best in the business. I’m also glad to announce that Ric will be joining us as a staff member starting with our April issue. A great player, as well as a great guy and a welcomed addition to the mag.
Jake: I read a quote you had posted on you’re Myspace page, that being—“Practice and thought might gradually forge many an art.” With your schedule as busy as it is, and that premise in mind, what do you focus on when time for practice, and thought, opens up?
Ric: When I sit down, I try to always have some kind of goal. In other words, if I have 10 minutes, or an hour, I always try to have something in mind to accomplish instead of just warming up. Things like, if I’m looking at a half diminished chord, what do I usually do, and I’ll take a look at that, or if technically there’s something I’m not happy with, I’ll try to fix that in the time I have.
Many times I’ll just open up a book and read. There are a couple of cello books I work out of. They’re etude books, one being the Dotzauer cello studies. There are three volumes of this and I’ve been using them for years. It’s good for me to work with these books because it gets me away from what I’m usually playing. I’ll also work on bebop heads—learn a new one if I have time. I always want to walk away from my practice time knowing that I learned something.
Jake: Are the cello books more of a technique and sight-reading exercise, or are there melodic factors involved when you’re going through these etudes?
Ric: I think so. You know, the Dotzauer book in particular is all etudes, basically having the same rhythm all the way through it. It “is” a technique exercise, but they’re all very melodic and well written, and that has an impact as well. There’s also another good book written by Blume, 36 Studies for Trombone, and that’s a great book to go through as well—a little easier to play, but very melodic.
Jake: I worked out of a book called Chord Studies for Trombone for quite some time myself. I believe Jeff Berlin had recommended that book at some point.
Ric: That’s a great book because it takes you through every chord with the exercises given. It kind of gets you to attack the chord from different angles. A very well thought out book.
Jake: One of the things that I enjoy most about your playing is your rhythmical decision within a composition. Many times you’ll go where I wouldn’t have expected you to go, and it works. Is this purely instinct for you at this point, or is there some thought process behind what you come up with?
Ric: I’m a firm believer that you practice stuff so that when you’re actually playing, you don’t have to think. An analogy is, if I’m a fighter, you don’t go into the match thinking, I’m going to throw a left, then a right, then a right cross, etc, etc—-you get what I mean here. If you’re doing that much thinking you’ll get knocked out. Even though I’m practicing stuff, what I’ve practiced on a particular day is not going to be digested or usable right away. It’s going to take maybe 6 or 8 months before a new concept becomes part of my vocabulary. That also keeps me from doing the parrot thing, just repeating some lick, or something somebody else has played.
A lot of what I’ll do is listen to someone like Brecker and go, what is he doing on that chord change. For instance, I was checking something out the other day from a Steps tune that Brecker played on, and he hit this seriously low note, he does that a lot, and I go, what is that exactly? I thought it was the root, but it sounded so harsh, and I discovered it was a b9, and he’ll do that against a Maj.7 chord. It creates massive tension, and that’s what he was going for. But to play an idea like that, you have to experiment to make it your own thing, or look at the concept and go, you know what, using a note out of nowhere that’s not in the harmony does create a cool tension, and I’d have to conceptualize how I would use that to make it my own. It can take months before it’s intuitive, and not sounding like I’m taking a Michael Brecker note and playing it in the exact same place rhythmically. That’s what a lot of people do—they transcribe and go, ok, I’ve got my Jaco lick, or my Marcus Miller lick. But to make it your own thing you have to digest that information. You want to get beyond the lick and see the concept, and not just do the parrot thing and put the same lick in the same place.
Jake: Looking at your bio, as well as recordings I’ve heard you on, tells me that your section playing is definitely one of your strong suits. But I also find your improvisational voice to be equally as strong. Could you give me a glimpse of how that voice developed for you?
Ric: I don’t know if I have the “answer” for that, but I can certainly speculate. If there is an answer to that, I think it probably changes all the time. Improv to me is really the core of what you are. It’s the essence of what makes us not a machine. We can program whatever we want into our computers and spit it out, but communicating with another musician and playing off of someone else, that’s something that’s at a very high level. It’s one thing to learn a part, but it’s another thing to be able to play off of everyone else—not just soloing, but our section work as well, to be able to do that every night, even if it’s the same tune or the same vehicle. This is one thing that will keep musicians from becoming extinct—to improvise, meaning being able to converse, just like we’re having this conversation right now. I don’t have a written out line that I’m saying to Jake, like a politician would after being asked a question. Talking to you live is just like me taking a solo over changes—I’ll handle it, or I’ll clam.
As far as improv is concerned, it doesn’t have to be just the “bass solo”, I’m improving from the start of the tune, with the groove, or whatever. Should I play a little behind the drummer to give it a rub, or against him for a rub, this is the stuff that drives me—this is what separates me from a computer. I enjoy making these judgments on the fly, and make music out of it. I’m not trying to be different just to be different. I’m not going to wear a friggin’ fruit basket hat during my bass solo just to be different, I can’t stand that stuff. I don’t mind the fruit basket, but don’t be different just to be different—be different to be better. It’s a lifelong quest, and you have to be true to yourself and not worry what everyone else is thinking. You just need to do the work.
First of all, you should be able to play through any chord changes, and after that you can focus on a higher level of improvisation—the Michael Breckers and the Pat Methenys, where they’re playing in the cracks rhythmically, or they’re doing an unusual harmonic thing. They can kind of go anywhere—inside, outside, tension and release, anything. That’s where they can make the statement that there’s actually no wrong note. Actually, it’s the next note that’s critical. Are you going to resolve it or not, and that’s the control they have—that’s the difference between someone that can improvise, and someone that can’t. You can hit any note to begin with, and with that note comes an emotional response. When Michael Brecker hits that b9 on a Maj.7th chord, there’s an emotional response. That’s the highest point of tension, but then he releases it afterwards and whoa!
Jake: In my interview this issue with Victor Wooten, we spoke about his recent gigs with Chicks Electric Band and he had some great and interesting things to say. I know you’ve also worked with the Electric Band, and I’d like to hear your take on being part of this infamous unit.
Ric: It was a great experience for me. I got a call from Chick—he heard some recordings I was on and asked me to do the gig. I was subbing for John while they toured in Europe. Of course I said yes to the gig in a second. There was no time to rehearse. Actually, we were going to try to rehearse at the sound check, but when we got there, there was no electricity on stage. Thankfully, I did my homework and just went onstage and played, and I felt great because Chick was very happy. John couldn’t do the gig for a while, so I ended up playing with them for a year and a half.
Musically, it was just fantastic. What I liked about the gig was that Chick basically never tells you what to play or how to play it. I remember one time he sent me the charts and I listened to some of the tunes, and I asked him one time, what do you think about this one section here, it was like a D Aeolian b5 or something like that, and the first thing he said was, if I’ve got to tell you what to play, that’s uncomfortable, because this gig is kind of beyond the notes. So I made that the last question I ever asked him about something (laughs). But that’s what I loved about the gig. You could pretty much try anything. The only requirement was to create something every night. You kind of have the freedom to do anything, but at the same time, you didn’t want to let down your band mates at all. So it was kind of eyes open, ears open, and that was a great experience.
Jake: I marvel at Chick. After I’ve listened to his 7 millionth solo over years and years and went, again, well, that seriously worked, and was damn cool, I wonder how someone gets to that level of consistency that he totally owns in his playing.
Ric: That’s the confidence I was referring to earlier, to take any note and know how to make it work. He never throws out any of his ideas while he’s playing, as many players end up doing. He just develops them on the spot. Pure confidence.
Jake: Are you planning any kind of solo project in the near future, and beyond that, are you doing any writing as well?
Ric: I’m working on a project right now with Phil Turcio on keys, Brett Garsed on guitar, and Daniel Adair on drums. I’m writing for that right now. I also have a record out called Hemispheres, which you kindly reviewed in an earlier issue of the mag. I wrote a lot of the tunes for that CD, actually, 6 out of the 11 tunes are mine. But that CD is definitely a band thing. It kind of started out as my solo record, but everyone played so well, we turned it into a band project, and we’re beginning to work on a second CD for that project as well. As far as a solo CD is concerned, I may do one in the future. But if it were just going to be called Ric Fierabracci, I would probably do just literally all-solo bass. I’m not sure about doing that because I’ve always been kind of a team player.
To me, the music part I enjoy is the communication involved, playing off other people. So me just playing by myself would be, well, masturbation, wouldn’t it? Don’t get me wrong on that statement, but I have no need to record something and go hey, check out my licks. I’d rather play and go, what’s the drummer going to do with what I’m playing—what’s the keyboard player going to do with what I’m playing? It’s kind of like, I like talking to people, and I don’t like talking to myself. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do that, unless I head my own band. Thinking about this, I see the analogy of playing baseball when I was a kid. I liked being a team player—it’s about the whole team, the whole thing together. That’s what makes it interesting for me. You can always put an all-star band together and record, but that never seems to sound good. I always like the bands that sound like bands—example—When I listen to the Alan Holdsworth IOU record, there were no stars on that, I didn’t know who any of those guys were, but you could tell, “That’s a group”. He could have called whomever he wanted—he could have called Peter Erskine, or Jaco, but it wouldn’t have been the same record. There is a certain energy that you get when you play a lot with people, and that’s what I’m interested in. I’m not saying everyone else has to be interested in that, but that’s what drives me as a musician—to be able to play off of other people. That’s what most certainly drives me.
For more information, visit Ric online at www.ricfierabracci.com