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Bass Musician Magazine: Apr/May 2009 Issue Featuring Anthony Jackson

If you look down inside yourself and you really feel deeper levels of expression, you can play exactly what somebody wants and still add your own character. The first colleague of mine that I witnessed doing that was Steve Gadd, again playing the written part, and given strict instructions not to mess with it, and yet when the recording is done, and you hear it, people go, that’s Steve Gadd. How can you tell—I don’t know, I just know its Steve Gadd. You begin to realize that levels of subtle and refined expression can be brought to any piece of music. You learn to choose the methods that help bring these things out, and you wind up with, in most cases, much more than the composer, or the artist, or the producer expected, even though you haven’t changed anything on the surface.

Jake: These thoughts could more or less be characterized as elements of interpretation.

Anthony: These are elements of “expression”. Yes, you could say interpretation, but there are many ways that you could simplify that—a little louder here, a little softer there. But actually, it’s something much deeper. I guess you could just say that it becomes a “refined” interpretation. A good example of someone like this would be the pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Horowitz was able to show color on the piano, an instrument that theoretically should have a very limited range of colors because you never actually touch the strings. You go through a very complicated mechanical system that happens “between” the key and the string. It should block out and smooth over anything you try to do with your fingers to affect the tone—and yet you “can” do it. You can’t really teach it. If you have a need to express yourself in that way, you simply have to find a way to do it. Someone can listen to how you do it and go, OK, I think I know how he’s doing it, and I’m going to do my best to try to learn that. So, you could say “expression”, but I emphasize that it’s something from the deepest part of ourselves as performing artists. And that’s why I’ve always told my students… 10,000 electric bass players out there, but there are very few “artists” who play the bass guitar, and you want to be one of them.

Jake: You’ve kind of answered a bit of my next question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. I know you have a great love and appreciation for classical music. How has your appreciation for that idiom in your opinion impacted you as a musician, as well as the bassist?

Anthony: I guess I would say it’s ethereal, but at this point, it would be really hard to articulate. You married the love of your life—why—what is it about her. It could be many things, but still very hard to describe. We could sit and talk for hours and someone could say, I know two or three women like that, why didn’t you marry them? It’s something that eventually goes beyond the ability to objectify. I’ve tried to describe to people over many years why I like a certain composer—why a certain person affects me more than another person, and it’s difficult. After a while, you’re just not able to say it. I can’t talk about harmonic ingenuity, or sophistication of form and development, like in a cannon or a fugue. Eventually you begin to see it’s an intellectual attraction, a novelty even. When something opens up to your heart, that’s all that needs to be done, and that is too monumental to even begin to describe.

I don’t know what it was that drew me to classical music. I remember my early experiences of watching TV on an early Sunday morning when my parents were asleep. I was about five or six, and I was watching silent cartoons that were done in the late forties. They were black and white, and simple, stick figure cartoons of animals and people running around and jumping off of buildings and doing things that cartoon figures do. But instead of dialog, they played music, and the music was almost always classical music. Every now and then I would get to see the screen that described the name of the cartoon and the studio it was done at, but usually the TV stations never spoke of the music involved. Some of this music was from Italian operas, and I found out later it was from Puccini. I also found out that one of the pieces of music I had heard that affected me greatly was by Camille Saint-Saens, the Carnival of Animals, and this music stuck with me… I was floored by that music.

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