Bass Musician Magazine: Jun/Jul 2009 Issue Featuring Jeff Berlin
Interview with Jeff Berlin by Editor Jake Kot –
Jeff Berlin always has been and continues to be a very strong voice in the Bass community, whether it’s his musical voice, or the one we’ve heard many times over the years in countless interviews, discussions, and clinics. Superlatives such as outspoken, controversial, and yes even stubborn seem to be the introduction that inevitably surrounds him. But after speaking at great length with him in our interview, I’m going with…..direct, articulate, and sincerely concerned, for my personal opening.
The heart of any true controversy lies within genuine concern, and in these times that we’re in, musically as well as culturally speaking, I’ll take as much controversy as I can get. Being engaged is being involved, and Jeff’s contributions over the years to music both on and off his instrument are an undeniable part of the evolution and historical growth of the electric bass. After decades of involvement in the arts he looks to his music and his playing with the same youthful eyes of enthusiasm that he had in the Holdsworth and Bruford days, with a practice schedule that probably rivals most of his students, and an obvious desire to continue to push the envelope for himself as a composer. His solo pieces are an exercise in creative musicality where technique completely bows out of sight to the strength of the composition (no easy task).
I think it would be safe to say that most players in general that came up in his era would probably be falling under the where are they now category. So, where is Jeff now? He’s immersed in his writing—he still practices with a ‘raise the bar on yourself’ mantra—he’s getting thousands of YouTube hits—he runs the Players School of Music—he’s raising his two boys, and planning a tour both stateside and in Europe with some of the finest players on the planet.
Longevity is one thing… being at the top of your game after watching almost a full generation go by defies any one-word definition I could use. He’s quite simply here to stay.
Jake: The music industry has gone through a tremendous amount of change over the last few decades, which I’ve talked about with many of your colleagues in my interviews. I read a quote of yours saying that this is an era of anti-music. Personally I hear you clearly, but I wonder if you would elaborate on that thought for our readers.
Jeff: Well, it’s several fold. This is an era where being a good musician, a player, is not important anymore. It’s rare that a guitar player will be lauded and recognized for their talent—it happens, because it “is” the music industry, but it’s rare. There really haven’t been any unique players in contemporary music in the last number of years. Actually, I’d have to say bass players have done better in that respect than any other instrument. The industry is a pop industry, a vocal industry, a youth orientated industry—it is not a music industry. Basically, music has nothing to do with the music industry anymore…. It’s about “entertainment”. In wrestling, I would agree that the wrestlers are athletic and skilled at what they do, but wrestling is not a sport, it’s “entertainment”. So entertainment has taken a priority over music. And I’ve always said in this day-and-age that Hendrix, if he even got signed, would be with a small Indy label, and Eric Clapton would probably be down in Clearwater beach gigging at the beach front pavilion playing top 40 songs because the industry has no interest in music. The “music” doesn’t sell—“entertainment” sells.
Jake: Do you see any change at all in this scenario as of late?
Jeff: There’s been no change recently in regards to bass, and it’s an ironic thing because bass is healthier than it has been in probably two decades. There are several amazing players out there that have come along in jazz and jazz related music, performance music, that are certainly pushing the envelope. Two players that come to mind right away for me are Hadrien Feraud and Dominique DiPiazza. These guys have more technique than Jaco or I ever had. They’re phenomenal players, and theres a few other guys that have come a long as well. So the bass world is kind of improving even though the regular music world will never know about it because the regular music world has no interest in bass players whatsoever.