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Anthony Crawford by Brent-Anthony Johnson,


Anthony Crawford by Brent-Anthony Johnson,

Meet Brent-Anthony Johnson

Chops and intelligence?! HMMM… It was bound to happen. I remember teaching a particularly competitive student as a teenage bass instructor in the early 1980’s. In a desperate attempt to get this person to understand that music is not a competition, I made the unknowingly prophetic remark, “man, there is a musician who’s yet still a baby who may grow up to be a remarkably innovative bassist!” Little did I know, then…

Anthony Crawford was born in 1981 to a very musical family that includes his father (drummer) Hubert “H-Bomb” Crawford and his gifted uncle (saxophonist) Hank Crawford! So, when we made friends on FaceBook I knew it was only a short matter of time before I would be allowed to introduce him to a wider audience! I love my job…

Anthony’s “Urban Jazz” features a wealth of deep grooves, 2-hand tapping, majestic soloing and melodic interplay. The compositions are (thankfully) beyond the scope of the typical “bass player makes a record no one digs”. I am convinced that much of what I am hearing from this adroit young bassist is the slightly unconventional influence of players such as Doug Wimbish, dUg Pinnick, and Mike Inez in his technical approach – instead of the typical list of players I find in a bassist’s bag. COOL! Again: thankfully. “AC” shows himself to be an instant classic, and he’s had an incredible journey since sitting-in with his dad with the Bette Midler band – at the age of 14! Here is Anthony Crawford!

BAJ: Hey man! Welcome to Bass Musician Magazine! Its good to hang for a few minutes and hear from you! Let’s start with the premise that produced “Urban Jazz”… what was the main theme you wanted to bring to your listening audience, and what was your primary goal for the disc’s release?

AC: Well the primary goal behind “Urban Jazz” is to approach a solo bass record with a pop-ish urban feel and, at the same time, bring fresh original music that everyone can enjoy. I’ve always thought that it would be cool to do a bass record but I wanted to have a different concept behind it. I hear a lot of bass records all the time… But I wanted to have a concept that would make me stand out from others bassists. Although I am a bass player, I am also a producer – as I have produced songs for rap and hip hop artists. I listen to a lot of urban stations and I always imagined what it would sound like if I could capture the urban feel of today’s music and turn that music it into a “bass album”. I also wanted to bring something unique to the listeners’ ears – while taking them on a (musical) journey. I wanted each song on my album to say something. Whether through the melody, or the way I played the solo, the vocals, and the groove… I hoped the listener would feel like I am taking them someplace they usually wouldn’t go themselves. Stanly Clarke told me to find what makes me unique, and write songs based upon that quality. So I took that idea and I came up with the “Urban Jazz” title – which is a “bass jazz album from an urban point of view”.

BAJ: Please describe your 2-hand ‘tapping’ technique and how you have developed it over the years?

AC: My 2-hand tapping technique… Hmmmm…. Well, there is a lot of Victor Wooten’s influence when it comes to my 2-hand tapping technique. I got his “A Show Of Hands” release when I was 16. When I got that album I said, “there is no way 1 person can be playing all of this!” (Laughter) So, I listened to that album and figured out what he was doing. I began applying what I thought he was doing to the bass. I sat with my CD player for 8-hours at a time figuring out how he was playing those songs the way he did. When I finally got the concept down, I took the same concept and played it my way. Then, I began learning other songs by learning the bass lines and melody at the same time.

As I started practicing that way I began to see a pattern. I realized that every time I tapped out songs… they felt like grooves! So, instead of thinking about a lot of notes, I looked at songs as 1 big groove! After that, a lot of songs started to come more easily, as far as 2-hand tapping technique is concerned.

Later on, as I got more comfortable with tapping, I started to approach tapping the way a piano player would. For example, if a pianist is soloing, they will play chords with their left hand and solo with their right hand. Sometimes they might also alter the chords with their left hand while playing the corresponding lines with their right hand to give an extra edge. I use that same concept.

BAJ: Unlike many young bassists, it seems you were listening to your dad’s music more than others bother to! Good! You site Geddy Lee and Eddie Van Halen as refreshingly unexpected influences! (Editor’s note: Geddy was my commencing influence – however I began playing in the late 1970’s!) What tunes really “hit you over the head” when you were younger?

AC: I have heavily influenced by rock musicians. Van Halen is one my favorite groups! The first album I got was “For Unlawful Carnel Knowledge”. The first song on that album, “Poundcake”, blew me away and I was hooked! Then I started to get their older recordings. Also, Geddy Lee always blows my mind when I heard him play! I love the way he writes songs. He always has his own sound, and he is very musical. BAJ, you’ve also said that you were into Geddy Lee in the 70’s! But, I didn’t get into him until “Roll The Bones” – which came out in the early 90’s. Like I did with Van Halen, I went back and got the older RUSH albums. Then I got a video that featured a lot of older RUSH videos. I used to watch that videotape, again and again, learning those songs and being amazed every time I saw Geddy! Just talking about this brings back good memories!

Another great band that was a big influence was Living Colour. The first record I got of theirs was “Time’s Up”. Every song blew me away! Then “Stain” came out…! That’s how I discovered Doug Wimbish. Doug’s style and approach opened up many doors for me! My favorite song that I still listen to from that album is “Go Away”!

BAJ: Even though you site a number of rock influences, you released a version of “Giant Steps” on “Urban Jazz”! Nicely done. That said, tell us about your approach to the tune, and what was the central theme of your brief, blazing solo?

AC: “Giant Steps” is a song I always wanted to learn how to play. I leaned the basics a while back, but I wanted to be able to solo over the changes. It is a really good exercise to be able to play though any difficult tune. So, I wanted to capture that aspect on my CD, and I wanted to surprise listeners with a version of this great tune. Even though my disc is an urban approach to jazz music, I also wanted to feature a jazz standard that every jazz musician would know and feature myself on that song.

BAJ: One of the most difficult aspects of interviewing (in my opinion) is getting to the subjects soul. Then again, one of the benefits is being able to talk about whatever I’d like (Laughter). With that, tell us about your compositional approach to the tune, “Next Phase”? You got a great feel on that particular tune, and I’d love to hear more about your head-space as you tracked it. Nice nod to “Giant Steps” in that tune, also!

AC: “Next Phase” was originally just a track produced by one of my good friends, drummer Armond Brown. He came up with an idea to use the first few chords in “Giant Steps” and produce a hip-hop track out of it. I was feeling the concept and we collaborated and came up with “Next Phase”.

The melody has Eddie Van Halen and Doug Wimbish written all over it, and I used a lot of Eddie Van Halen-style tapping in the melody. Also I used a detuned whammy approach to the song – which is something Doug Wimbish is known for!

BAJ: Who are some of the players on the CD? Also, I noticed you have a “bass player” in your live ensemble. Did you also track with a second bassist? Finally, what’s in store for the next release?

AC: I have two really good friends who produce in Memphis who helped me with this project. Jonathan Richmond is a great producer and keyboardist. He has played with a lot of people and has produced hits for Angie Stone. Marque Walker is also s slamming producer. He has produced and played for a lot of artists. I also have the Regiment Horn Section on the album. They have played and toured with Nelly, Nas, Fantasia, Mary J Blidge, Akon, Brandy and they played the horns on Boondocks. The keyboardist on “Giant Steps” is Austin Peralta. That guy is only 18-years-old!! I did not track with a second bassist on “Urban Jazz”. But, the bassist who plays in the live band is Nate Holleman. I am currently producing his bass album, by the way! I don’t have any plans right now for a follow-up release at this time. But, I am always open to work with different producers with different musical backgrounds.

BAJ: What’s in your iPod today? Also, how often do you find yourself “switching gears” in your listening habits? I mean, do you go through phases of listening to a particular genre over another… and then finding yourself making a conscious fluctuation? Or, does the music you create live in a harmonious fusion within yourself?

AC: I have a wide spectrum of music in my iPod… Mostly rock! I also listen to Al Di Meola, Bela Fleck, Brandy, Lost Tribe, and the late Wayman Tisdale just to name a few. I don’t really go through genre phases. If the song is good… then I will listen to it! I listen to music from a songwriter point of view and a producer point of view. I guess that is why I listen to so many different types of music. Everything I create musically comes from my listening habits.

BAJ: What are those aspects of your playing that your seeing the greatest change in? Also, what compositional style are you yet to attempt? Finally, how do you compose most often?

AC: The aspect of my playing that I see the greatest change in would probably be my melodic approach. Playing melodically has been more of a challenge than just shredding. I try to use 2-hand tapping in a way it makes sense and tells a story, and I see that getting better the more I practice it! When I compose, I tend to first play chords on the bass. I may have a certain chord structure or just a line, and I take that and create a story behind it. Sometimes I may hear a groove in my head and I will produce a track based on that groove and then play around with the groove until it makes sense. Sometimes I may just use tapping to create a song.

BAJ: In addition to your musical tools, what software and non-bass oriented gear are you using most often these days?

AC: I am using Pro Tools and Reason. I use Reason for the midi stuff and Pro Tools for the audio stuff.

BAJ: How are you managing your career at this juncture? Also, Which websites and online features have you found most beneficial to your career? What advice could you share with our readers who are hoping to establish their own career in this wide world of music?

AC: Right now I have a wonderful new manager named April Simmons. She is working really hard for me to this album off of the ground. FaceBook has been a very beneficial network for me! I meet a lot of industry people though FaceBook. I also have a MySpace page. But, for some reason, everyone seems to be on Facebook. (Laughter)

As far as advice goes… I would say to know what you want to do in the music industry. Write down your goals and make a plan of how to get to them. Read them before you start your day so that your goals can be in your everyday life. The more goals we put in our subconscious… the more (probability) we will act on them. Research your potential audience and find out what websites they visit; what social web sites are they members of, which magazines they read, where they hang out, etc. Spend time networking in those places where you could be most productive. Always market and promote yourself.

BAJ: What are your greatest influences outside of music? How important is being a “good person” to your career? Finally, is there anything you’d like to share that we haven’t covered in our brief time together?

AC: My greatest influence outside of music is surrounding myself with positive people. If I am around good people, that energy affects me in a positive way. Also, being a good person is very important to me! No one wants to work with someone they don’t get along with. If we’re easy to get along with, and have a good head on your shoulders, we will go far. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. If you have a vision, you should work towards it. Research everything you need to know because you are doing it for your self. A really close friend of mine named Liane Schmidt, is the author of “Make The Most Of Your Time” said, “For anyone working toward making their dreams and goals come true, it is crucially important to find, create and utilize self-motivating tools that will ensure your success. Without them, the arduous journey can oftentimes become more difficult than necessary or even feel close to impossible to achieve”. Thanks for the interview Brent!

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