Was Scott LaFaro a big influence on you?
He was a big influence, but not unlike other great bass players. The big three for me were Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, and Scott LaFaro. But that’s not to say that guys like Sam Jones, Jimmy Garrison, and so many other great bass players I heard with different bands weren’t big influences as well. Eddie Jones with Count Basie, the bassist with Art Blakey and the Messingers, all of them. I just loved bass playing in all its different faces and forms and incarnations, I wasn’t only smitten with modern bass players like Scott LaFaro. Pound for pound– I don’t like to say better or best, it’s just not part of the way I look at things– but Paul Chambers was really a big influence on me.
Let me ask you something that you’re obviously in a unique position to answer, having played for years with both Chick Corea and Bill Evans. As players they seem to have much in common, but how are they different?
Well I think they’re very different, and both unique in different ways. I think first of all that Bill is a unique player in the history of jazz piano, as is Bud Powell and Earl Gardener– and Chick is too– but they’re very different I think. Chick has a lot of different approaches to playing, he will go out and play with his electric band, and he’ll do different projects, and aim a little differently, whereas Bill was pretty much into trio playing. The tenor of his approach to making music was pretty constant and straightforward and it didn’t vary a lot. Bill occasionally did different projects too, for example with quintets and he did an orchestra album which is certainly one of the seminal recordings, as many of them are. But the approach really didn’t vary much, he was always kind of in his ballpark, and highly recognizable. I think Bill had such a golden sound on the instrument, it’s just unmistakable the way he played. You know, some people accuse him of being a romantic. I spent eleven years with him and I think maybe he was, maybe not. Those are just words that are thrown around. But I always felt very touched whenever he played, and was deeply moved by his playing every time he touched the instrument, he was really special that way.
Chick is also a unique player, and has a wonderful sound on the instrument. I think he’s actually maturing in certain ways, I’ve known Chick since we were teenagers. He’s multi-faceted and has a lot of different looks and colors in his pallet. And again, Chick is one of the few pianists that can really revisit Bill’s music, play in a trio context, and give it some validity and with integrity.
Obviously you’ve matured as a player as well. How would you say you’re a different player today than you were in your earlier years?
Back then there was a little bit of going to war with the instrument sometimes, there wasn’t that comfort zone that I found in my later Bill Evans years. There was always a kind of like, “well let’s see what today’s gonna bring”. But for me now, I’ve really come to a peace, I’m at peace with the instrument. I’m not afraid of the instrument, and I feel that the challenge is always about making music out of the particular day’s events, whatever the music is. Whether I’m playing with Chick, or in my own group or trio, or doing a guest spot with someone else, it’s about rising to the musical challenge and making the most music out of that situation. I try and leave behind the idea of how I stand versus the rest of the world, the bass-playing world, I really have left that behind me. I’m just not all that interested in how I compare with someone else, either before or current, or with younger players or any of that stuff, I don’t think it’s a very interesting topic. So I’ve just come a long way, I think, where I’m very comfortable. I think my playing has matured in a lot of ways and I just feel like I’m able to breathe, take deep breaths when it’s necessary.