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From Amateur to Pro: A Discussion with Derek Jones

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Derek Jones has been making a living as a professional bassist since 1986. Photo by Lionel Hamel

The third featured artist in this series, “From Amateur to Pro” is bassist Derek Jones. Over the years, he has performed with such notable musicians as Bela Fleck, The Pete Escovedo Orchestra, Jeff Sipe, Orestes Vilato, Dori Caymmi, Crystal Gayle, and Kai Eckhardt. Derek has also performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with Conan O’Brien, CMT Live, as well as the 2001 & 2002 CMA Awards.

Originally from Vallejo, Calif., he started gigging as a teenager in 1986 and moved to Nashville in 1999 where he played with Nickel Creek, Jeff Coffin, and Jerry Douglas.

In 2004, he moved to Las Vegas to play bass and double bass in the Cirque du Soleil production of “KA” at the MGM Grand. You can catch a behind-the-scenes look at Derek at work in the October 2010 issue of Bass Musician Magazine.

Derek is an endorsing artist for Carvin’s SB-5000 (fretted and fretless) and proudly uses Genz Benz amps, Elixir strings, Eminence Bass, iGig cases, and Jim Dunlop effects.

Bass Musician Magazine: Based on your experience as a working musician, what are the one or two musical skills you see that are consistently lacking in bassists who trying to make the transition from playing at home to gigging for pay?

Jones: As far as musical skills go, I would say some of the newer players I’m seeing are lacking an overall musicality. We’ve all heard that music is a language, right? Let’s say you know all of your words in English, Spanish, Russian, or whatever language you speak. You are dialed in on your vocabulary and can conjugate verbs faster than anyone in your community. Yet, you don’t know how to inflect emotions or be articulate in your phrasing. As a result, your words are less impactful. When you are learning a new language, you learn nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and how to conjugate verbs. However, you really don’t communicate with anyone until you start conversing with them. Music is no different.

One way to fix that is through experience and it’s the one thing you can start doing right away. Practice your techniques and learn how to play your instrument at home, but get out of the house and play with people who are more experienced than you.

As a bass player, getting used to playing with other musicians is critical. You can spend all day working on scales, modes, and harmonic concepts and all that, but you need to learn how to communicate with an audience. That is what music is all about. If you can’t communicate your thoughts in a way that other people can understand them, then it’s kind of meaningless.

Derek playing his Carvin SB5000. Photo by Bobby Glad.

I’ll give you an example from my life on how I went from shedding in my room to gigging for money. When I was 14, I picked up the guitar and started jamming to MTV with my friends. We tried to learn all of these cool guitar licks and were so proud of our accomplishments, even if we figured out only one note!

That experience gave me the confidence to join the high school jazz band the following year. I wasn’t a great reader but I took the music home and worked my butt off and eventually became a better reader. I improved to the point where I was enjoying the musical relationship I had with the other 20 kids in the band.

Soon, that jazz band experience lead to an opportunity to play with a bunch of older cats in the Generation Gap Big Band.

That feeling of grooving with others through music got me hooked. We were communicating with each other and the audience. Whether I was trying to jam to Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden with my friends, or playing Glenn Miller-era oldies at the Moose Lodge, the music was no longer about me. It was about the music we made together. That was an addicting feeling and I didn’t want to play in my room anymore. I wanted to get out and get together with other musicians.

I think getting that experience is more difficult for the younger musicians today. With the advent of YouTube, I see a lot of these young kids playing fantastic solos. And so what? That’s not going to get you hired by non bass players. Think about that for a minute. Most people you work with are not going to be bass players. You have to bring a musicality that people want to be around.

Do your homework at home but get out and play. That will give you experience and improve your musicality faster than anything else.

Derek is also known as an outstanding upright bassist. Here, he’s performing with legendary jazz trombonist Bob McChesney. Photo by Linda Bell.

BMM: Along a similar line, what about personal or business skills that bassists should have but many don’t bother developing?

Jones: Now that you have all of these skills and learned all of these tunes, how do you sell that to someone else? Salesmanship.

How do you become a commodity that people want to pay their hard-earned money for to hear you play? Salesmanship.

When I first started to make a go of it as a professional bassist, I thought because I was a decent player I would automatically get work. I was wrong.

Take some business classes and find out how to market yourself. If you want to make a living at this you have to know how to run a business. Who is your competition? What is expected of you? Don’t hide yourself in a bubble and not know what other bass players are doing. You have to be in your community and be a vital part of that community.

Derek playing his fretless Carvin SB5000. Photo by Bobby Glad.

Look at the bassists who have risen above and figure out how they got there.

Also, take a look at yourself from the perspective of the person who will hire you. Again, that’s rarely going to be another bassist who was blown away by your YouTube solo. You have to look at what traits people want to have for their gig.

Another important consideration is your personality. Are you enjoyable to be around? That’s called “bus chops.” Who do you want to be with 22 hours a day on a tour bus? You don’t want to be with a jerk, so don’t be that jerk.

You also want to be around musicians who have a strong identity on who they are as artists. They’re going to bring it to the table every day. As bass players we have to sound good, but it’s more important that we are recognized for making everyone else sound better.

I’ve found the key to accomplishing a lot of this is by surrounding yourself with people who are better than you. And I mean better to the point that you’re wondering why you’re even there. That keeps you humble and searching. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky for many people, including me. How do you find an appropriate balance between pleasing everyone and pleasing yourself. Thelonius Monk said, “A genius is the one most like himself.”

Growing up, I wanted to be everyone’s bass player. I figured if I could do that, I would get a lot of work. As a result, over the years I kind of lost who I was. I lost the joy of playing music. I forgot what made me want to play when I first started. When you’re playing music as a professional and music is providing a living for you and your family, it’s easy to lose that passion and get lost.

I’m 42 now with a great family and an amazing new baby and I’m finally starting to find my musical soul again. What I’m finding is that I can’t thrive as everyone’s bass player. Pleasing everyone else will only take you so far. I can thrive, however, as Derek Jones.

There’s only one Nathan East. There’s only one John Patitucci. There’s only one Edgar Meyer. Learn what they did and the path they followed. Be inspired by them and learn from them. But do not copy them.

Derek with the Nathan Tanouye Orchestra. Photo by Bobby Glad.

There’s only one you. Be your own musical inspiration.

On a more practical note, I’d like to add, it’s really the simple things that will keep you working beyond your first gig:

Be over prepared.

Show up early.

Don’t get cocky.

People are going to remember more when you mess up than when you get it right.

It takes longer to develop a good reputation and only an instant to create a bad one.

Give everything you’ve got on every single gig.

BMM: Speaking of gigs, there seem to be two schools of thought: Take every gig you can to build your experience and network; or be very selective and cultivate your music credentials and reputation. What are your thoughts on building a successful gigging resume?

Derek with Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns. Photo by Bobby Glad.

Jones: In the beginning, you should take everything you can get. Over time, you will earn the right to be selective. However, you will probably think you earned the right before you do.

I moved from the Bay area to Nashville when I was 30. I quickly went from having a good rep in San Francisco to no rep in Nashville. No one in Nashville cared what I did in San Francisco. They only cared about what I was doing right now. And at that time, I was doing nothing!

I thought I would be doing pretty good within six months of my move. I was wrong. The Nashville community pretty much told me to take a number and get in line. So I did. And I went back to taking every gig I could take.

That move was a big lesson and a big shock to my ego.

I had to build my reputation in Nashville from the ground up. I eventually did and was able to be selective again about what gigs I would take. But, it’s scary to say no to a gig when you’re trying to move up.

I would caution people to be careful of their egos. If you have a hang up with certain gigs or playing with certain people, really look and see if the problem is with you. Don’t let your ego take over. At the same time, if you don’t want to take a gig because it’s not right for you, then don’t take it.

Also, I find it’s better to get a part time job to cover your expenses than take really horrible gigs for money. Keep honing your craft after work and wait for the gigs that you want to do.

There are no absolutes. As you become more professional, you need to market yourself and make a living. But you have to do it so when you go to bed at night, you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished that day.

BMM: Where does jazz come in to play for a working musician? Is it still critical to learn?

Jones: Knowledge is knowledge. Everything you learn adds to your self and your humanity and experience in life. Jazz is a form of music. It is not any less valid or more valid than any other musical genre. It’s part of the musical language. What you learn in jazz can be used in anything. Duke Ellington said there’s only two forms of music: good and bad.

Jazz is very improvisational language. You have to dig deep in yourself. It’s 10 percent your own ideas and 90 percent reacting to everyone else.

Studying jazz makes you a better musician. Jazz brings an intensity and focus to what you do. It sharpens your attention to detail. When you’re studying jazz, you learn about other forms of music.

More important than genre, however, is that being a better bassist is really about listening. You have to listen to many, many forms of music. Go to YouTube and get on the page for different countries like Bulgaria and Greece. See what music is popular there. If you’re not listening to music, you’re not going to leave your bedroom.

BMM: Any parting advice you’d like to give to our aspiring professional bassist?

Derek as you’ll see him when he performs with Cirque du Soleil’s “KA.”

Jones: First of all, be able to play. You do have to have a certain amount of technique and ability.

Second, get out there and play with everybody. Don’t just hunker down in your room and make YouTube videos. Go out into your community and be a part of it. Find out who the bass players and drummers are in your area and go listen and meet them. Don’t just talk to the bassists. Meet the drummers, sax players and piano players and find out what they’re looking for when they want a bassist. You’ll be amazed at how many of these people are really cool. They may give you one nugget of information that may end up being a paradigm shift in your life.

Don’t limit yourself to “I’m just going to be an ‘insert-style-here’ bass player.” You never know. I didn’t figure on working with Cirque du Soleil and here I’ve been for the past seven years.

You can’t have a right place or a right time unless you are out there playing. If there’s an open door, go in.

The more mistakes you’ll make, the faster you’ll learn. Figure out what you need to learn each time you fall down.

Realize that you are never at the top. There’s always more to learn. Always.

Also, don’t surround yourself with negative people. Throughout the history of music, people have always said, “It’s hard out there.” It’s always been hard to make a living as a musician. There are no good old days. Don’t listen to those people.

If there’s a desire in your heart, it’s there for a reason. Don’t deny it and don’t belittle it. Let it grow.

The fact that you can put your finger down on a metal string and press it against of piece of wood and have that resonate with someone else’s sound, and then communicate with an audience who aren’t musicians and who don’t care how you do it, then man, you’re doing it. You’re making music.

I’ll leave everyone with this thought: You are never ready. You don’t prepare. You begin. If you try to prepare for something, you are going to be preparing for a long time. Just begin!

 

Bass Videos

Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

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Interview With By the Thousands Bassist Adam Sullivan

Bassist Adam Sullivan…

Hailing from Minnesota since 2012, By the Thousands has produced some serious Technical Metal/Deathcore music. Following their recent EP “The Decent”s release, I have the great opportunity to chat with bassist Adam Sullivan.

Join me as we hear about Adam’s musical Journey, his Influences, how he gets his sound, and the band’s plans for the future

Photo, Laura Baker

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Gear News: Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists

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bassist marc browstein

Bergantino Welcomes Marc Brownstein to Their Family of Artists

Bergantino Shares: The innovative bassist/sonic explorer/DJ Marc Brownstein discusses his life of touring with Disco Biscuits, the current tour with the new album “Revolution in Motion, and more!

By Holly Bergantino

Marc Brownstein is the king of “Trance-Fusion” – a subgenre that his band Disco Biscuits has been in the center of for the past two decades. As a founding member of the band from their days at UPenn, Marc has quite the experience under his belt, and each tour has gotten more and more exciting. Disco Biscuits is currently on tour with their new album Revolution in Motion, a full multimedia experience accompanied by a 25-minute animated film that tells a story of intergalactic travelers finding their way on Earth. 

D. J. Brownie! What made you want to be a musician and start playing bass and who drew you to it? 

I was drawn to music after John Lennon was assassinated. I was raised in NYC and the city was just going crazy. I was 7 years old at the time and my thought was, wow why is everyone freaking out so much, this guy must be really special. And so I started to check the Beatles out and that was the beginning of my journey with music.  

A question from one of your fans and fellow bass players Karina Rykman: “How do you keep your bubble of positivity intact and thriving”?

Well it’s funny she should ask. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the run of positivity we are experiencing now began right at the beginning of tour at the beginning of January 2023 when we had Karina opening for us for a week. I can say that her positive energy on tour definitely left its mark on the rest of our tour. Some people are so naturally happy and positive that it leaves you feeling that way, sometimes permanently! 

Besides the bass guitar, what other instruments do you play? 

I dabble with piano, guitar, and I can make my way around a drum kit if I get into it for a few weeks. I’ve played flute and saxophone as well at different times. I also play the double bass. But I would say Piano is my second instrument at this point. I play everyday. 

What is your favorite (and least favorite) thing about touring? 

The best part of touring is the 4 hours on stage with the band. But also getting to visit so many great places all of the time. That’s the silver lining.  The only thing I don’t love about touring is missing my family. 

Tell us about your first music teacher. What lesson did you learn from this person and still use today? 

My first music teacher, Mrs. Koslov, 2nd grade, I just was at her funeral a few weeks ago. I eventually became best friends with Mrs Koslov’s son and we stayed in touch for my whole life. She taught me a lot but really she was the one who gave me the courage to perform. My first public performance ever was a piano version of Eleanor Rigby. 

What was the first bass you had? 

This is tough. I think I had a standard Ibanez jazz style bass first. Within a year or two I got an American Fender Jazz bass. 

What are the basses you have and use now? 

My main bass is an Elrick 5 string by Rob Elrick. I also have a Q5 Modulus and an Alembic 5 as well. Oteil (Burbridge) sent me a Roscoe custom 6 during the Pandemic that I like to play. I also have a Sire Marcus Miller, a newer American Fender Jazz bass, a custom Ibanez SDGR, an Ibanez BTB and an Elrick 5 string Fretless bass which is my main bass at home. 

Who were the musicians who inspired you and what qualities do you admire about them? 

I was deeply influenced by Phish when I discovered them in college. I admired their ability to mesh jazz, classical and rock Improvisational styles. I was very inspired by classic jazz musicians. Miles. Monk. Coltrane. Dexter Gordon. Cannonball Adderly. Mingus. This is the generation of musicians that laid the groundwork for what we do now. 

You studied and started the band Disco Biscuits at UPenn. Tell us more about the origins. 

The band just sort of linked up in the quad (dormitory) and we started to set up our gear and jam for fun. Within a short time I realized the guys I was playing with were really talented and so I applied to the New School for jazz and went and spent a year crash coursing music at a high level so I could return to Penn and start a band with them. 

You have a new album “Revolution in Motion,” that you’re currently touring on. How is it going? 

The tour has been amazing. It’s one of the best tours we ever had in our career. We sold out more than half of the shows and are receiving really great feedback across the country. 

I watched the video on YT for Revolution in Motion. The Choreography, production, color, cartoon characters, and theme were so much fun. Space aliens and psychedelic art, pop ups like a comic book, and you in your alien jump suit with your baseball cap were amazing. Loved! How was this collaborated?  

We have a co-writer on this project named Joey friedman. He conceived of the concept for the album and he had a very specific vision for what the visuals would look like. He spent hours and hours with the animators (Blunt Action) and the AI animator (Todd Kushnir) working through each iteration to make it come to life in the way that it was conceived. 

How would you describe the music you create for Disco Biscuits? 

We always hoped that the music we created would be the weirdest and craziest music of all time but we describe it as Trance-Fusion, which was a name that was drawn from jazz-fusion, the mixing of jazz with rock and roll instruments. We found our own sound by mixing trance music with rock and roll instruments, hence the genre title. It was renamed jamtronica many years later by the folks over at SiriusXM who started a radio show called the Jamtronica show to highlight acts from our scene. I was the host of that show for the first 3 years. 

Describe the creative process when you write new music. 

These days the creative process is a team effort. Usually we start by combing through improvisational sections of music from the tours to see if we can find any melodies or chord structures that are song worthy. When we find it we bring it into our DAW (ableton) and creating a grid. This is easy for us because we often play to a time clock on stage. From there we start building out the structures of the new piece of music while Joey and maybe me or Aron or Jon will start working on some lyrical concepts. Within an hour or two we start to record some of these initial lyrics and melodies and Jon usually starts to adapt them and tweak them to make them comfortable for him to sing. Usually within a few hours we are able to walk away with a very advanced demo of a new song. It’s been an extremely fruitful experience that has left us with albums worth of the best material we’ve had in decades. 

The lighting for your shows is amazing. Who does the lighting design work and choreography for the tours? 

Our new LD is known as Herm, but his name is Alex. We know him as Herm though. He came to us from the band Twiddle at the beginning of this year and has totally revitalized the visual elements of the stage show. He’s a really great fit and we feel grateful to have been linked up with such a massive talent. It was luck and timing and some might call it fate. 

How would your bandmates describe you? 

My bandmates would probably describe me as energetic and talkative and headstrong but also they might notice that I’ve become really good at going with the flow and backing their creative instincts. They may further describe me as anxious and nervous but may also notice that these elements have been remediated of recent. Mostly I think they would describe me as loyal and dedicated. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio systems? 

I was first introduced to it by Ed Grasmeyer who I know as Mike Gordon’s tech in Burlington. I was playing a show at Nectars and needed a backline and Ed came and set me up with the ForteHP2 and I was blown away by the tone. I then noticed Karina Rykman was using Bergantino as well and that’s when I started to think I needed to get in contact with the company. Karina was opening for the Biscuits on Boston and that’s where I had the chance to demo the forte hp2 in the context of the biscuits stage show. I haven’t looked back since that night. 

Tell us about your experience with the Forté HP2 on the tour? 

There are so many things that I can say about it but the most notable is that I’m not struggling to hear the frequencies that I want to hear on stage anymore. I used to have to boost the bass everywhere. In an EQ pedal, on the preamp on the actual bass. But every time you add a little of those low frequencies in those other places you risk degrading the tone of the signal. With the Forte HP2 there is a punch button that gives me exactly the frequency I’m looking for. 100 hz. 4 db. It’s perfect. 

Did you think Jim talked too much when you met him in Boston? 

I will never notice when someone talks too much because chances are I’m out talking them. 

What’s your process for dealing with performance anxiety? 

I used to self-medicate for this purpose but I was recently in touch with a psychiatrist who has helped me regulate my own chemical imbalances and I have found that my performance anxiety isn’t really an issue when I have the proper amount of dopamine in the system! 

Imagine that you’re at a party and it’s a little stale. What’s the “party trick” (or hidden talent) that you’d bust out to liven the place up? 

Before the app existed I was known as a real life fruit ninja. I take a big knife and people throw fruit from across the room and I chop it in half in mid-air. It’s not the safest party trick anymore because I lost vision in my right eye a few years ago and I’m not as accurate as I used to be! 

What hobbies do you have outside of music? 

I love sports. I love reading. I love word games. I love gardening. I love hiking/running/moving. My biggest hobby was snowboarding for many years but I’ve grown injury prone and stay off the mountain these days. 

What is the most trouble you ever got into? 

Well, I managed to stay out of trouble until college. But before weed was legalized I had a series of run-ins with the law and spent a night in the clink in Amherst Mass during my freshman year fraternity pledge trip. Luckily this isn’t an issue anymore for those of us who don’t drink or smoke cigarettes but prefer a little of the wacky tabacky to cool down. 

What is the message you would give to your fans? 

Well I give them so many messages all the time but the most important one that I try to remember to keep constant is a message of gratitude. Thank you so much for sticking with us through thick and thin, through ups and downs, for decades now you have allowed us to live our dreams and have the most blessed lives possible. 

How do you feel social media has impacted your music? 

Social media is a double edged sword. It has allowed us to create a strong community where everyone feels like a family but for someone like me who gets addicted to things easily, I really have to be vigilant with practice and writing and other aspects of my life not to spend the whole day scrolling and wasting the time away. 

What is your favorite song of all time? 

Right now my favorite song of all time is probably a short and beautiful little ditty by Labi Siffre called Bless the Telephone. I would suggest everyone take the 1:29 to listen to it and feel the bliss. 

What did I miss for a question that you would like to share? 

Bass players don’t really get to play solo shows, at least not my style of bass, so I’ve had to learn how to DJ in order to perform by myself at times and I would suggest coming out to see a DJ Brownie show at some point. 

Last one! Describe your perfect meal! 

I love to eat great meals. I’m partial to Asian foods but the perfect meal to me is one slice of pizza from Freddie and Peppers on 72nd and Amsterdam in NYC. PERFECTION. 

Follow Marc Brownstein:
Instagram: @marcbrownstein
X (formerly Twitter): @marc_brownstein
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marcbrownstein4
www.discobiscuits.com

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Interview With Bassist Curly Hendo

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Interview Wity Bassist Curly Hendo

Bassist Curly Hendo…

Hailing from Sydney, Australia, bassist Curly Hendo has been super busy. Starting with dance from a young age, Curly took up bass shortly after and has been going strong ever since. She has collaborated with numerous acts worldwide and is an in-demand session/touring bassist and musical director.

Join me as we learn about Curly’s musical journey, how she gets her sound, and her plans for a very bright future.

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Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

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Artist Update With Bassist Derek Frank

Bassist Derek Frank…

Many of you will remember the last time I chatted with Derek Frank was back in 2017. The main thing that impressed me was how busy Derek was and how he juggled playing with many huge acts.

Now, I am happy to hear that Derek launched a new album last March titled “Origin Story” where he digs deep into his roots and pays homage to Pittsburg.

Join me as we get caught up after all these years and hear the details about the new album, how Derek gets his sound, and his plans for the future.

Photo, Stephen Bradley

Visit Online:

www.derekfrank.com
www.instagram.com/derekfrankbass
www.youtube.com/derekfrankbass
www.facebook.com/derekfrankbass

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Interview With Bassist Graham Stanush

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Interview With Bassist Graham Stanush

Bassist Graham Stanush…

Return to Dust is keeping Grunge alive and well! They have a new self-titled album that went out on May 3rd, 2024 and will be super busy promoting this project in the near future.

Graham Stanush is the bass powerhouse driving their sound and adding vocals to the mix. Join me as we hear all about Graham’s musical journey, details about the new album, how he gets his sound and their plans for the future.

Visit Online:

linktr.ee/returntodust
instagram.com/returntodustband/
twitter.com/Returntodustbnd
youtube.com/@returntodustband
tiktok.com/@returntodustband

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