An Interview with Gregori Hofmann by Martin Simpson… For this month’s interview, we’re going over to London to find out what young Greg is getting up to over there.
When did you start playing the bass?
I started playing Bass and Acoustic Guitar around the age of 13 or 14.
Did you have lessons?
I never had any lessons when I was starting out, as there were no bass players where I lived let alone teachers. The closest city to me was Durban and that was over 100km away. I mainly learnt from friends who played guitar and was learning songs by ear.
What are you like with theory/sight reading etc.?
I love theory and I have spent a lot of time learning from a few teachers, some great books and through transcription. My sight-reading is okay but could be better. I go through phases of practicing it a lot or when I get gigs where I know I’m going to have to read then I get back into it very quickly!
Who were/are your influences?
When I first started out I wanted to be Jason Newsted from Metallica so I played exclusively with a pick for about 6 years. At least it’s a skill I’ll never lose! Over the past 6 years when it comes to bass players I’ve checked out all the guys that you have got to check out. James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, Stevie’s Synth Bass, etc. On Double I’ve just been checking out Ray Brown and Ron Carter because that the lineage and the language and you can get overwhelmed by the amount of amazing musicians there are to learn from. Other than that I check out guys like Pino and Raphal Saadiq because I love that vibe and tone. I’m also big into Matt Garrison and what he’s doing with his music and his instrument. But to be honest I have barely been checking out bass players when it comes to composing or melodic stuff because so many guys write ‘jam night’ tunes when they compose on the bass. I love checking out horn players i.e. Trane, Miles, Bird and listening to the harmony of piano players like Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. Over the past few weeks I’m really feeling like I’ve got to get back to learning some tunes and focusing more on playing bass like a bass because I’ve been composing a lot so I need to dedicate more time to bass playing again. Luckily whether I wanted to or not I’m getting a lot more Soul, Motown and Blues function gigs so I’m getting fully into all those great tunes again. I’m also rehearsing a band for a new jam night I’m going to be putting on in London so we are going to be covering everything from Jazz to Soul and Funk and are going to be dedicating a night each week to a different seminal album from artists we love so that’s going to be a huge lesson.
My group the Gregori Hofmann Trio finished our debut album ‘An Offering’ a while ago and we did quite a lot of touring off the back of that but I’m almost finished writing a new album and I’m changing up the band so I’m probably going to work with a lot of different guys on this new one. There are so many musicians I want to work with.
You also teach bass. What is your approach to tutoring? What fundamentals do you try to get in place with your students?
I do stress the importance of fundamentals to all my students and sometimes you have to read the student because you don’t want to make people feel too much mental strain when they just want to jam their favorite tunes. The last thing I want to do is take away the love of music or bass from anyone’s mind. I spend the first few lessons on basic technique, theory and knowing where all the notes are on the bass and then if the student seems to be keen on that I’ll keep going. It all depends on the student. The more advanced guys normally are focused on concepts and improvisation which I love too so we all learn! I can never stress enough how important learning tunes and lines by ear are!
What unique challenges are presented to you as a session musician?
Well right now its learning hundreds of songs a week, dealing with rehearsals, recordings and teaching and trying to spend time with my wife and maybe practice what I want somewhere along the line! I do enjoy learning new music though and you always learn a lot about composition and the way people write and arrange especially when you do something like a function gig dedicated to a certain style like a Turkish wedding or a country gig. You get a chance to learn about that tradition and that way of playing, so even though it’s a challenge, it’s all learning and developing. With all that said, no situation is more challenging than the expectations I have for myself.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a working bassist?
My advice is to be as versatile as you can be because there are a lot of bass players out there and most of the time people just want you to go for the ‘Simple and Solid’ vibe, which is essentially the bassist’s role in most Western Music. You’re probably not going to get a paid gig where people ask you to play a Weather Report tune so spend some time getting your backing vocals together. Learn about recording with Logic and Pro Tools. Learn to play guitar. Pop gigs aren’t paying that well lately because most of the big names are playing to backing tracks and are making repetitive, simple tunes so there are a lot of guys who could do those gigs after playing for a year who will do the gig for free to make themselves feel good or ‘get a name for themselves’. I think that functions are a good thing to get into to make money and get yourself a website and a degree so you can market yourself and if you wanted to, get into teaching. With all that said, keep practicing because so many guys that are making a living from music doing pop gigs and functions feel like they are doing okay and making enough so they become complacent. There is always time to practice and improve.
What are 5 basslines you are loving right now?
That’s tough but I’m going to go with ‘Endangered Species’ by Wayne Shorter because that bass line is amazing! So melodic and so strong rhythmically while outlining some beautiful harmony at the same time.
Esperanza Spaldings new album has a tune on it called ‘Crowned and Kissed’ and that bass line is such a reflection of her personality. It’s really melodic, inventive and conversational.
‘Trippin’ by Lucy Pearl with Raphael Saadiq on bass because it is just the phattest bass line I’ve checked in a while.
‘For Once in My Life’ by Stevie Wonder is some of the most amazing playing I’ve ever heard and James Jamerson is just busting out on that one!
Lastly I’m going to go with ‘Inner City Blues’ by Marvin Gaye. I think its Bob Babbitt. I mean that is just perfection and that tune makes me want to weep.
If you could have played in any band in history, which would it have been?
So difficult to answer because I love so many different bands and artists but I would love to be in Waynes Quartet right now and I wouldn’t mind being in The Roots. Both the Bass Players in those bands are pretty amazing though so they’ve got nothing to worry about. Ha
Do you play with fingers, pick, slap, all of them. Why do you have a preference?
I do play with all of them, depending on the gig. Obviously most of the time I play with fingers and my thumb but I have done quite a bit of stuff lately with a pick.
What equipment are you into at the moment and why?
Fender for life. I played a Washburn when I first started, I’ve had some Ibanez basses, I had a really good Warwick, I had an ESP for a while and I’m not going to say anything bad about the experiences I had with those basses because there are good things about every instrument but I went out and bought a Mexican P Bass Deluxe about 4 years ago and I have played it every single day and I will until I die. That bass is my best friend and I love the tone and the feel of it. I’ve also had an American Deluxe 5 string Jazz but I always go back to the Mexican. I’ve got an Ibanez Acoustic which I love and sounds beautiful and then I’ve got a pretty beat up Double Bass which has had its day so its time to upgrade. I’ve got a Mark Bass 2×10 cab and a Little Mark 2 head and I love the tone that I get from Mark Bass and obviously the portability. I’ve been spending a lot of time playing some GMR basses now that they have a place on Denmark Street and I’ve fallen in love with a 5 string they have there so that bass is on my mind a lot.
You are from South Africa. Why did you make the move over to London and are there any South African Musicians and Bassists who have inspired you?
I left South Africa when I was 18, as soon as I finished school. I left because there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to play or learn from musicians around my hometown, which was a tiny surfer town with absolutely nothing going on. I decided to go to London because I knew there would be so many musicians from all over the world and there were really great places to study music. I knew every touring musician that I wanted to see live would definitely be playing there at some point so I had to go. There are so many amazing South African musicians that I love and admire and the country has such a rich musical history. There are guys all over the country playing in churches and at jam nights that will blow your mind! If you get a chance to read the book ‘Soweto Blues’ you can learn a lot about the history of South African music. From a bass player point of view I’m sure everyone knows Bakithi Khumalo who played on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’. That guy is amazing! What he does on his instrument is sing in such a unique voice that could only come from South Africa. Then Sipho Gumede, who was the first ‘Solo Bass’ kind of guy I actually ever heard. Before I even knew who Jaco was or James Jamerson I had heard Sipho! Africa in general has just got so many amazing artists. Richard Bona is, bass playing aside, one of my favorite musicians that has ever lived. I am in awe of that man. His voice and the emotion I feel when I listen to his music are incomparable. He is just music personified.
Since you’ve moved to London, what opportunities have you had to learn and play with local musicians?
It’s been amazing. When I first got here I played in a few rock bands for a while and then I made a conscious decision to stop playing music I had played before. Which may sound crazy but I wanted to learn about other styles and I wanted to dedicate myself to that decision. A few years ago I was playing in about 6 bands doing 5 or 6 gigs a week playing every style you could think of. Soul, Hip Hop, Jazz, Funk, Pop, Electro, Folk and function gigs. Whatever there was I was doing it! Once I got married, I decided to focus on projects that were worthwhile financially or that I loved enough to make time for. I have had the privilege to play and learn from so many amazing musicians here. Femi Temowo has been a big influence on me and has given me so much advice. He was the person who drew me to playing Jazz after never having played before because I wanted to experience whatever I could see and hear he was creating! Neil Charles is one of the greatest Double Bass players on the planet and I’ve been lucky enough to hear him play live and take a few lessons with him. Binker Golding is a Sax player who can just play with such intensity, has the biggest tone and can just bust out line after line of melodies that will make jaws drop. There are too many to name!
What’s your number one gigging tip?
Try relaxing and having a good time… The vibe is more important than getting every note right. Time and Tone are far more important than getting any licks in there. Be friendly to everyone and LISTEN!
Any final thoughts?
Check out my website www.gregorihofmann.com for a whole load of free lessons. Have a listen to my album ‘An Offering’ on Spotify and iTunes. Thanks to Martin and Bass Musician Magazine for the interview!