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Igor Saavedra, Mastering That Which Mattered Most… Virtuoso and 8-String Bass Master

Our cover interview for the Latin Issue is with none other than Chilean Bassist, Igor Saavedra!

I first interviewed Igor in our June 2009 issue, and have been following the career of this ‘Extended Range Bassist’ (ERB) ever since.

Over the years, I have been highly impressed with Igor’s explosive emergence into the International bass scene. Besides being a sought after ERB and writer, whose articles and life philosophy have proven to be a great asset to our readers, he shares his talent as an educator by conducting master classes and clinics worldwide. Igor’s efforts in the area of ERB have been highly innovative in both the playing aspect, as well as development of the instrument itself, and he has performed with a wide range of artists worldwide. It is my immense pleasure to ‘reintroduce’ to you “Un Hermano Latino”… Igor Saavedra!

Diving right in… Why the bass over any other instrument?

First of all, please let me thank you and BMM for featuring me in this very important Anniversary Edition dedicated to Latin American Bass Players. It’s a pleasure and an honor to share these pages with some of the greatest and most respected colleagues in Latin American Bass History.

Why bass? From a rational perspective I really can’t explain why I play the bass over any other instrument, but I think this happens because a deep and real feeling can never be explained. How can you explain the love you feel for your children or your parents? It just happens. 

The first time I had the opportunity to see and hear a bass in a live situation, that experience twisted my heart and my guts; in fact, I always say that on that very moment I felt that I didn’t really choose the bass, I felt the bass chose me.

How did you learn to play bass?

I’m a fully self-taught & rebel musician, but there’s a reason for that. As many people know, I was born in Santiago de Chile, my father is an engineer and my mother is an actress. I started on bass and in music from ‘absolute zero’ at age 22. 

I had almost finished my studies at the University to become a Physical Education teacher and Kung Fu instructor, having studied Martial Arts since I was 13. After graduation, I had been planning to move to China to live and continue my Martial Arts studies, but six months before obtaining my degree in PE, I quit school. The decision coincided with my first ‘close encounter’ with the bass and I wanted to start playing and studying immediately, mostly because I felt that I had lost 22 years of my life and I wasn’t going to waste one more second. 

This took my parents by surprise and they couldn’t imagine my quitting school to become a musician, which I do not blame them for at all. The bottom line was that if I were going to make this decision, then I would have to study and work to support myself in order to buy my books, metronome, first bass, first amp, etc., because there was not going to be any further financial support from my parents. 

During the first two years I studied and played bass for almost 17 hours a day. By the 8th month, I had my first two gigs, covering for the bassist of a very famous Chilean rock trio, Los Tres. Right before the end of the first year, I was playing with the most famous Chilean Pop-Singer at the time, Óscar Andrade and two months later I was the bass player for the number one Funk band in Chile, De Kiruza. Just after playing and studying for two years, I was hired as a bass teacher for the most important Chilean Jazz School in those years, Academia de Jazz de Roberto Lecaros. 

I attribute my success to the goals I placed on myself to study bass and focus on music; I always kept in mind how old I was when I started, so catching up was an important goal for me.

Growing up, who were your musical influences?

Regarding Bass Players, I will go chronologically as I was ‘meeting’ them. The first bassists I had heard where Marcus Miller, Jaco, Gary Grainger, Jimmy Johnson and a great bassist from France, Michel Alibo. Then came Jeff Berlin, Gary Willis, Alain Caron, John Patitucci, Anthony Jackson, Kai Eckhardt and many more. I need to express that I have a very special appreciation of Jimmy Johnson’s bass playing career; probably he’s my favorite bass player and always will be. In my opinion, elegance and good taste are assets that a real artist and musician can never leave behind and I think Jimmy possesses all of that with his amazing, deep and incredibly tasteful playing.

Regarding other instrumentalists, my main influences come from Chick Corea, Allan Holdsworth, Frank Gambale, Steve Weingart, Scott Henderson, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dave Weckl, John Scofield, David Sanborn and the great Michael Brecker.

How do you define the music style you play?

I’m proud to say that I’m an authentic South American Bassist and not a bassist that was born in South America. Surrounded by all of the traditions and customs of my country, it’s inevitable that my music will have all that tradition, all that aroma, even if I intend to play a Super Funk tune. Even more when a sense of reality and truth becomes omnipresent when I play South American music or when I include South American rhythms or melodies in my concerts, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for many years, and what I intend to keep on doing for good. 

I consider myself a Bass Player who plays Jazz and not a Jazz Player who play Bass; when you take a look at the musical trends on this matter, I see a very big difference in this perspective. For me… first is Art, then Music, then Bass and then any of the styles I like the most.

In my opinion, defining yourself is very hard, and perhaps the most inadequate thing to do, but abstracting from that, at this time when I’m celebrating 25 years of a fully rewarding career as a bassist, I would like to say again what I just said, but in a slightly different way… 

“I work hard to become a more decent Person every day, and this Person intends to be an Artist that intends to be a Musician that intends to be The Finest Bass Player he can be before saying goodbye from planet earth…” 

Tell us about your unique bass, as well as your gear.

Well, ‘Octavius’ is such a character and is probably the most famous 8-string bass around. He was ‘born’ around 1999-2000 and he has gained a strong personality throughout the years, even having his very own comics on the web, theigoradventures.blogspot.com. 

Getting to the more technical aspects, Octavius is a 33 1/2” bass that appeared as a result of my deep love for 4-string basses, so I decided to have two of them on just one bass! I always dedicate that irony to those ERB haters… and that’s the end of that conversation right there (smile).

Taking it more seriously, there’s much truth in that statement, because when you analyze a couple of specific aspects of my bass, you will end up finding that there are really two very different basses on it, mostly because of my unique string-gauging. 

The first four strings are F .020 – C .025 – G .035 – D .050, so on that ‘higher 4-string bass’ you’ll notice that with the exception of the thin D, that you have a pretty normal ‘Contratenor Bass’, which by the way has all its’ strings roundwound, so it won’t have the tendency to sound ‘guitaristic’ – also because the F and C strings have the tension enough to avoid any buzzing. 

The ‘lower 4-string bass’ makes a radical change on the string gauging, which goes ‘light’, as you perhaps have never heard before. On a low register this light gauging will never sound ‘guitaristic’, as could happen if you place light string gauging on the high bass register. When it comes to the lower notes, due to the lack of tension, light strings offer many benefits like warmness, deepness, sweetness and highly expressive lows, which is exactly what I like right there, something you just don’t get with hard and thick-gauging on the lower register. So my ‘lower 4-string bass’ holds an A .060 – E .080 – B .100 – F# .125.

  As you can see, regarding scale and string-gauging, I go absolutely the opposite way than the great Anthony Jackson; that’s the beauty of this music and bass world.

I use La Bella Stainless Steel Strings exclusively, and the awesome news for me is that they will be launching soon the model, “La Bella Igor Saavedra ERBs Signature Strings,” for worldwide distribution. 

Getting back to Octavius, it’s fair to mention that he’s had three Luthiers already, the first one was Alfonso Iturra from 1999 to 2006, the second was Claudio González from 2006 to 2013, and now I’m happy to officially announce that the great Oscar Prat (pratbasses.com) is my new and official Luthier. He already started to build my new and awesome “Octavio Prat” or “Octavio 3.0” if you like (Official Release: NAMM 2014 at the Pratbasses booth). It has many unseen features that have been killing my brain for the last two years and Oscar didn’t doubt for a second to assume that enormous challenge, he just said, “Okay, we’ll just do it… I’ll find the way to solve all the enigmas”… he’s such an incredible Luthier and this new bass is going to blow people’s minds! 

Finally, I would like to thank all of my other Sponsors, including Markbass, Mey Chair System, Analysis Plus Cables, Nordstrand Pickups and Wittner Metronomes.

Bass keeps you busy traveling around the world! Tell us a bit about your recent gigs.

This year has been very busy and I’m very happy and thankful for that. I can highlight my official performances and Master Classes at Winter NAMM in Anaheim, New York Bass Collective, The London Bass Guitar Show, Frankfurt Musikmesse, Costa Rica’s International Bass Festival and recently Summer NAMM in Nashville, just to name a few.

Any more interesting projects coming up?

Earlier this year, I was invited by Marco de Virgilis of Markbass to visit Pescara, where I toured the factory and learned more about the company. We talked about a great project coming up in the near future… Stay tuned for details! On a side note, I would like to express my profound gratitude for all that Marco and the Markbass family have done and keep doing for me. I just love all the people and in my opinion there’s not another amp that can match these small Italian wonders!

More Events/Clinics…

Aug 7, Sao Paulo, Brazil to perform a Concert/Master Class at EM&T. Sep 13, Buenos Aires, Argentina doing two bass clinics, along with Doug Wimbish. Sep 18, Sao Paulo again. Sep 28, I’ll be featured along with Alain Caron and Brian Bromberg at the Lords of the Low-End Show, happening in New York. 

For Oct… I received an official invitation from Wojtek Pilichowsky to play at Bass Day Poland, something that I’m looking forward to. I’m also trying to make it for the Feel The Bass Show in Germany in the same month. And finally, on Nov 8 I’ll be playing at Bass Player Live in Los Angeles. The second half of 2013 is looking quite busy and I’m happy and thankful for that.

Switching gears, as a bassist born in Latin America, do you find this to be an advantage or disadvantage?

It’s really both. On the side of the disadvantages, we are still a third-world region. My country has been doing very well in comparative terms, so I think I have somehow benefited by that. Here’s a metaphor… Think of it like trying to switch gears on the gear box of a Latin American Truck. First, it’s manual, not automatic. Second there’s usually no money to change the gear box’s oil when it’s due. Third, the mechanics are poorly prepared. Finally, because of the bumpy roads, all the bolts are lose, and as drivers we have to slide under the car every so often and screw them tight so they won’t fall off.

On the side of the advantages, each of us has a unique identity, which in my opinion is the most precious treasure a musician can have. It’s in us to decide if we make it thrive and bloom or if we neglect it and just keep copying the foreign music we listen to on the radio or the Internet.

In your opinion, how is music changing in Latin America for bassists? 

Even though there are many things to improve yet, I think our region has been growing and developing very strongly, allowing us to do more things. We have more access to good information and bass gear, which is allowing us to play more comfortably. 

Many of the great bassists of the world have been to our region often and the young bassists have been able to see and hear them live, even meeting them personally in many cases. I was fortunate to have this experience in my country in the 90’s and I was able to learn a lot before moving to the US at 29 to live, teach and play for four years. When I returned to South America I was able to apply all that I had learned from that experience to continue my growth as a musician. Now the story has reversed, and it’s me, the one who’s being invited from here to share my art and my music; that’s quite rewarding, I’m a happy man.

What are the greatest aspects of traveling as a bassist, and what are the greatest challenges?  Any interesting stories you would like to share?

The most amazing aspect is the feedback; being able to learn and be inspired by so many great people, as well as visiting amazing places and cultures that have that obvious and priceless characteristic, which is to be unique and different. It is our duty as artists to be able to extract and rescue all that information and add it to our essential identity, that will give us the sufficient dose of distinction and uniqueness that will prevent us from being that stereotypical, foreign musician that plays music from his native region that you have seen 1000’s of times. That’s too easy… Instead embody creativeness and hard work, as this will help you to achieve much more.

From traveling, I have tons of stories stored in my soul and would like to share a short one that happened in 2011, while touring in South America with the great US keyboardist David Garfield. We were in Buenos Aires and he invited me for an espresso coffee. I said, “No thanks, I don’t drink coffee, I’ve never done it.” He commented, “This will be your first time, make me the honor, I don’t want to drink coffee alone.” To which I replied, “Well, let’s try it, why not.” 

The result of that ‘Coffee test’ was that I fell absolutely in love with coffee. When I arrived in Santiago I immediately bought an espresso machine. Two months later I designed and built a whole coffee bar for my living room. Next I bought a second coffee machine (Nespresso), then a French press coffee maker, then an Italian boiling style coffee maker, a grinder, tons of different cups and all the coffee gadgets you can imagine. 

From day one I started to study about coffee like crazy and bring home the finest, whole-grain coffee from every country I’ve visited during the last two years, and continue doing so. I have coffee bags from almost 30 different countries and places. After emptying these bags I fill them very nicely with cotton and place them on a cool rack on my coffee bar as if they were some kind of trophies (laughing). When I look back I say, “Well boy I’m certainly an OCD being, no doubt about it!” Then again, this has been one of the main reasons I have succeeded as a bassist (smile).

What has been your experience, as you visit other countries, in how they value musicians?

I’ve learned that it is almost the same everywhere, with some subtle differences. There are some countries that have more respect for the musicians than other countries, but in general terms I always come to the same conclusion… In every country, regardless of how rich, poor, developed or undeveloped it might be, you’ll always find successful and unsuccessful musicians, you’ll always find musicians complaining about the reality of their country, seeing themselves as victims of the system and blaming everybody and their society for their miseries. At the same time, in the same country you’ll find those musicians that take full responsibility for their lives and are conscious and intelligent enough to manage their careers.

Over the years, we have gotten to know you from your writings in Bass Musician Magazine… and you have a very philosophical perspective when it comes to music, that definitely comes through in your articles. What is your personal philosophy about life… about music… and how does one influence the other?

To me, responsibility is the key to happiness. Personally, I think I’m fully responsible for absolutely ALL the bad moments I’ve suffered and absolutely ALL the mistakes I’ve committed during my career and during my life, so I will never be blaming anybody or any social structure for them. Victimization is a word that’s totally out of my dictionary, in any of the infinite places where you can apply that term. 

On the other hand, I feel the absolute right and freedom to express that ALL my achievements are due to my efforts in the first place; they are the result of my hard-working, positive attitude towards my existence and mainly my sense of responsibility. 

Because of this, I have a plentiful and rewarding life, amazing friends, people who love and care for me, people that have made an enormous difference in my life… But I was the one who earned that love, respect and trust from them, and if I lose some or all of the positive things in my life, I know exactly who to blame (smile).

Please leave some motivational and encouraging words for the next generation of bassists.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand upon an idea that I mentioned in a recent article in Bass Musician Magazine. This is just my humble opinion and not any sort of ‘Revealed truth’…

A real artist is not only just about his art, as the art becomes nothing if the artist doesn’t nurture it. How to nurture it? With the Artist’s life itself! This is why an artist must generate a strong and rewarding life apart from the very Art he cultivates. 

For example, it’s not a good idea for a bass player to focus exclusively on bass, where everyday and every hour he thinks, talks, studies, divagates and conducts actions that are only about the bass. Maybe that could work in the early stages (something I did myself), but this must not last too long. A much better idea for us as bass players, that are totally committed to our art, is to place the bass right in the center of our lives. Let’s imagine our life contained by a giant funnel, and we place the bass in the lower, central part of it, so everything we add and experiment with throughout our lives will inevitably be driven towards that art and mixed with it, nurturing, enriching and feeding it more than any other aspect of your life!

On the ‘Emotional Intelligence’ side… Paying attention to your everyday feelings, like the love you have for your family & friends and the love they have for you, the sad things you have experienced in your life that you have already overcome, the happy and funny moments that you have everyday, and in general terms, caring about your emotions, is something you must do every single day of your artistic life! 

On the ‘Rational Intelligence’ side of your being… Learning about Botany, Sound Engineering, Biomechanics, Pedagogy, Quantum Physics, Classical Physics, Psychology, Philosophy, History, Metallurgy, Aesthetics, Politics, Religion, Agnosticism, Minimalism and so many more things, and then nurturing your art with all of that knowledge will also help in developing you into a much better bassist, musician and artist. 

Don’t forget that your instrument is a monument to physics, and that it is also made of wood and steel. Don’t forget that music has a strong philosophical and psychological aspect, and has suffered thousands of changes throughout history, etc. As an example, seeing art and life this way is what made Leonardo da Vinci one of the greatest human beings and artists to ever live.

So my humble advice for the new generation of bassists and musicians… If life would be just about music, what are we going to sing, play and compose about?

Follow online at: www.bajoigorsaavedra.cl

Photo: González-Casabene, Buenos Aires 2013

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