I remember when our previous editor, Jake Kot, heard Juan Garcia-Herreros’ (AKA, “The Snow Owl”) CD, “Art of Contrabass Guitar”. Not only did he chose to write the review himself but he stated that, “Juan had the potential of becoming the next Jaco,” and coming from Jake that was no small statement. I have been following Juan’s career ever since, and most recently had the pleasure of listening to his latest CD “Normas” (see review in this issue). I sat down for a virtual interview with this accomplished musician to discover the details of the man behind this music. Lets dig right in…
Our readers are always interested in why someone chooses to play bass, over all other instruments. I read that you discovered the bass after you completed middle school and you actually taught yourself to play. What made you choose the bass and how did you go about teaching yourself?
Before I start, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Bass Musician Magazine for recognizing Hispanic bassists around the world and I am deeply honored for all the support that you have given me throughout my career.
Thank you Juan… we feel very passionate about creating a platform for bassists to share their stories, their culture and their music.
The reason I started to play bass was actually pure coincidence. My older brother was studying drums and he needed a bass player to practice with. My brother bullied me into playing bass with him (laughs).
Teaching myself the instrument was and always will be a very difficult task. I never had the financial conditions to study the instrument with an instructor. Somehow a force within me drove me to do it. I basically asked every musician I knew what do they practice, how do they practice and I followed their advice. I am in debt to them for all of their patience.
By the time you were 16, you were so proficient that you were teaching music theory and Jazz performance at your high school. Your passion for teaching continues until present. Tell us more about this side of your musical identity.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to perform with some of the most musical geniuses of our time. Each of these great elders took the time to teach me when I was a nobody. It is an unspoken rule that I must do the same. This is how tradition and consistency of craft is cultivated.
Your high school music teacher encouraged you to study upright bass so you could play in the school symphonic band. Your hard work with the acoustic bass got you a position performing with the Tampa Bay Symphony at the age of 17. How has classical music influenced your own music?
Labels are always so difficult for me to interpret. The word “Classical” is just as broad as the word “Jazz”. It was through performing Beethoven’s “Eroica” that I discovered the power of counterpoint, especially in the bass clef instruments. I realized that everybody has a role and each of these roles is a melody. Just like a tree needs earth and the earth needs water, so does the melody need the roots of the bass.
You competed and won a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music. Tell us about your experience there.
When I arrived in Berklee it was as if I had landed in the Charles Xavier’s school for the gifted! What an experience! I remember walking through the practice rooms and watching Antonio Sanchez and Miguel Zenón practice together and today these are some of the world’s most famous musicians. I am very grateful for my time at Berklee.
There is a new program coming in January 2014, “Berklee Latino” that will be happening in Mexico City. It looks like they are making a serious investment in Latino musicians and their influence on world music. What are your thoughts about this?
I am happy for Mexico City that Berklee is taking on this initiative. Our roots and traditions in South America still continue to expand horizons in world music. Colombia alone has over 96 rhythms that exist only in our country. I am very proud and excited to see in which direction the music will continue to develop.
After Berklee you pursued your musical career in New York, where you developed a wide variety of musical skills. Tell us about your years in New York. How did it influence your playing?
New York was and always will be a tough town to live in. It forced me, in a positive way, everyday to perform multiple styles. This also equalled to me having to practice each individual genre an unbelievable amounts of hours. If you have a tough enough skin and conviction New York is definitely a path you should cross. If you decide to stay, enjoy the pizza!
You recently released your CD “Normas”. Tell us about it.
I felt that it was time for me to tackle on this theme of Standards. Each and every established Jazz artist must at one point of his career record a “Standards” Album. It is an homage to the tradition and a proof of his improvisational accomplishments. I accepted this challenge and took the titles of famous Jazz Standard compositions and translated them into my interpretation of what the Standards of today in Jazz should be. For me “Normas” is the documented sounds of a musician’s pilgrimage through our planet, interpreting it’s mysteries with sound.
You were born in Colombia and your music has a strong Latin influence. Tell us how this has continued to be your passion after all the years of exposure to other musical genres.
It’s quite simple actually. I see Colombia as my garden and each season I will plant different seeds (genres). Some will blossom and some will wither. The garden will always be there.
What bassists were your main influences?
This is a difficult question to answer. I will try to name a few of the hundreds that have touched me. Anthony Jackson, Eberhard Weber, Dominique DiPiazza, Jimmy Haslip, Carles Benavent, Uriah Duffy, Ruben Rodriguez and Aldemar Valentin.
What projects are you currently working on? What are your future goals?
I am very excited about my next Duo-CD with Roberto Quintero. We have been recording spiritually healing music with just bass and percussion. It’s an extremely beautiful journey and hopefully all of you will get to hear it in 2014.
My only future goal is to one day score a goal for FC Barcelona! (laughs)!
You have collaborated with numerous accomplished musicians from Al Jarreau to the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Who was/were your favorites to play with?
Yes, you’re right, I’ve had the honor to work with many “famous” artists. It’s nearly impossible to say who was my favorite, because regardless of who they are, I have a job to do. I will always give my entire love and dedication to giving them the best bass player possible.
Tell us about your gear. Your Ax of choice is the Electric contrabass guitar. I am sure our readers would like to know some specs on your instrument and how you get your sound.
If I told you I’d have to kill you! (laughs)
I understand! (laughs)
I only own two basses and they are both my signature model, designed by myself and Andreas Neubauer. The scale of my instrument is 36’’ with a string spacing of 18mm and of course I use the best strings on the planet, handmade by Thomastik-Infeld. I use handmade speakers by David Nordschow and until he finishes the DNA Helix Amp I am experimenting with other brands.
How did you get the nickname “The Snow Owl”?
Actually Snow Owl is my real Indian name. Juan is the nickname (laughs)!
Is there anything else you would like to discuss with our readers?
Absolutely. There is only one more thing that I truly wish to talk about and that is the honor system between musicians and the audience.
We are living in a time where all forms of art have been accepted as being available for free. This mentality is preventing many artists from having the funds to tour or produce new recordings because people are abusing the social contract. If you download any artist’s creative works you should honor them by supporting them monetarily. Industry aside, it is an extremely difficult time for musicians and we need your support. We are all one. I love you all and thank you Bass Musician Magazine for this interview!
Thank you Juan for taking the time to chat with us and for sharing the essence of who you are and the foundation behind your music. Much continued success!
Visit Juan online at www.the-snow-owl.com