It’s late January in New York City and we’re in the middle of the worst winter in two decades. It’s so bad that weathermen are using words like “polar vortex” and offering bone-chilling forecasts of sub-zero wind chills. But for one night, one brief beautiful night, on the third floor inside the Yamaha Piano Salon on Fifth Avenue, I find a reprise from the icy depression. No thanks to mother nature of course, but rather the fact that Nathan East is here and he’s about to heat up the room with a live performance of several tunes from his long-awaited debut solo album. A small crowd is in attendance to hear Nathan with a 7-piece band that includes drummer Omar Hakim and guitarist Oz Noy. I see a handful of friends and acquaintances in the room of writers, musicians and publicists. Will Lee is here, as is my brother-from-another-publisher Chris Jisi, and other familiar faces, and we’ve come to witness something special. After spending the past 30-plus years gracing everyone else’s project (and in the process becoming one of the most recorded session bassists in history), and after two decades as a quarter of the massively successful group Fourplay, Nathan East is– for a moment at least– about to put down his usual role as supporter-in-chief and will finally take his first turn as a solo artist.
But more on this in a moment. First, let’s back up a few days.
The Sunday before this Manhattan showcase, an interesting thing happened in Nate’s life. As a member of the latest incarnation of Daft Punk, he performed live with the French electro-pop robots at the Grammy Awards, where they were on hand with five nominations for their latest album Random Access Memories and the breakout hit “Get Lucky“. The live group, aided by special guest Stevie Wonder, featured much of the group that actually recorded the retro-sounding record. Before the night was over, Daft Punk– along with Nathan, Hakim, Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams and Paul Jackson Jr.– scored wins in every category they were nominated for: album of the year, best dance/electronica album, best engineered album, best pop duo/group performance, and song of the year for “Get Lucky”, which features Nathan’s perfect, propelling, in-the-pocket groove. Without him, the song might have been a great dance tune; with him it’s become a bonafide classic, topping the charts in over a hundred countries.
So back to the NYC event where, from the time I was invited to this performance and tonight, Nathan has become five Grammys richer and is now the hottest bassist on the globe. Wielding his white Yamaha TRB 6-string bass, he kills on a four-song preview of his upcoming album, which includes a beautiful interpretation of Pat Metheny‘s introspective “Letter From Home” (Nathan announces that Pat is one of his favorite writers), a groove-heavy Daft Punk-meets-Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” original titled “Daft Funk”, a brilliant instrumental reading of Stevie Wonder‘s “Sir Duke”, and a stirring vocal cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, which is a classic that he’s performed live with Eric Clapton over the years. I briefly have a chance to say hello to him after the set, congratulate him on the Grammy wins, and remind him that we‘re set for an interview the following week. Of course, by the time I’m able to catch up to Nathan in his fast-lane life for a decent chat, it’s now actually two weeks later and he’s halfway around the globe, getting ready for a run of shows with Clapton in Japan and other parts of Asia. He will return to that continent yet again in April for a tour with Toto, a band he is also a member of.
For Nathan East, traveling and performing is simply his way of life, as are the accolades and awards. He has recorded and played with the biggest names in music, a list that includes Michael Jackson, Beyonce, George Harrison, Whitney Houston, Sting, Phil Collins, Barbra Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, David Foster and countless others. He’s performed at major landmark events like Live Aid in 1985, the Obama Inauguration in 2009, and a million more. So I find it a bit humorous that the publicity campaign assembled for his debut solo album refers to him as “Daft Punk bassist Nathan East”. But then again, hey, why not? You can’t argue that the robots are on fire, and a new generation probably has no idea whose bass is kicking them in their collective butt. But we bassists know full well who Nathan is, his background and his long musical history, and what he’s achieved in his career. Daft Punk is only the latest chapter in a long book, and there is much more to be written– starting with the imminent release of his debut on March 25th on the Yamaha Entertainment Group label, entitled simply… Nathan East.
If you have any preconceived notions of what a Nathan East solo album might sound like, you may be in for a surprise. The record is a daring, head-turning, cinematic journey from start to finish, and will take you places you weren’t expecting. Co-produced by Chris Gero, it’s a remarkable collection of originals and well-known covers, wrapped in dramatic arrangements that at times feature a 26-piece orchestra, a big band, even a string quartet. Special guest artists turn up all over the place, a testament to the many musical friends Nathan has made over the years; Michael McDonald, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Bob James, Sara Barielles are on hand, as is an A-team of session players who all work their magic. Notably, the studio group includes the great drumming of Ricky Lawson in one of his final outings; his sudden and unexpected passing was just two months ago. But what a way to go out, and what a performance he gives. Nathan dedicates the album to Ricky.
Throughout the whole affair, it’s always Nate’s superlative bass work that glues it all together, whether he’s playing his Yamaha 5-string, 6-string, or upright. As always, he has an uncanny knack of finding not only the perfect part to play, but the right sound to communicate it. Sure, I could try and elaborate on what makes him the great bassist he is, but I thought why not ask two of his longtime musical friends– both of whom contributed to this record– to describe Nathan’s uniqueness from their first-hand perspective.
“He represents all the highest qualities that you could ever hope for,” says Bob James. “A true and loyal friend first of all, but also a consummate musician who serves the music and never loses sight of the big picture. He has seemingly unlimited virtuosity covering an amazingly wide range of musical styles, but only uses it when the music requires it. He’s not afraid to give a compliment when he feels it, and when I’ve been lucky enough to get one, it has been a big boost to my confidence. I’m excited that he’s finally gone public with his first solo project, and very happy to be included on it.”
Tom Scott echoed Bob’s sentiment as well. “He and I have worked together since the 70’s with the late great Victor Feldman,” says Scott. “Nathan is a truly wonderful musician. He’s also a charming person– always greets you with a smile. That’s a pretty outstanding combination.”
Hey Nathan, how are things going over there in Japan?
Hey Rick, so far so good! We’re having a good time rehearsing, getting ready for Clapton at the Budokan. This is actually my 66th visit here.
You certainly have a large fan base there.
Oh man, its incredible. It’s almost like family.
Japanese people are so passionate about jazz and everything that you play, they’re so knowledgeable about great music.
Well, that’s what I discovered when I came over here in 1980 or ‘81, I think the first time I came here was with Lee Ritenour. They knew all the music, they knew everything I was playing on, and were very savvy listeners. Which is great, you know, because sophisticated music is getting to them.
How has the week of rehearsals gone with Eric?
Really well. I told him yesterday I’ve never enjoyed rehearsing as much as I did this week. First of all, it’s just great music, and then you‘ve got Steve Gadd and Paul Carrack, it’s just… [Laughs]. It’s pretty good.
Willie Weeks has done a bunch of the recent Clapton tours, so for you does it kind of feel like something new, coming back with Eric now and going on tour?
Yeah, actually it’s been about ten years since we toured together. Eric is one of those guys that likes to try different sections, like a lot of leaders do, so I was just glad that he came back to this section.
You’ve been with Clapton since the mid-80’s, so that’s quite a lasting, musical relationship.
Oh man, we’ve got well over 30 years together hanging out. Even if we’re not playing we always get together, if I’m in London I’ll go by the house and hang out, or when he’s in LA he comes by and has dinner with us and the family. He’s like a brother.
Well listen, I want to congratulate you again on your Grammy wins.
Oh thanks! The Daft Punk stuff was just a shocker. You just never know, and I’ve learned not to get my hopes too high because anything can happen. But when the band swept all five nominations and won all five categories, I thought, you know, that’s good.
That’s really good. The track of “Get Lucky” is so ingrained in everyone’s head, but when you played it live on the Grammys you got a chance to stretch out on it. You were playing some great lines.
Well, we were talking about the fact that they wanted the exact band that was playing on the record. I actually had to move a gig to get to do it, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And so what happens is that when you have the guys that played on the record, any liberties you take are ok. [Laughs]
How did it feel to be performing live on the Grammys in front of all those people?
It felt amazing. It felt like you were in the center of the musical universe. When you’re playing and you look out and you see Paul McCartney and Ringo, and Yoko Ono, and Katy Perry, and then you look at the very top row in the nosebleed seats in the Staples Center and see people dancing, it was like, you know what? This is why I got into music.
That’s pretty surreal.
It’s pretty surreal, is what it was.
Speaking of Paul and Ringo, did you get a chance to watch them together out front when they were playing, or were you backstage?
Well I was actually backstage when they were playing but it was great, I mean, those guys couldn’t be more gracious. To me they invented the wheel, in terms of what we do today.
By the way, how did you get involved with the Daft Punk recording?
Funny enough, I just got a phone call when they were putting their Random Access Memories album together. I think they made a conscious choice to kind of go outside of whatever their normal way of recording was, and they picked a list of their favorite people that they had been following and listening to. And I was just happy to be on that list, because I got to go in there and make music. Obviously I had known of them, and had seen what they did on the Tron film. I was honored to get the call, and it’s great to have been able to make that album with those guys. You think about this song “Get Lucky”, alone, has been number one in 102 countries.
Just amazing. And hopefully you’ll be back again at next year’s Grammys picking up a few of your own. As my wife was telling you before, we’ve been playing your solo album non-stop around here, we just absolutely love it.
Well, thank you, and I appreciate Camille’s sentiment, I’m hoping that a large majority of the people feel that way when they hear this record. It’s definitely been something that we’ve poured a lot of love into, and I’ve really tried to represent what my musical fingerprint is on this record.
You played four tunes from it live at the Yamaha release event a few weeks ago. Describe what it was like being up there performing your debut album. You had mentioned on stage that it was one of the highlights of all the things you’ve done in 35 years in the business.
You know what? Again, it was surreal. It’s been one of those years where I’ve had multiple surreal experiences, where I’m doing something that’s basically considered a first. I mean, there aren’t very many firsts when you’ve been around this long. So it was refreshing, but I had butterflies, because now all of a sudden I’m responsible. The buck stops here, and I’m responsible for every note that’s coming off the stage.
Are you comfortable being in the spotlight, after spending a career making others comfortable in the spotlight?
I’m comfortable in that role. I’ve had a lot of experience being musical director at many functions, Yamaha uses me for all their corporate events, I’ve done the NAMM shows and lots of big concerts, so that role is a pretty comfortable position for me. But I must say, that afternoon I went over there to sound check and run the tunes with the guys and I was a little bit like, in this place where my feet were shaking just a bit in my boots. [Laughs]
Well both you and the band sounded great that night. Speaking of Yamaha, let’s talk about your relationship with them, which goes back a long way. In fact, I remember that you said it started when you heard Abe Laboriel playing a Yamaha bass in a studio. Take me through how it went from that point to developing your signature bass with the company.
Well he was, as I’m sure he is to most bass players, sort of a hero and a bit of a mentor to me as well. Back in the days when he would invite me to come to a session, I would listen to him and, although it’s obviously in his chops and in his fingers, his bass sounded so pure and warm and fat and I loved everything about the sound. So he said, “Oh yeah, this is a Yamaha bass”. I was getting ready to go to Japan with Lee Ritenour, so he gave me the name of Hagi, who was the A&R guy for Yamaha. I called Hagi and he brought one to a gig, I think it was the BB1000, and it was everything that I wanted in a bass. I remember saying I have to go home with this, because it’s too good. And from that day on I’ve been playing Yamaha basses. Obviously the relationship has developed, we started doing a lot of R&D in LA and came up with the 5-string. It’s gone through very many incarnations and we’ve ended up with the Nathan East signature version, which I play all the time.
One thing that’s really unique about your signature bass is the mid-cut parametric EQ, which originally had been the outboard NE1 box Yamaha built for you. That circuitry is now built right into the bass.
Yeah, I figured how come what’s in the box can’t just be in the bass, you know? So they put that in for me.
And the interesting thing is that it cuts the mids at a selectable point while it boosts the mids surrounding that frequency you’re notching out. Do I have that right?
Right, that’s absolutely right. And it kicks in just a little bit of the lows and you get this kind of hi-fi sheen on the top and the bottom.
And you always have that switched on when you’re playing?
Yes, I might as well not have a toggle switch. [Laughs]
When you’re playing live, do you prefer to EQ from the bass or from your amp?
I start with the amp, but then as I’m playing I tweak from the bass. A lot of times I’ll just do a little tweaking as we go, because if I’m looking for a little more pointed sound, I’ll add maybe a bit more mids from the bass. It’s a very simple configuration, with just bass, mids and highs, and I start flat. And then as I’m playing I just kind of dial in what feels natural.
And what strings are you using?
I’ve been using the Jim Dunlop strings, I like those. I use the regular gauge on the 5-string, and I think it goes from a .45 to a .130, if I’m not mistaken.
Lets talk about your album. Chris Gero of Yamaha, who co-produced, was an important collaborator with you on this project. How did you find the concept for what you wanted to do for your solo debut?
It was kind of a methodical process that we used. I think his corporate sense and his musical sense, and a lot of the sensibilities that he brings helped me out a lot. We started with a whiteboard and just started naming favorite songs that we both liked, songs that would be contenders for the record. So we had a list of all these songs, and then we started dwindling it down. It was a thought-out process to at least get the list honed, and we actually ended up cutting about 26 songs. Getting the other tunes out will be in the works very soon.
Where did you do most of the recording?
We did all the tracking at Ocean Way studios in LA.
Let’s go through some of the tracks. The first tune on the record is “101 Eastbound”, which was also the first tune you wrote for Fourplay, some 20-odd years ago. Why did you choose to open the album like that?
Well, that song is one we continue to play. After a couple of decades, it’s still one of the chestnuts that Fourplay plays. And so, in an effort to try and keep it different, I sometimes start out on our live show and play that intro feel thing. I was doing that one day and my buddy Steve Quirk from Jazz FM London said, “Man you should record that version!” And I thought okay, if I ever go back, you know, that could be something. So I started fooling around with that sort of Brazilian thing in the studio, and then Michael Thompson went into this Earth, Wind & Fire kind of pattern and I said “Oh, what’s that?” We started fooling around with it and then Ricky Lawson starts this really funky, fatback groove. The next thing you know we were off to the races. It was the first song we cut, and I remember recording that in Ocean Way studios over 20 years ago, so it was like returning to the scene of the crime.
Returning full circle, kind of.
Returning full circle with a piece of music that I knew already has been accepted so, I was like, okay, I can’t go too wrong with this one. [Laughs]
Speaking of 20 years ago, has your concept of playing changed at all since those days?
You know, not too much. I think about that sometimes. You look up and you’re the same player. Obviously there are some things that you work on, and now that Chuck Loeb is in Fourplay he always writes songs that have these chop-buster be-bop lines that we all do together, so those challenging kinds of things I end up working on, but really there has always been that fire in my belly as a bass player to just try and do what’s right for the music.
As a bass player it’s kind of a balancing act between serving the song and inserting your own personality into it. How do you find that balance?
You know, for me the guy that is the best at that is Pino Palladino. Take a song like “Every Time You Go Away”, where the genius of what he does, and was able to do, was to know where the lyric comes and he sticks that incredible bass line in there. For me, he could be a co-writer on that because that’s what everybody walks away singing as well. So I kind of use him as a role model for trying to come up with lines that pay tribute to what the song is and everything, but still be able to sneak something in there that’s going to be memorable.
Back to the album, you have a couple of Stevie Wonder tunes on there. On “Sir Duke” you brilliantly changed up that long horn line by jumping the key up a minor third two bars in, and then back down by half steps. When did you decide to record that tune, and how’d you come up with the idea for the horn line?
I actually was inspired to record that having played it in Norway with this 18-piece big band that was playing at a wedding, they just happened to be playing at the hotel we were staying at. I stuck my head in there and they invited me to come play with them, the bass player handed me his bass and that was one of the charts. And the thing that struck me was how much fun everybody was having and they were singing along, and I thought, you know, here I am on the other side of the planet with this universal song and this feel-good energy going on. So while I was recording it I was thinking I can do the exact cover, because it’s Stevie Wonder, and again, you can’t reinvent the wheel. But right in the middle I decided that when we do the line, it doesn’t have to be in the same key every time. It was literally trial and error. I didn’t want to try to reinvent it and reharmonize it, but I thought this would be fun, and I wanted to try and do something that I thought Stevie would find fun to do as well.
Did Stevie hear your version of it?
I don’t think he’s heard the version of it we recorded, it would be interesting to see what he thinks. One of my dreams would be, like, if he did that version. [Laughs]
Stevie of course plays on your version of “Overjoyed” on the album. His phrasing on harmonica on the tune is just phenomenal. Tell me about that one.
Well, it started at a sound check at Carnegie Hall for one of Sting’s Rainforest benefits. There was a break and I was just kind of fooling around with those chord changes, and all of a sudden I hear a harmonica come in. And I didn’t even know Stevie was in the room. So Stevie’s playing along, and I’m up there figuring out the changes as I go, and we get through the whole tune and everybody–Sting and Bonnie Raitt and Elton John, James Taylor, all these people– are listening and they start applauding. And then Stevie comes over and says, “If you ever record it, let me know. I’d love to play on it.”
Well, there you go.
There you go, come on! How can you pass up an invitation like that? And so sure enough, he let me take him up on it, and I had goose bumps when we recorded it. What you’re listening to on the album is basically the first take. The beauty of it is that he’s the writer, so he doesn’t have to learn it and he can phrase it any way he wants to. [Laughs]
Another highlight on the album is what I call the Michael McDonald segment. He’s singing Van Morrison’s “Moondance”, which is then followed by his own song, “I Can Let Go Now”. First of all, he did a great job on the vocal on “Moondance”.
Yes, and as a matter of fact, after he sang the song he kept calling and saying “Is it ok, is it ok?”, and I was like, “Are you kidding? It’s incredible!”
Tom Scott‘s big band horn arrangement on the song is also phenomenal, it’s like Van Morrison meets Count Basie.
And he wrote every note that you hear basically. He wrote the rhythm charts, the horn charts, and I didn’t change a thing. Tom is a phenomenal musician, and again, if you surround yourself with good people, good things happen. We kind of had this vision for a jazzy-meets-rock-and-roll-ish thing, kind of Brian Setzer, Count Basie, just a little bit of everything. Chris Gero was really instrumental in describing what he wanted to Tom, who was able to go home and come up with that arrangement. Chris had this idea about starting it with just bass, nobody knows what’s going to happen, and then all of a sudden you hear this voice come in and people are like, okay what’s that? And then all of a sudden this big band takes your head off, you know? [Laughs]
That’s exactly how it hit me. And I wasn’t looking at the credits, so of course after I heard Michael McDonald singing “Moondance” I just assumed that he was going to be singing the next one because he wrote it. So that was another surprise, because you have Sara Barielles singing that.
I think “I Can Let Go Now” is one of the greatest tunes ever written.
Period. And when I go see him, and he sings it, you know, you just can’t stop weeping. [Laughs] The song is so emotional, I’m sure everybody can connect on some certain level, as Sara Barielles did. Actually her schedule was pretty crazy, and her management passed on her singing on it at first. We had sent her over the track that we cut with the orchestra, and when she heard it she called back and said “I’ve gotta sing on this. Let me figure out a time.” I think it was about a month later we were able to get her in the studio.
The song is so perfect, and it sounds like you kept the original string arrangement.
Yes. David Paich’s father, Marty Paich, did the original arrangement. I think one of the stories to the original was that the song was a demo, and that demo went on the album. So yeah, there’s like all this kind of connectivity, and of course when you say Michael McDonald, here’s a guy that can do no wrong in terms of singing. For me, he’s one of my all-time favorite singers, and musicians, and writers, and I can’t get enough. So when he said yes to doing the album, that’s when I first started thinking, okay this is gonna be great.
You recorded the Beatles’ “Yesterday” as a duo with your son on piano. What was that like, playing with your son and putting him on your album?
Chris Gero and I were in pre-production and Noah came by the studio, he had just come from piano lessons. Chris said to him “What did you learn, what are you working on?”, and so Noah went over and played “Yesterday”. As soon as Chris heard him play he said “That has to go on the record”. We went in the studio and he had practiced, and I tell you what, I couldn’t have been more proud. He went in there and nailed it. I think it was the first take.
Wow, he sounds great. How old is he by the way?
How long has he been playing?
He’s been playing for about 6 or 7 years. Let me see, he started when he was about five. Boy, the years go by quicker than I can keep up. I discovered that he had perfect pitch when he was about five. You can literally bang out any chord and he’ll tell you every note in the chord.
The tune “Madiba“ is one of my favorites on the album. At one point it breaks into a huge choir chanting thing, and then seems to cut to a live section. First, what is the chanting? What are they actually saying?
Well, the chanting part is kind of Latin, and I have no idea what they’re saying. And the sing-along scat part is like a soft African-feeling thing. Chris Gero, unbeknownst to me, went in with his whole staff and started singing that, and doubling and tripling it, and he made it sound like it was in this big stadium. When I heard it, it just brought a smile to my face, it was so much fun. And of course, Madiba was the tribal name given to Nelson Mandela. I wanted to have that because the song had this soft African-Brazilian world feel to it, so I thought it was appropriate. The song becomes this 8-minute-plus journey.
It is a journey, and I think you have three separate bass solos going on. [Laughs] Again, you know, this is why having a producer really makes sense because Chris had to beg me just to do the second bass solo. I was like, “No, you know, I’m already playing a solo.” I played one on the tracking date, and then I came back and overdubbed one, and then he said, “Well just put some solo down, and see if you don’t like what I put together”. And so he put that together, and I thought, man I can’t argue. My brother Marcel heard it and said if you put Earth, Wind & Fire, Weather Report and Pat Metheny in a blender, that would be the song. [Laughs].
You’re soloing on both the 5-string and the 6-string in the tune.
Right, exactly. And the third one’s actually from the tracking date on the 5-string. I like the way the tune takes you on this journey and then it morphs into this live thing, and pretty seamlessly as well. You know, you start out with this nice studio track and it was fun to be able to say, okay… there are no rules so let’s do this.
Are your Yamaha 5-string and 6-strings basically the same sound-wise, or are they distinctly different?
Sound-wise, they are distinctly different. My 6, which is a TRB 6, has a very pointed sort of Jaco-esque sound that I can get on there, and whenever it’s time to solo that’s what I like to play, it’s got all the warmth. In theory I should be able to match sounds on either one of those instruments if I tweak everything the same, but on the 6-string I‘m able to get a little more pointed punch out of it.
Speaking of Jaco, you end the album with “America The Beautiful”, and it’s so beautifully done. When I first heard the tune start, I was thinking, well Jaco did this, he already did a solo bass version. But then you just took it to a whole different place with the orchestra. Tell me what it was like recording that one.
It was again surreal and like a dream to sit in the center of this orchestra. I love Jaco’s version, so in fooling around with that I was thinking okay, where can I take it, you know? What can I do that takes it to another level? And so we were in pre-production and started to think, wouldn’t it be great to have an orchestra play this lush string part. So I just started coming up with a lot of those different sections and modulations and ideas. It was me, Chris and Lendall Black, a great string arranger who’s actually doing all the string arrangements on the record. And so we just kind of talked through where it would be fun to go, without any type of rules or regulations. As sort of an afterthought, because I was running out of stuff to play for the very last chorus, I thought, hey wait a second– choir! [Laughs] It was beautiful. I just wanted it to be very anthemic and reverent, and hopefully be able to find its own space like Ray Charles’ version did.
I mentioned to Chris Gero that listening to “America The Beautiful” was like imagining closing credits at the end of a movie. You go through this whole journey of the album, and then you have that come in, and I can envision the credits scrolling down the screen. In fact, Chris said to me that he envisioned every song on the album as a mini-movie.
He just had this big cinematic vision in his mind and that these things should be epic, it should take your breath away. I was just appreciative that he had that kind of high standard because when you go in and do a record you want to nail it and make it good, you know, but he wasn’t going to stop at that. He said “Nope, I want your breath to be out of your body after you hear this thing.”
Are you going to be going out promoting the solo album and doing gigs?
Absolutely, I already have a couple of offers right here in Japan, which is great. And we’re talking about putting together a Fall tour and recreating some of the record.
A fall tour in Japan?
Actually, a States tour. That’s the next logical phase. Sometimes I think about it like a Quincy Jones album, where you have all these guests and so how do you recreate it live? But at least there’s enough musical stuff that I’m playing on there that we can play a lot of the things live, and if I’m able to get Michael McDonald or Sara Barielles or somebody to show up at one the gigs, that would just be a bonus.
I have one final question for you. On your website you have a link to Lancair, and I had no idea what that was before I clicked on it.
Well, then I clicked on the link and I remembered that you’re also a pilot. Tell me about that part of your life, because that’s something most people will never experience.
Yeah, I’m a Lancair IV-P owner, and it’s a beautiful little pressurized 4-seater single engine that goes 330 some-odd miles an hour. I set a speed record in it back in 2003 that still holds as the fastest single engine piston, and I did Phoenix to San Diego in one hour at 312 knots. So you’re streaking through the sky pretty quickly.
There’s no chance of you being late to a gig anywhere, I guess. [Laughs] Exactly. You’re early! It’s like a little time machine actually when you think about it.
Do you get nervous when you’re up there flying?
No. I mean, you have to be respectful and diligent in your pilot skills, but it’s something that as soon as you pull the thing off the ground and you’re up there, it just takes your mind into a whole ‘nother space and it’s fantastic. It’s something very, very special.
I guess the same discipline that you apply to becoming a great bass player also applies to being a great pilot, right? I mean, the two experiences appear to be polar opposites, but maybe not.
Yeah, I do think there’s a correlation between them. I’ve taken Wayne Shorter up, and a few of my friends and artists, and let them have a go, and it’s interesting. Artists are pretty smooth pilots, you know.
PRODUCER CHRIS GERO TALKS ABOUT NATHAN EAST’S “AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL”:
(I had the opportunity to speak to Chris Gero at Nathan’s CD release performance. As we talked about the album, he happened to mention this fascinating back-story regarding Nate’s stunning rendition of the song. I did not even want to attempt to put it into my own words for this article, so I reached out to Chris. Thankfully, he was happy to share it again.)
We wanted to pay brief respect to Jaco’s version but then let it unfold to a very complex and gorgeous production. The key to this was making sure that Nate’s performance was not overplayed. The bass is sure a delicate instrument to solo on and I needed him to express his emotion like walking on rice paper and really understate his ability.
Nathan is such a remarkable observer and absorber of the human experience. He is an amazing person. He accepts and views everything with an amazing childlike openness to all in front of him. He has such a positive attitude and spirit and it’s reflected in this record.
He is also incredibly patriotic and loves this country. He doesn’t take anything for granted and celebrates the hard steps walked by all in our collective pasts.
He is a huge history buff as am I. We often spoke over the phone about our pasts and how this country was shaped and all who fought to earn what we have today. So when “America The Beautiful” was being recorded, I wanted Nate to really absorb the environment he was going to make his statement in.
I’ve spent the last 20 years in Franklin TN, which was where one of the last great battles of the civil war was fought and where nearly 7,000 men died. I wanted to present the idea of hope and future and adversity over the idea of freedom.
I am an avid collector of American flags. One of my prized possessions is a beautiful and beaten 35-star American flag that was made during the war, which Nathan often commented on. I told him that at the time this flag was made, eleven of the states that were represented in this flag had left the union. He often commented that he was amazed by the belief that the union would prevail by the makers of the flag and the fortitude and beliefs on both sides of the fight.
I decided to take him to the museum of the battle of Franklin and subsequently to the largest private civil war cemetery in the US. Being from Canada, I myself have been fascinated by US history and the place I live. I wanted to introduce to him the idea that regardless of what we view to be right or wrong, these men fought against each other to protect their own freedoms, and although slavery is reprehensible, brother fought brother for the right to express their unique and individual rights and as a direct result of this conflict, this gradually paved the road in which Nathan walks today.
This was a pretty remarkable experience for the two of us. Nathan absorbed the full experience and walked the very ground where thousands fought to protect our future. Nathan and I have been brothers for 20 years and what is remarkable about him is his amazing ability to absorb all sides and represent all interests. He is a true ambassador of music.
Nathan is the best of all of us.
NATHAN’S ALBUM GEAR:
- Yamaha BBNE-2 Signature 5-String Bass
- Yamaha TRB 6-String Bass
- Yamaha SLB-200 Silent Bass (Upright)
- Radial Engineering Firefly Tube DI (Direct Box)
- TC Electronic Blacksmith Amplifier
- Jim Dunlop Strings
- j-phonic in-ears
- Yamaha HPH-MT220 Headphones
- Phil Jones Bass Headphones
NATHAN EAST LINKS:
Rick Suchow would like to thank Dani Frank, Shore Fire Media, Chris Gero, Bob James, Tom Scott and Valery Amador for their help with this article. Photos by Kharen Hill.