Bassist Tim Paul Weiner on Why Is Music Important…
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Tim Paul Weiner (pronounced “WHY-ner”). My friends call me Tim-Paul, or “TP”. I’m an electric bassist, songwriter and composer. I am originally from the Midwest… But, I’ve been living in Boston since 2000. I’m a Berklee College of Music Film Scoring/Bass Performance graduate, and I have a Master’s Degree, in Modern American Music, from the Longy School of Music at Bard College.
Who are your primary musical influences?
I would say my biggest musical influence is Miles Davis. Next to him, it’s Jaco Pastorius and John Coltrane. But, I got hip to both of them through Miles. One of my professors (and good friend) theorist, Peter J. Evans, hipped me to using the analogy of influences as rhizomes – with their chance roots all stemming back to a main source. This analogy is a great way for me to visualize – tracing back through influences and where they all started and what influences blossomed from them-sort of like tracing a family tree… But, with musical milestones! In my musical journey, I can almost trace all my jazz influences eventually back to Miles! Miles is the whole deal! He was the guy who played acoustic bop and then went on to modal music; then electric rock and funk-influenced, groove-based music, and then pop music… and he did all of it at the highest level! Miles achieved some of the most iconic jazz recordings in history. He was a purist at times. Then, he’d throw all the conventions aside when he needed to create something new! He was a true maverick! At one point, he was a bop icon – using only acoustic players. Then, one day, he said, “screw it!” and made music with some of the best electric jazz musicians in the pantheon of jazz music.
For example, take into consideration the album, Kind of Blue. I got turned on to John Coltrane by listening to that record! Through Coltrane, I got turned onto acoustic bassist Jimmy Garrison. Through Jimmy Garrison, I got turned on to Jimmy’s son, bassist Matt Garrison! Matt’s music changed everything for me! His playing and writing opened up so many doors to what could be done on the electric bass…much like when I first heard Jaco Pastorius. Sure, I definitely would’ve heard of Matt outside of this particular rhizome. But, his rhizome would lead directly back to Miles – through his dad and Coltrane! It is interesting to see, in my experience, how much of my personal musical formation relates back to Miles.
Through listening to Miles I got hip to Herbie Hancock, (which hipped me to bassist Paul Jackson), Chic Corea, (which hipped me to bassist Stanley Clarke), John McLaughlin, (which hipped me to bassists Kai Eckhardt, Jonas Hellborg and Hadrien Feraud).
Then, there is Bill Evans, (which hipped me to bassist Scott LaFaro), Joe Zawinul, (which hipped me to Jaco), Mike Stern, (which hipped me to bassists Tom Kennedy and Richard Bona! Then, of course, I need to mention (bassists) Marcus Miller, Darryl Jones, and Michael Henderson, and all of those influences have led to countless other influences as rhizomes themselves.
In addition to the bassists listed above, I grew up in the 80’s so that time period was very musically influential.
A partial list of bassists who have influenced me and continue to inspire me would be Larry Graham, Mark King, Paul Denman, Brian Bromberg, Doug Wimbish, Mark Egan, Oteil Burbridge, Janek Gwizdala, Tony Grey, Steve Jenkins, Victor Wooten, and all the cats who I studied with when I was in school. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for those folks!
What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
I’ve always listened to other instrumentalists and been able to take something away from listening to them. Lately, I’ve been honing in on some of my favorite contemporary jazz guitarists, and how they approach standard tunes and chord voicing. Guitarists Tim Miller, Adam Rogers, Jonathan Kriesberg, Pat Martino and Peter Bernstein are the players I’m listening to most recently. I’ve always been intrigued with alternate voicing on piano and guitar, and how the same chord voiced differently can change the feel of a tune, or tone of a passage or inspire a new harmony that can be superimposed and used to improvise over it.
Ironically enough (from the other side of my brain), I have a guilty pleasure: I’ve always been a fan of electronica – especially Lounge and Chill-Out!
Sometimes I just want to relax and get in a vibe and keep it steady while I’m working on something or working out, cooking, or driving. I’m a huge “ostinato guy”, and sometimes I don’t want to analyze or visualize music. I just like the drone and the pulse of it… and much of electronica’s wheelhouse is built around the ostinato. I do prefer electronica with some jazz harmony, and a lot of the production is pretty interesting to me in how they create different densities, and build up layers and take away layers to manipulate the dynamic.
The music can be very sparse and very dense at the same time, and songs and grooves seem to blend organically from one to the other. So there’s no resolution… just a constant flow. I really dig that, and I really dig the electronic-live, human interaction!
When I first started seriously getting into playing, I was greatly influenced by Doug Wimbish and his group Tackhead. They had a lot of this electronic-human deal going on back then, and they used a lot of this same layering, building and taking away layers to create tension and release – which, has always been a big part of my writing. I’ve definitely been trying to incorporate the dense-yet-sparse approach in my writing, and I’d eventually like to reflect more of that “flow” live, with my group, the Evoke Ensemble.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
A musician’s personal musical voice on their instrument is a reflection of all of the musical influences they’ve gathered throughout their life. Whether, they’re self taught and learned by ear (as I was before I went back to school later in life)… Or, whether they’ve spent a lifetime formally studying music from a young age, we’re all a product of our influences. As for myself, and for many of my peers, the inherent function of the bass as a supporting role will always be there – particularly when you are being employed by someone else to play. At the same time, bassists today are expected to go above and beyond what is expected of most other instrumentalists. We’re expected to do our supportive role 98% of the time. But, at any given moment, we need to be able to become a lead voice; improvise with a certain degree of sophistication, manipulate the harmony, play chords, artificial harmonics, slap, tap, have a handful of face- melting chops, play unison Be-Bop lines with the facility of a horn player, or play completely contrapuntal rhythmic lines (sometimes while actually singing)! In addition to what I just said, we’re often expected to all that on a completely separate, additional instrument: the double bass! We’re, sort of, expected to keep all this in check and only unleash it 2% of the time… and only at someone else’s discretion! This isn’t a complaint, mind you, it’s just an observation that illustrates how awesome an instrument the bass is, and how far it’s come in the last 30-years! It is really cool to be a bass player today!
We’re the only ones in an ensemble who are constantly playing, besides the drummer! The difference is that the drummer may-or-may-not know (and isn’t expected to hear) what an auxiliary augmented Lydian scale is, in order to improvise with it! That’s a joke… but, not really!
As far as my gear… I’m a Fodera artist and I play Aguilar amplification. My main instrument is a custom 34-inch scale, Fodera Imperial 5 String Elite. It is a neck-through bass guitar with a mahogany body, walnut heel block, 3-piece Ash neck, Ebony fingerboard, Ebony ramp, and a Hawaiian Koa flame top, with Seymour Duncan, vintage, dual coil pickups. It is unapologetically the best bass for me to express my craft! I truly support what the folks at Fodera. They have done and continue to make the best possible instrument they can. I’ve been an endorsee since 2006 and they’ve been nothing if not World-Class in what they do. They literally treat you like extended family! At this writing, they are in the process of making a 6-string bass for me that should be done sometime in the spring of 2015. I really dig the single cutaway shape… So, the new bass is another Imperial Elite. The differences are a shorter scale, and a different wood configuration. I’ve been drawn to the fretted 6-string lately because of the range, timbre and chordal possibilities which work well in both aspects of performing and for writing my own music. It has opened up to a whole other world for me!
My other bass is a Fender 70’s re-issue Jazz Bass, which I put Bartolini pickups in and added a Gotoh bridge to. I had never owned a Fender bass until about four years ago, because I had never found one that was comfortable for me to play. One of my students let me play their Mexican Fender Jazz and I really dug it! So, I started looking into them. I chose the Fender 70’s re-issue J because I love the vintage look. I also got the instrument because I’ve always been drawn to Fender basses… and every bass player needs a Fender, right? Also, I don’t like to travel with my Fodera – especially these days with all the reports you hear about airlines and how they treat instruments! The Bartolinis replaced the original J pickups because I was looking for a more sophisticated sound than the originals offered. To my ear, the original pickups sounded very “rock”… not that that’s a bad thing. It just wasn’t what I was looking for. I replaced the bridge because the one that came with it wasn’t great and I needed more sustain. I do fantasize about having the real, vintage Jazz Bass like most bass players… but I’m really happy with my J-Bass.
Describe your musical composition process.
My musical composition process can come from just about anywhere! Mostly, I write my music on the bass. I’m also an advocate for singing what I play on my instrument. If I can hear something in my head, and am able to translate that to my bass, it’s more cohesive of an idea than if I’m just noodling and stumble across something. Although, sometimes, that can be magical as well! Even though I’m not a great pianist, or guitarist, I write on both piano and guitar. Sometimes being out of your comfort zone can ignite inspiration! When melodies or bass lines have just popped into my head, I use the voice memo app on my phone and file them away until I’m near an instrument. Back in the day, I kept all my ideas on cassettes, and I had an old boom box with a cassette recorder and I would record the bass line and play the melody. After recoding, I would begin transcribing the idea onto paper. I basically do the same thing today. Now, technology allows me the freedom to stop at anytime and record an idea that’s preserved and recallable.
For the last few years I’ve incorporated a looper into a part of my compositional process, because I can perform what I hear in my head on my bass better than I can on another instrument. This process is more intuitive for me, to perform all the parts on my bass and then transcribe them to other instruments, than vice-versa. I also use Digital Performer to flesh-out and demo my ideas more thoroughly. I can have a great A section, and then remember a B section from another idea, and then copy and paste that info into the original idea. That process has led to a song’s growth more often than not. I also see that Garage Band is becoming more sophisticated. I learned DP while studying Film Scoring at Berklee, and it basically does the same thing Garage Band does… and I already know how to use DP!
I transcribe all of my ideas by hand and then plug them into Finale. It’s a good way for me to keep track of things and commit to an idea. Loading everything into Finale can be tedious! So if I’m at that point, I know the piece must be a keeper. In 2012 I released my first solo album, Groove for Peace with my group, the Evoke Ensemble. All of the tunes on that album were written on bass and/or piano.
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
My immediate environment is directly affected by music, as I work at Berklee College of Music. Because of this, most of the decisions I’m making are related to a music performance or affect a musical situation. I’m also an active teacher in Boston, so I like to think I am influencing the next generation of bassists in a positive way. I’m an active performer, as well, and I play in about a dozen different groups – including being the house bassist for two churches on the Massachusetts South Shore. My daily environment is surrounded by music! Working and living a few blocks from Berklee, New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory and Boston College, you can see how the culture is affected by music just walking around! Boston is alive with music, from the impromptu student street musicians, the buskers on the subway, to walking down the street randomly hearing people practicing anything from opera, flute, piano, guitar, to full band rehearsals.
Down a few blocks from where I live is the Hatch Shell, which is where they broadcast the Boston Pops live July 4th concert and fireworks. During the summer, I take my kids for walks down by the river where the Hatch Shell is located and we’ve seen everything from nationally touring acts to local community orchestras. Newbury Street is the trendy shopping street in town and it’s about 2-blocks away. Finally, all summer long there are Berklee cats jamming anything from bluegrass, full-on funk, singer-songwriter music, and a capella groups. There are also a few really talented street percussionists who perform on buckets, and pots and pans around town that really get a decent crowd going. I’m walking distance from Wally’s Café, one of the last remaining true jazz clubs from that earlier jazz era, and some of the top musicians in town are there every night of the week. Not to mention that Symphony Hall and Fenway Park are each a mere few blocks away. There are big-name concerts throughout the summer every year like The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Jason Aldean, and Sir Paul McCartney… just to name a few. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out at night walking my dogs and caught myself listening to what felt like a private concert from a few blocks away.
There are several high-end hotels within a few a few blocks where all the stars stay. Being so close to Berklee, I’ve passed so many musicians and heroes of mine just walking around the neighborhood! Some memorable people I’ve seen are Stanley Clarke, John Patitucci, Steve Smith, John Clayton, Bobby McFerrin, Stu Hamm, and John Williams! They’re just getting in and out of cabs or walking through the same crosswalk as me. It’s really wild, and also surreal at times!
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
My whole life I’ve been a creative person, and art has shaped me since I can remember. I went to art school, in Los Angeles, right out of high school on a scholarship as a fine artist. But, I dropped out after a year to play music. I also worked professionally in a kitchen for a long time… while playing music at night. Cooking and being around good food has always been a huge, and wonderful, creative part of my life. Though, I couldn’t see myself doing it for a living anymore. I actually have a food blog where I post recipes and anecdotes! But, cooking for a living eventually made me grumpy. I’ve been working so hard my whole life at being a well-rounded musician that I don’t want to think of having to do something else!
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
The biggest sacrifice is what I think most musicians and artists sacrifice… and that would be: following a trusted life path, living a normal existence, and being close to family. My journey took me away from all that. Even so, I wouldn’t trade being a musician for the world! I have no regrets. To me, being an artist is intrinsically one of the most rewarding and fulfilling lives a person could lead. Artists give us our culture. They reveal our human inadequacies, and they bring people closer together, and they heal our suffering. Art is a large part of what makes our lives worth living. I’m lucky and grateful to be a dad and husband and to have been able to start a beautiful, healthy, immediate family, later in life. In our home, music and art is a large part of our everyday lives. Thank goodness for technology, as it’s much easier to keep in touch with family and still feel close. I still miss my small town roots and being around my big family, and the security and simplicity that comes with that lifestyle.
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
I long for the halcyon days of all-day practice sessions, but they are long gone. Most of my practicing, when I have time, is spent on improvising – maintaining my chops, working on sight reading, and transcribing. Playing over changes and learning new heads is always something I try to fit into my spotty “routine”. Rhythm Changes, Giant Steps, and Inner Urge are tunes I never stop studying. Taking different approaches to these tunes and tunes like them is what I like to spend time on. Transcribing other players’ approach to licks… as well as figuring out my own! Be-Bop heads, and the Omni Book, are also something I’m continuously working on.
I’m always learning new tunes for folks that I play with, and for students. That’s where most of my transcribing comes into play these days. I think reading music is a lifelong task, especially if you’re like me and didn’t start reading music at a young age. I try to spend some time on that as much as possible – even if it’s just opening a real book at random and reading through a melody. Sometimes, I read through a bass clef book, or magazine, and reading though written lines. My practice time has turned into what I read about Wes Montgomery’s practicing situation, when he had a day job and a family. Any practicing I do is at a whisper – as I’m either doing it in the morning before anyone else is up, or late at night, when everyone else is asleep. I use the free Amplitude app on my phone, which isn’t ideal, but is a beautiful thing. I like to think Wes would’ve dug it!
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
I believe that the best musician is not only the best for obvious reasons, but also because of their innate ability to empathize with the human condition, and through their art evoke emotions within us with grace and humility. Artists who can expand their field and open our eyes through creating something new and vibrant while still paying homage to the past. I feel like I am in constant pursuit of that path.
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
I’m ambivalent about the whole “understanding of” the language of music. Not formally studying obviously doesn’t take away from someone who is innately talented and just because you can graduate from a music school doesn’t make anyone a great musician by any means.
For me, studying music formally through a graduate level was a personal commitment to myself. I come from a background of academia, my dad and both of my brothers are surgeons and scholars and at the top of their field. I think that influence might’ve had a lot to do with my decision to study formally. After struggling to find my way artistically, I really needed to focus and commit to honing my craft! The only way I saw to do that was to put all my eggs in one basket and apply to the best school in the world that could allow me to study that intensely as an electric bass player. It was the best decision I could’ve made! But, I understand that doesn’t make me any more of an artist than the guy finding his way around his instrument in his basement at his parents’ home. That WAS me, at a point in my life! I just had a burning desire to embrace the academic part, and to try to understand what it was I was actually doing and hearing musically. I wanted to immerse myself in my instrument and music as a whole and study formally. That has made me a better musician, artist, teacher, learner, person, and its made me a more fulfilled individual. I now know so much more about myself, my strengths, my fears, and how strong the power of my will is. After graduating and working for a few years, I wanted to get back into teaching formally, and I wanted to seriously study improvisation on another level. I sought out some improvisation gurus around town and one of those folks was Charlie Bonacos, a legendary improviser and teacher in the New England area, who has taught so many of my friends and musical heroes. Charlie had a two-year-long waitlist at the time! But, he assured me that if I put my name on the list, he’d call when the next opening was available. I called every few months to check my status and he graciously gave it to me. After a year of being persistent, he told me that he was faculty and taught improvisation at a conservatory in Cambridge called Longy, and that if I applied and got into the jazz program there (which was called the MAM program, or Modern American Music program) that I could formally study with him and I wouldn’t have to wait out the dreaded waitlist! I didn’t have the confidence to apply at the time and ironically Charlie passed away suddenly before I ever got to study with him.
About a year later I remembered our conversation and cold-called Longy. I talked with Peter Cassino, Charlie’s friend who co-founded the MAM program, and we set up on audition. My pursuit of knowledge manifested itself into two degrees and two student loans! All kidding aside… having these degrees has opened doors that would’ve never been available to me, and it opened other doors I never even knew existed.
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
It’s a lifelong process. I think my brain is still processing Jaco’s version of Donna Lee! Sure, I learned how to play it a while ago. But, to be able to understand where he’s coming from with that recording is something I’ve been trying to get just a tiny grasp on for 20+ years!
Some influences only come out through practice, repetition and muscle memory. We have to assimilate it and dilute it into our own playing so we don’t sound like a carbon copy. I think that’s some of the hardest aspects about being an artist! Other influences seem to be acquired through osmosis. It’s the intangible aspects that just become a part of us, somehow. We strive for our own voice on our instrument, but we learn from our heroes and want to emulate their sound, technique, or their approach. One can only do that by immersing themselves in that artist’s music. It’s a fine line between emulating someone’s sound and actually combining it with other influences and using it to contribute to your own sound. I think we all struggle with it in the beginning. It just takes time and the humility to realize that we need to move on if we get to that point where everyone tells you you’re great… while at the same time saying you sound just like so-and-so. People are programmed to compare our music or sound with someone else. It’s just a human quirk, and I see it happen everyday! I’m even guilty of it myself! I’ve had album reviews where my music was compared to folks I never really listened to, or someone I hadn’t even heard of. I think those types of comparisons, although strange at first, are some of the biggest compliments as it means you’re doing something right by assimilating all of your influences and using them discriminately enough that you aren’t just regurgitating information.
Musicians spend their whole lives absorbing influences… whether they are emotional influences, artistic influences, using sounds, voicing, fingerings, scales, songs, progressions, or tones. Acquiring specific instruments, amplifiers, strings, and/or effects is a very similar process. All of it is impossible to quantify. All these things, and many more, marinate and boil down over time, eventually into hopefully, ones’ own voice.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
I think certain types of music are definitely commercial. That is they are created – to be nothing more than a commodity-to be bought and sold, and to make a profit from. I get that. I just don’t particularly care for that kind of music. At one time I did – because I grew up listening to pop music, or the music that was on the radio: Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, the Stones, David Bowie, Journey… you know, completely commercial Album Oriented Rock-sold to the masses. That music was different from today’s pop music, whereas it was curated by “evil” record companies! But the talent was visceral and raw, and the music was original and played by human beings – not machines and plug-ins, and there was a craft involved… not a formula.
I didn’t start listening to jazz until I was in the jazz band at my high school. I didn’t know anything about jazz, except Kenny G and Chuck Mangione, because those were the dudes that got airplay. My jazz band needed a bass player, and word got out that I owned a bass, and I had a pulse. I was listening to Ella and Billie Holiday, because someone turned me onto it when I was young, and outside of my jazz friends no one knew or cared for it. Then a romantic comedy came out at the theater, and one of the love scenes features an Ella song! A year later, every one has an Ella Fitzgerald CD in their player! Is that a bad thing? Hell no, I don’t think so! It’s putting jazz in the public limelight. It’s putting real, raw talent and harmonic sophistication and style back in America’s ears, and it’s giving America back its heritage. If that’s a bad thing to some folks than so be it. Yes, it becomes commercial, (again) but I don’t think that negates the quality of the original recordings, or the style. People associate being commercial as “selling out” like it’s a bad thing. Again, it doesn’t diminish what you’ve done to get to that point. In some cases, it gives artists the resources to grow as creative forces. Or, even more so, it influences another generation to take it and create something new and vibrant, contributing to the art form.