Bassist Edo Castro – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson
Who are you, and what do you do?
My Name is Edo Castro. I’m a bassist, composer and arranger. I’ve been at this for almost 40 years! There was a time I did play music for a living… But, I resented the fact that I had to be a human juke box to make money playing music. So, after 30 years, I decided that what I want to do is play creative original music… and not have a dollar amount attached to which gig paid the most and ignore creative non-paying, or low-paying, “artistic” gigs. I now have a day-gig that suits my creative instincts, and I can afford the luxury of playing non-commercial music. I am much happier for this!
Who are your primary musical influences?
My influences are varied… But, the core of my musical interests started with my Uncle, Reice Hamel. He was a remote recording pioneer who started in the mid-to-late 1950’s. I received my first Jazz records from him at the age of 9 or 10 years of age, and I was never the same after that! That very first album was Ahmad Jamal’s album called “Nake City Theme” recorded at the now defunct Purple Onion in San Francisco’s North Beach area. I also managed to listen to the sounds of the 60’s R&B, Folk, Classical and Pop scene.
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 been listening to a lot of guitarist like Ralph Towner, Pat Metheny, Wolfgang Muthespiel, John Abercrombe and Terje Rypdal. Actually, they’ve been a staple of my listening for several years now. Since taking-on the 7-string bass guitar exclusively, I’ve looked to guitarist as a guide to how I design my craft on the instument. Since the emergence of the ERB, there has been a multi-faceted range of players that have exploded on the scene. All great players… Though, not what I’m seeking. What I am looking for doesn’t exist in the realm of the existing “chapman stick technique” – which, many ERB players have adopted. What I’m going after is somewhere in the tradition between a pianist and a guitarist. I love what my peers are doing and I openly encourage them. But, that is them… and this is me.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
I approach the bass as a compositional tool, looking at how it affect the harmony of a piece of music. I still manage the traditional aspects of groove and, more importantly, what note choices make the most musical impact when in a supportive role – rather than a “riff” automated responses to a musical situation. Many bassists react to a musical situation rather than listening before responding. It’s an aquired skill, and not many players are even aware they’re doing it.
As far as my instuments… I reach for an instrument in my collection based on how they sound for the given musical situation. That said, I have a standard “go to” bass: my 7-string Stinger Bee Bass (made by Fred Bolton). For some reason, his necks stay straight and I rarely need to adjust them. Plus, there’s a sound that’s not typically “bass” sounding that I like about them. If there’s a sound or term I’d used it’s very “guitaristic” in quality. Which is good, because I can adjust my tone to fit the musical textures around me! This bass has wonderful lows and highs… but the timbres are much different than a typical “Fender-sounding” bass guitar. I rarely slap, so there’s something unique in my approach to a standard Funk tune.
Describe your musical composition process.
At this time, I’m experiencing 2-year dry spell as far as composing is concerned.
The first process begins with a melody that doesn’t present any particular harmony. Then, I begin writing content without an instrument on hand. I use my writing skills and technique to make sense of what I hear. After that process, I play the music and make changes if something doesn’t suit my first pass over the material.
My second process is creating a chord sequence that I love, and then writing the rest of the music around it. Usually this produces either the end of a song, or a beginning of a song. Still other times I will begin with a bass line that I’ve created (or stolen, and then edited for my use). Finally, I’ll see a title of a song in my head, and then write a song around it.
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
It’s difficult to see the long terms effects… My culture is American, and my people are of the earth. People have told me over the years that when they seek a quiet sanctity or “chill out”, my music serves them well. I had a Facebook friend show me a picture of his pregnant wife who was listening to one of my releases (“Phoenix”), with the headphones to her belly! That must mean something… I guess. I’m flattered that they reached out to me to express to me how I impacted their lives.
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
I lead a double life as previously mention. I have a day-gig and I play music. There is an interesting video of John McLaughlin called “The State of the Musical Arts” www.youtube.com/watch?v=utqp7ECKUl0 and he metions the various things he’s done to be a musician. He encourages other players that they must be willing to do whatever it takes to play their music.The music industry is not what it was 25-years ago, and most players do not have the opportunities that existed when the industry was in it’s heyday.
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
I’ve gone through several marriages… I’ve been mere steps from homelessness, and I’ve lived hand-to-mouth for too many years – before making the changes I have made in my life. I lived in a friends walk-in closet, on the fourth floor of a studio appartment, for two years. None of that was romantic, or ideal! But, it was my life at that time.
Everyone doubts desire, but love the idealistic romantic view, of choosing a life of music. But when reality hits (bills need paying, buying or renting a home, etc.) being broke, or making $50.00 a night, becomes unappealing and not very romantic very quickly. It’s a strong reason not to be an artist… but it is the life I chose. I don’t regret any of it, in hindsight. I’m still here, and I’m playing the music that means something to me and not doing the,“monkey with a tin cup in hand while the organ grinder plays” gigs to survive.
I was quite bitter about the whole thing for quite a while. Then, one day, it occurred to me what I wanted to do. So, because of what I had gone through, that decisionput me on my current path. The outcome is yet to be seen. In the emantime, I’m living comfortably knowing that I don’t know what comes next… except continuing to play music!
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
I practice every evening for 2-hours every day. My approach varies with warm-ups and then focused techniques. Some days I’m investigating chord voicings, while other days I’m working on my reading skills (which always need improving). Other times, it’s arppegios of chords.
This has been my regime for the last 35-plus years. Early in my development I use to practiced 6-to-8 hours each day, and it took years for me to see any improvement. With just 2-hours, I see the benefits more quickly. I’m more efficient with my time, and I don’t have long term goals except to be focused on whatever it is I’m doing at the time. I have a tendency to wander after 2-hours, and I’ve learned that being “in life” is just as important to practicing.
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
It is a calling, like anything else. We do this because it is important to us on all levels of our being. For me, it is what I love! Music is part of my life as a listener and as a player – because I was a listener before I was a player! Listening is a core technique for being a great musician, and music is the wordless description of my emotional state. It is the soundtrack for what cannot be described in words.
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
I am self-taught. But, I know the importance understand music. Every musiciaj must have some basic concepts of the language. Being “self-taught” doesn’t make anyone an expert – whether you are famous, or not. It is very important to be literate… in any endeavor you choose.
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
Interestingly enough my release “Sacred Graffiti” was heavily influenced by my living in Berkeley CA at the time I wrote that material. I lived on the edge of Berkeley – where the borders of Oakland Berkeley touch one another. The urban landscape was inescapable there.The title of that CD was inspired by the profound wordage scrawled beneath freeways, and on walls, sidewalks and rocks. It was also inspired by sirens blaring in the middle of the night, and gun shots being fired nearby.
The music was also inspired by the timeless beauty that was around me, despite the cacaphony of urban carnage that prevailed outside the confines of my house. I spent a lot of time trying to block all this out. But, at some point, I allowed it to prevail and just let those situations and circumstances influence my moment.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
With the advent of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and othe bands that have sustained a multi-generational influence… I would say “YES!” Music has become truly “commercial” when we see all the T-shirts that display the names of bands that existed 30-40 years ago! The mere fact that we have talent shows for people to propel themselves into the limelight is commercialism at it’s best. Everyone profits from these things! But it’s mostly the ones footing the bill who cash in on that monetary success… and it’s the monetary success that fuels that particular type of music as commercial. The real question is do any of us want to be at that status of “Commercial” by it’s definition.
I myself like the idea of being paid handsomely for playing the type of music that is of interest to me. Unfortunately, the genre of music I chose to pursue has no popularity in mainstream America. Maybe, in Europe… But, definitely not here in the US.
But to answer the original question… Yes. Music is, and will be, viably commercial when the particular musical genre appeals to the masses. Music will not be commercial if the genre doesn’t have mass appeal.