Bassist Jon Nadel – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Jon Nadel. I’m the bass player in Marbin, a full-time touring Jazz-Rock band based in Chicago, where I’m from. I also play, on occasion, with a several other local bands.
Who are your primary musical influences?
My main influences are: Scott LaFaro from the Bill Evans Trio, and Jaco Pastorius from Weather Report. Both of them played actively while still providing a solid foundation for their bands. I often ask myself, “What would Jaco do?” But, then I remember I’m on a pop gig and I keep it simple.
What have you been listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
Lately I’ve been listening to Sting and Steely Dan. I love how every instrument has its place in the mix and adds to the big picture. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Neo-Soul and Fusion. All this has made me rethink my touch and EQ. I’m going for fullness and clarity in my tone.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
My main bass is my Mikey Convertible Fretted/Fretless 5-string. It’s built like a Fender Jazz bass. I set it up with three sounds on stage: Passive Fretted / Active Fretted, and Active Fretless. I can switch between them on a dime, so it’s supplanted touring with a pedal board. It’s the most versatile bass I’ve owned! It challenges me to use my hands to create a good tone for different styles. As for my personal voice, I’m still absorbing a variety of music. I’m hyper-aware of every sound that leaves my amp, and I hope what comes out is the best combination of the music I like. I hope it sounds like me.
Oh, and for the gear-nuts, I currently use an Ampeg SVT-6 Pro. I run that into a TC Electronic RS410 and RS210 stacked cabs.
My upright is a Romanian Calin Wultur, 7/8ths, Carcassi Model.
Describe your musical composition process.
It starts with a melody. I like to think about the interaction between every instrument and musical layer. But it’s all about creating a nice texture to support the melody.
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
I use music to alter my mood. I listen to Metal to pump myself up in the gym, Electronic/Hip Hop for long drives, and Bossa Nova when I want to pour a glass of wine and cook dinner.
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
I’d probably grow a beard down to my waist and do ecological conservation work in the middle of nowhere. I like trees.
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 always had a “say yes to everything” approach to gigging. I made lots of contacts and new friends this way. But being a pro-sideman, you don’t often choose when your gigs are. Consequently, I’ve missed graduations, weddings, birthdays, Jewish holidays etc. I even got dumped right before a cruise contract in the Caribbean. (Oh, and I’ve pissed off plenty of employers.) That being said, the people I’m close with now understand my priorities… and I love them for that.
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
When I practice, I like to isolate and target one aspect of my playing. I usually start playing rubato to a drone for intonation. I play scales, patterns, and free improvisations. Then I do metronome work, focusing on subdivisions and finger independence. Often, I’ll work on my right and left hand separately, and then put them together. There’s also a lot of song learning, riff maintenance, and just jamming out. Currently, I’m working a lot on getting my fretless playing really in tune.
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
To me, being a musician is finding a balance between art and entertainment. I have a strong respect for visual arts. The further I get into music, the more I’m able to identify with other forms of art and draw parallels. But, music has some special characteristics about it that creates social groups and counter-cultures, and brings people together. I have lots of theories as to what those special characteristics are. But I won’t list them here. People identify with certain sound patterns, and those patterns connect us around the world. It also connects us to our past, and it will connect us to future generations.
How important is it to understand the language of music?
There are so many dialects in “the language of music.” We’re all born into one of them. I grew up listening to Incubus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Playing bass really helped expand my worldview because so many genres use either a bass guitar or an upright. When I studied Jazz, Salsa, and Samba, I realized I was learning a second language. My vocabulary was infantile at first. It took a lot of listening and a lot of help from older musicians. When we play Fusion, we’re bringing in elements from all over. You have to keep some things authentic and recognizable while also attempting to make it edgy and new. It’s a tricky balance.
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
I find the words musicians use to describe sound to be very funny. When my bandleader asks me to “make it greasier”, I somehow know what he means. Sounds can be bright, dark, fat, thin, round, wet, dry etc. We’ve codified certain combinations of frequencies. These terms are pretty commonly accepted and they come from the world around us. They come from how people walk and talk, as well as from sounds animals make. I’m fascinated with musical imagery. When I’m trying to create a sonic space, I often think about different aspects of the four seasons or the four elements. Ok… that sounds a little out there! But, there are words and phrases associated with those metaphors. To a musician, those same words apply to sound and they can bring a composition to life.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
Live music isn’t going anywhere. There will always be an audience for musicians that pour their souls out through their instruments. That being said, commercial music is a very real thing. I don’t like everything I hear on the radio… but I don’t bitch about it either. Music is a language. People can speak truths or lies. There are actors who lie artistically (in a sense), and the audience recognizes it’s not reality. It’s fiction. So, it doesn’t bother me that some people like fake music. That’s just not what I do.