It took Fred Randolph many years to decide which instrument he wanted to play, but when he finally settled on the bass, he knew he had found his true, creative métier.
Randolph is now releasing MOOD WALK, his fourth CD as a leader. Each of his three previous albums received wide airplay and stellar reviews, including his 2015 release Song Without Singing, which All About Jazz called “An exquisite project from bassist Fred Randolph, whose talents as a composer and arranger are what truly makes Song Without Singing an engaging musical experience. Presenting straight-ahead, Latin, Brazilian, and Afro styled rhythms, Randolph designs a varied musical package that will appeal to the most discerning aficionado.”
Randolph grew up in Honolulu where he started taking ukulele lessons when he was very young.
At the time, every young guy wanted to be a rock star, so he switched to guitar when he was 11 years old because he wanted to emulate Jimi Hendrix. When he was in high school, he began listening to jazz albums such as “The Boss” by Jimmy Smith featuring George Benson and became fascinated with jazz harmony. It changed his musical direction forever, and he became a serious student of jazz guitar.
After high school, Randolph went to UC San Diego. He admits, “I really went there to surf. But after growing up by the beautiful, blue, warm water around Hawaii, the ocean was too cold in San Diego.” So, he switched schools and enrolled in UC Berkeley. One of his guitar teachers in San Diego had suggested he listen to sax players like Coltrane to expand his jazz vocabulary. Soon after his move north, he rented a sax from a pawn shop in Berkeley and became hooked. He put aside the guitar and spent the next 12 years playing the sax.
After so many years and too many bad casuals, Randolph felt it was time for a change.
He was always a quick study when it came to music, and he had taught himself bass one summer years ago to play in a band. Although he hadn’t played it in over a decade, someone who remembered him from those days asked him to play bass in his band. Soon, one gig led to another. By that time, he had gone back to school and was working on his master’s degree in Composition at CSU Hayward. Says Randolph. “I fell under the spell of the bass, captivated by its endless possibilities and sounds. The acoustic and electric basses became my main instruments, and I started to study intensively. I listened to all types of jazz solos on other instruments and adapted them to the bass.”
After receiving his M.A., he pursued his professional career as a bass player. At first, he co-led the jazz quintet, The Zone, for several years, composing most of the music for the group’s first CD Grand Canyon Blue. Although he is a jazz musician at heart, his musical interests encompass a wide palette, and he also spent two years as a member of the Diablo Symphony Orchestra while leading his own jazz groups.
Randolph has performed as a sideman in many genres, from rock to classical, from salsa and samba to jazz, and he feels that great music has common elements that transcend style.
Music should be relatable on an emotive level, and a strong melody is perhaps the most important element in a song. The way a melody is phrased should resemble the natural cadences of speech, but harmony also conjures emotions. Randolph encourages his students to infer the emotion that each, individual chord evokes.
These elements are well represented on MOOD WALK. Randolph composed all the tunes on the album. He frequently finds inspiration from other compositions when he writes. “I often start writing by listening to other music. However, by the time I’m done, whatever I write doesn’t sound at all like the tune that inspired me,” says Randolph.
Randolph’s band comprises some of the finest musicians in Northern California.
Each band member is a leader in his own right. Trumpeter ERIK JEKABSON and pianist DAN ZEMELMAN have been members of Randolph’s band just about from the beginning. The core of the band also includes woodwinds player SHELDON BROWN and GREG WYSER-PRATTE on drums. Randolph wanted to add other colors to the music, so he brought on board some special guests, including GREG SANKOVICH on keyboards and organ; SILVESTRE MARTINEZ, who Randolph met on the salsa circuit, on percussion; BRIAN RICE on percussion; and DILLON VADO on vibes.
The album opens with “On the Upside,” which was inspired by Clifford Brown’s upbeat music. Randolph wrote “Unaware,” inspired by Chick Corea, about people who walk through the streets unaware of their surroundings. “T-Bone Slide” has an R&B shuffle feeling influenced by drummer Bernard Purdie’s playing, especially in Steely Dan. “Strange Game” is about the music business. Randolph wrote it after listening to the latest album by the legendary David Crosby. The bluesy “Mood Walk” is followed by the Latin-tinged “Knowing.”
Coltrane Plays the Blues was the inspiration for “Mr. Now.” Randolph has been a big fan of Todd Rundgren and wrote “Todd’s Idea,” featuring the old school sound of a Wurlitzer electric piano. Listening to NPR one day, Randolph heard a group from the Congo playing the Ndombolo rhythm, which inspired him to write “Nouveau Monde.” “Meadows” is an impressionistic Latin waltz styled after Brazilian composer Guinga. Randolph closes the album with “Funky N.O. Thing.” He originally wrote this 2nd line groove for his group, The Zone, and wanted to record a new version of it. Everyone gets to solo on the tune.
Randolph has always loved the power, valor, energy, and confidence of jaguars, which had spiritual significance in Pre-Columbian, Meso-American cultures. That’s why he used a painting of one on the cover of the CD. MOOD WALK was inspired by its beauty, mesmerizing movements, and mystery.
MOOD WALK is set for release in June 2020, and will be available at Amazon, iTunes, and everywhere.
Visit online at Fredrandolph.com