London-born bass ace tells FBPO how he conquered both NYC and LA while providing a few educational “Rufus-isms” to boot!
A native of London, England, Rufus Philpot relocated to New York City in order to pursue his musical vision. Shortly after his arrival, Rufus became a much sought-after bassist, demonstrating his total command of the instrument, whether it be on fretted, fretless, four-, five- or six-string.
In 2004, Rufus moved to Los Angeles, where he became musical director for the acid jazz group Down to the Bone. He has also toured with his own band, K.P.H., which featured Greg Howe on guitar and Will Kennedy on drums.
Rufus has performed and/or recorded with Allan Holdsworth, Tony MacAlpine, Scott Henderson, Mitch Forman, Steve Weingart, Gary Husband, Joel Rosenblatt, Chad Wackerman, Simon Phillips, Gary Novak, Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, Al Di Meola, Scott Kinsey, Kirk Covington, Bill Evans, David Gilmore and many others. He continues to be an active performer and educator throughout the U.S. and abroad.
FBPO: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
RP: A mix of formal and street so to speak. Guildhall School of Music & Drama and then the mean streets of London’s jazz scene in the ’90s.
FBPO: How did you become a bass player?
RF: I started listening to AC/DC, Elvis Costello and Weather Report and that got me interested in playing the bass. Also, hearing Sting, Bruce Thomas, who was the bassist in the Attractions, and of course Jaco. Actually, I found a bass lying on the floor of the school concert hall one day and tried plucking those huge metal strings. That was it!
FBPO: What prompted you to move from London to New York? That was a rather bold move, wasn’t it?
RF: I guess it was! I had fallen completely in love with New York after my first trip in ’96 and from then I couldn’t wait to get back. I really loved the ethnic diversity of the city’s music scene and the fact that so many world-class players were performing and jamming in tiny local clubs and bars. Totally happening! In fact, within a day of sitting in after moving there, I landed a gig playing a special on BET with Mark Whitfield, Hector Martignon and Willard Dyson, great players all.
My first six months there found me playing with musicians from Africa, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico! A complete blast! Of course I learnt something about each music’s culture on every single gig. Actually, one of my first shows was with a Uruguayan candombe percussion ensemble!
FBPO: It sounds like things started happening pretty fast for you there.
RF: I met a lot of people right away. My first music experience was being taken to a jam session by Matt Garrison, who I met earlier that day at the Fodera factory. Nick Epifani walked in with Matt and introduced us and we have been friends ever since. Then John Benitez, the great bass player from Puerto Rico, gave me my first break. He had me sit in on a gig and I met a ton of musicians there. Also, I sat in on a Richard Bona trio hit. I knew his drummer, Jeremy Gaddie, a little. And again, instant gigs! Very different to some other towns. A rapid networking experience and a culture of having cats sit in makes New York very special.
FBPO: Breaking into the music scene in New York City is quite a tall order. What was it that made it work for you?
RF: I did it by being ready to jump in at the deep end. I can read well and always try to pay attention. So if I sat in with, say, some heavy Latin jazz cats, they seemed to dig having a Brit up there who respected their musical art form whilst I hopefully brought my own flavor to it. I remember sitting in on such a gig when bassist Leo Traversa, who works a ton in New York, kind of took off his bass, held it out to me and said, “You’re up!” So I had no choice! [Laughs] In at the deep end.
Anyway, the guys were cool and I guess I did okay. A few weeks later, Leo needed a bass amp and I had mine spare. Of course I hooked him up and the next day he recommended me to sub at the Bass Collective in Manhattan. I was playing an ensemble class for drummer Kim Plainfield. Again, straight-in sight reading, some Bill O’Connell Latin jazz tunes and maybe a Herbie (Hancock) tune. Within a month, I became the youngest faculty member!
FBPO: What made you decide to move to LA? Didn’t that mean having to get established all over again in a new city?
RF: Yes it did, in a way, but I had a recommendation from Ric Fierabracci, which led me to successfully auditioning for Virgil Donati & Planet X. So by the time I landed, I had a short tour of Poland and Italy and the States already booked with them, plus work with Down to the Bone. From Extreme Prog/Jazz/metal to acid jazz funk!
FBPO: You seem to have a real passion as an educator, too. Are there any pedagogical “Rufus-isms” you try to instill in your students that you can share with us?
RF: Ha! Okay, let’s see… One is to know your instrument as well as possible. Really knowing the fingerboard and multiple ways to play every arpeggio and chord scale, etc. Another is developing fluidity and transcribing, getting inside the minds and hands of the greats, whatever the instrument. Actually, I recommend studying anyone but bass players for harmony: pianists, sax players, guitarists…. Corea, Herbie, Bill Evans, Cannonball, Trane, Hank Mobley, Brecker, Mintzer, Kenny Garrett, Metheny, Scofield, Martino, Wes Montgomery, Benson, McLaughlin…Those were my mentors!
FBPO: In addition to being a sideman, you’ve also led some projects of your own. Tell me about K.P.H.
RF: That was a few years ago. Much fun. Me leading a quartet that included Will Kennedy from the Yellowjackets, Greg Howe on guitar, and my buddy Dennis Hamm, who plays for Larry Carlton, on keys.
FBPO: How about Down to the Bone?
RF: Ah yes! Well, I have been leading this band for a couple of years now and I am proud to say it’s going from strength to strength. We recently added Cliff Almond on drums. He works with Michel Camilo, Wayne Krantz and a ton of great players in New York. It’s a blast! We play high-energy funk/acid jazz with some pretty blazing soloists too.
FBPO: What else is keeping you busy these days?
RF: Well, I play and record with a trio project, CPT, with Kirk Covington from Tribal tech, and keys player Scott Tibbs. Also a band called Tizer, kinda high energy “Bruce Hornsby meets World Music.” Great drummer in that band, Raul Pineda, from Cuba. We just got back from playing in Seoul, South Korea, and three different cities in Russia.
I also record and tour with Canadian guitarist Brian Hughes. We have some dates coming up in Germany and Holland. You can check the CPT.Kirk CD via my website and order CDs there.
FBPO: How about the future? What else would you like to do that haven’t accomplished yet?
RF: Good question! I’d like to expand my website. More video education stuff is coming. I also have to get my own solo CD underway this year and a project with Raul Pineda and percussionist Jesus Diaz. He’s worked with Steve Coleman. These Cuban guys kick my ass and I love it! I think it will be pretty cool. Zawinul-influenced, with some elements of the Police.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
RF: I do some voiceover work, so I want more of that. I did a bit of acting in the UK, which I loved, and would be very open to doing again. And I still need to finish my novel. Seriously! I’m also offering Skype and correspondence lessons.
Also see our exclusive FBPO interviews with the Matt Garrison
and Bruce Thomas, both of whom are mentioned here: