Award-winning double bassist talks about his learning process
By Mindy Rochwerg
November 19, 2014
Ron Carter is a legendary and prolific double bassist, composer, bandleader and educator who has performed on over 2,000 recordings. He was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet in the ‘60s, along with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams, and has recorded and played with the likes of Cannonball Adderley, Lena Horne, B.B. King, The Kronos Quartet, Luther Vandross, Dexter Gordon and Gil Evans.
In addition to the many other accomplishments on his resume, Carter is a Grammy award winner, was named most valuable player by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and was elected to the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2012.
Carter, speaking to Paul Freeman writing for The Daily News about his process of learning the double bass said, “I’m getting better at playing it. I’m understanding how it works. I’ve become as much a scientist as a performer. I look forward to any opportunity to perform. Every chance I get to perform is another experimental event for me.”
Carter, a native of Michigan, started in the classical music genre when he took up the cello at age 10, but switched to jazz while attending the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where he earned his masters degree in double bass performance.
Regarding his motive for the switch, Carter told Freeman:
“I kind of thought that, given the library that I was studying at the time, the Bach cello suites, that I was being creative, despite them not being my notes. I didn’t feel that I was restricted in any form or fashion. Clearly jazz has a different point of view of creativity. It allows you to create and interpret as you see fit, rather than following necessarily in the footsteps of your previous teachers. But I didn’t go out and have a drink, because I was now free. No, I didn’t do that at all.”
He added: “The classical world, at the time I was coming up, was not ready to accept an African-American performer in their midst. And (in) the jazz world, I was making gigs in college, to help pay for the cost of my education. And they told me, ‘New York is always looking for a good bass player — you should come to New York.’ So here I am.”
About what he learned from Miles, Carter said, “‘Every night was a chance to play wonderful music. Don’t pass it up.’ I’ve carried that with me.”
Explaining to Freeman the quote on Carter’s website: “The bassist is the quarterback in any group,” Carter replied: “He’s the only one that plays everything all the time. He plays the meter. He plays the changes. He plays the notes. He plays the intonation. He plays the dynamic. He’s the only one who plays these things for every note. And clearly for me, with that responsibility comes a leadership, being able to lead the band in the direction that you feel they can best function. Quarterbacks all do that, whether it’s a quarterback on the football field, literally, or a point guard in basketball. They all do that, man. And it’s a chance for them, for bass players, to really enjoy being responsible and being the focus, albeit a quiet one, of the musical direction.”
At age 77, Carter is still going strong and is as active as he ever was.
Exclusive FBPO interview with Ron Carter