The man who taught Jeff Berlin, Stu Hamm, Victor Bailey, Bryan Beller and countless others recounts 40 years as head of Berklee’s incredible bass dept!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
October 17, 2011
Rich Appleman has played bass for Lionel Hampton, Gregory Hines, Slide Hampton, Bernadette Peters, the Boston Pops and many other international acts. He has performed with the Navy Band, as well as various big bands, small jazz combos, vocalists, cabaret groups and Broadway shows, including The Secret Garden, Ain’t Misbehavin’, A Chorus Line, Cats, Les Miserables, Grease, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Miss Saigon, Peter Pan, Menopause the Musical and West Side Story. In the studio, Rich has done many recordings, including a host of radio and television jingles.
Appleman has been an active member of the International Society of Bassists and a columnist for Bass Player magazine. He is also the author of Contemporary Rhythm for Electric Bass and Chord Studies for Electric Bass (with Joseph Viola).
Rich Appleman has served as the long-time chairman of the bass department at Berklee College of Music. Now entering his fortieth year at Berklee, Appleman has announced his retirement at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
FBPO: How did you become a bass player?
RA: My father was a very good drummer. I did not want to carry all that stuff, so I started on trumpet after seeing Louis Armstrong on the Ed Sullivan show. In junior high school the band director switched me to sousaphone because I was one of the biggest kids in the band and could carry it. That was the beginning of living in the bass clef. I took upright lessons with Eddie Kuhn while in high school, which led me into the Navy music program from 1964 to ’68. At that time you had to play both brass bass and wood bass in the military bands. Incidentally, my brother, Lee, became a very good drummer and now we both carry lots of stuff!
FBPO: Who were your influences as an up-and-coming student of bass?
RA: Through high school I didn’t have any bass idols, but loved listening through my father. He loved the big bands. Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton were on the record player. One of my favorite albums was/is Count Basie’s Atomic Basie, which had Eddie Jones on bass – killer swing, great sound, time, choice of notes, etc. My father took us to many concerts. Maynard Ferguson, Dave Brubeck and Ted Heath’s big band from England are some of my favorite musical memories of the early ’60s.
In my years in the Navy, I got to know and really enjoy Jimmy Garrison on Coltrane’s Ballads album, Ron Carter on the Real McCoy and Cecil McBee with Charles Lloyd. I was also enjoying soul, pop and rock bass playing and realized later that I was listening to James Jamerson, Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye, Willie Weeks, Jack Bruce, etc.
FBPO: How did your career get started? What kind of gigs were you getting at first?
RA: Playing in the Altoona High School marching, concert and stage bands, the community orchestra and the National Guard band (with my father) was the beginning. My father helped me get some gigs my last year in high school. I remember a community theater show of South Pacific and some weddings and a New Year’s eve gig, where they would call tunes and I would do my best to follow. In the Navy I did military ceremonies, big band concerts and small group combo gigs, playing cocktail and dinner functions. During my last year in the Navy I was working most weekends at a small bar in Somerville, Massachusetts, playing for dancing. Even though I was not thinking of this as a jazz education, these experiences were invaluable, as I later learned at Berklee.
FBPO: Was there a turning point, a defining moment, that made you realize you were going to have a career in music?
RA: After four years of playing music in the Navy, I realized it was something I could do and liked doing. The defining moment, which I didn’t know at the time, was deciding to stay in Boston and go to Berklee after I met my future wife on a blind date. Before that, I thought I would go back to Pennsylvania, get a Music Ed degree and teach high school. In addition to my dad and his musician friends, my school music teachers, Dick Potter, Darwin Bistline and John Monti, were big influences on me.
FBPO: How did you get involved with Berklee?
RA: My last year in the Navy was spent in the Boston Naval Base Band. I met Jane in April 1968 and decided to go to Berklee after I got out of the Navy in August. I started Berklee in September. We got married in December of ’68 after my first semester and I ended up getting a Music Ed degree at Berklee in May of 1972 and started teaching at Berklee the very next month, on June 1st. At that time, Berklee was growing so fast that hiring graduating students was very common. Also, thanks to my wife, I was a very good student, graduating Summa Cum Laude. My first few years at Berklee, I taught a little bit of everything: Harmony, Arranging, Ensembles and private lessons. I started playing electric bass as a student and was still playing tuba and lots of jazz on the upright.
FBPO: Berklee is held is such high esteem among music schools. What differentiates the college from the others?
RA: I think keeping both the curriculum and facilities current, combined with a faculty who are active performers. With over 4,000 students, almost one third of which are international, it is a microcosm of the music world.
FBPO: How about the bass department?
RA: In my opinion, it is our faculty. The primary faculty, led by Associate Chair John Repucci, includes: Whit Browne, Dave Buda, Dave Clark, Bruce Gertz, Lincoln Goines, Fernando Huergo, John Lockwood, Ed Lucie, Greg Mooter, Danny Morris, Joe Santerre, Barry Smith, Oscar Stagnaro and Anthony Vitti. Plus our adjunct faculty of Tom Appleman, Paul Del Nero, John Funkhouser, Dave Hollender, Ron Mahdi, Bruno Raberg, Skip Smith, Lenny Stallworth and Jim Stinnett. In addition, we are still one of the few colleges where you can major in electric bass performance. I think our curriculum teaches the skills a contemporary bassist needs to “make it” in the music business. Berklee now has two orchestras and a growing classical string program, too.
FBPO: You’ve got a seemingly endless list of high profile bass players who have gone through the program at Berklee. After forty years at the helm of the bass department, you must have a good story or two about some of your students who went on to do big things in the bass world. Maybe someone who surprised you?
RA: I remember Jeff Berlin as one of the most inquisitive students; Stu Hamm working at an all-night store to make ends meet; Victor Bailey telling me he didn’t want a jazz teacher; Ira Coleman in Survey of Bass Styles class; Bryan Beller and Wes Wehmiller hanging out together in the ’90s. I am so proud of Amiee Mann. Annie Clements recently returned to do clinics and a concert with her young twin brothers. Sorry I can’t write or remember everyone, but I always enjoy when a former student drops by to say hello, sends me a post card or email. This is something I will miss.
FBPO: What do you plan to do after “officially” retiring? Somehow, I doubt you’re just going to sit still!
RA: At the moment, no big changes. I will still play, perform and walk my dog. Possibly do some online teaching. I have two grandchildren living nearby who will have more time with Pop. Traveling for Berklee has been wonderful. I hope my wife and I will continue doing that.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
RA: I love sports and eating, so coaching or cooking come to mind, but I’m not sure how good I would be.