Is there anything you wouldn’t play for money?
January 17, 2019
This week I had the privilege of publishing a very enjoyable interview I did with Austrian bass virtuoso Bernhard Lackner during a trip to Germany. It was a spirited conversation, in which Bernhard shared his feelings about how he discovered what he really wants to musically, and how he’s focusing on a very specific, well-defined approach to composing and recording.
Bernhard is a great bassist, capable of doing just about anything he sets out to do on the instrument. Having released several excellent records as a leader, he’s got the seasoning and musical maturity to move forward with total confidence in any direction he chooses. Resisting the urge to put out a bunch of “bass records,” Bernhard’s music is more song-oriented, “all about the music,” he says. He’s resolved to stay authentic and concentrate on what he truly loves to do.
We also talked about the other side of that coin, how some musicians develop of a fear of being typecast. Oftentimes, an angst-ridden player in this scenario expends untold amounts of time and energy striving to become a well-rounded musician, with equal “grooving-prowess” in a virtually limitless number of styles and settings.
The dialogue reminded me of my heyday as a working bassist. Though I don’t recall worrying too much about being pigeonholed, I did subscribe – for whatever reason – to the do-it-all school, taking every gig I could get. Playing both upright and electric helped a lot, as did being a strong sightreader. I felt duly qualified to do symphony gigs that required strong arco chops, as well as Broadway shows, bebop gigs, and situations that called for slapping, fretless, even singing (which has never been my strong suit!). I’ll never forget the time a friend and fellow bass player looked me in the eye and called me “a bass prostitute.” Despite the fact that the connotation was, shall we say, less than honorable, I realized he was basically correct – in his own way.
When it comes to being a working bassist, each philosophy has its own merits. On the one hand, maybe we can argue that we have a responsibility to identify our “true calling” in order to cultivate a well-defined craft. On the other hand, can we live on the opposite end of the spectrum, guilt-free, without being accused of “selling out” and becoming a bass prostitute?
Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
In the meantime, check out our interview with Bernhard here.