An In-Depth Interview With Virtuoso Bassist and World-Renowned Producer, BRIAN BROMBERG!
Get to know the virtuoso bassist and world-renowned producer Brian Bromberg!
On September 18th, he honorably paid tribute to late icon Jimi Hendrix half a century after his death with a reimagination of his classics through a jazz bassist lens. By remixing and remastering 2012’s Bromberg Plays Hendrix, Bromberg takes on the daunting task with immense talent, evident creativity and white-hot artistry. The re-release of Bromberg Plays Hendrix commemorates the 50th anniversary of Hendrix’s passing in September 1970. (It also coincides with the release of Bromberg’s new holiday album, Celebrate Me Home: The Holiday Sessions, recorded with an all-star cast completely in quarantine.)
Remixed and remastered with brilliant sound quality, Bromberg Plays Hendrix is a blistering homage on which Bromberg’s fretless and piccolo basses stand in for the original’s fleet fretwork. Bromberg summoned a whirlwind of sound from his four- and five-string arsenal to craft a smoldering set of classics in keeping with Hendrix’s exploratory spirit. Bromberg’s secret weapon and only collaborator for the session was the legendary in-demand drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, whose staggering list of collaborators includes Herbie Hancock, Sting, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand and myriad others. “He’s a genius,” Bromberg states definitively. “There’s nothing he can’t do.”
This reissue includes a new bonus track, Bromberg’s original song “Jimi,” a sonic portrait of the hard-rocking wizard. The remixing and remastering were accomplished in Bromberg’s state-of-the-art home studio in Southern California, in partnership with his longtime engineer Tom McCauley, with whom he’s worked throughout much of his four-decade career. “There are a lot of great engineers out there, but Tom has got incredible ears and instincts,” Bromberg says. “He’s also a musician, so he doesn’t just hear things technically, he hears things musically. We complement each other, and we’re both control freaks in that good enough is never good enough.” A noted “Shredder,” Bromberg wields his fluid and supple fretless bass in place of Hendrix’s lead guitars and vocal melodies. “The fretless bass is a lot more emotional, more human,” he says. “It got me one percent closer to the way that Hendrix delivered a melody. When you play fretless you can’t screw up; it’s all you, and you have to be musical about it. It was a monumental challenge to do the record, and it was insanely fun.” That intrepid and celebratory attitude, paired with the bassist’s scorching musicianship, make Bromberg Plays Hendrix a fitting and invigorating tribute to the legendary guitarist. In this new addition, that spirit becomes all the more vital.
Check out “Jimi” here:
Connect with Brian Bromberg Online Here: WEBSITE
Learn more about Brian Bromberg in the following All Access interview:
Thank you for your time. Given these unusual Covid-19 times, what does a typical day look like for you? How have you adjusted to these times? What has changed about your life?
A typical day, do they even exist anymore? The biggest change is that we essentially have no physical social life, For musicians like me, we can’t perform live music for people. The smart thing to do is only go out when you have to, like groceries, supplies, post office, etc. I miss making music with my friends, and there is nothing like playing music for an audience who wants to be there to hear you go for it. Not being able to do that has really been a drag. You spend your life dedicating yourself to performing and creating at the highest level you can and then poof, no outlet, it’s just over. It has been tough and challenging for all of my musician friends who are going through the same experience.
What has been the hardest/most challenging part about being quarantined? Is your city starting to open up more now? What has that been like for you watching that unfold?
We live on a ranch several miles away from the closest town, so in a weird way our daily life is in quarantine to a degree as we are somewhat isolated. The positive thing about it is being able to spend more time at home being with all the animals, that has been great. One blessing in the middle of the curse of quarantine is that the isolation of quarantine has made it possible for me to focus on my music and write and record a new CD for 2021, as well as a remix/remaster the Bromberg plays Hendrix CD, and I also actually produced and recorded my first Holiday CD which is coming out this Fall. It is been a very productive time in Quarantine for me as I have had the time to do all these projects. If it wasn’t for Quarantine I doubt I could have done all this work. Truly making sweet lemonade from sour lemons as they say!
Restaurants are only open for outside seating which is a good thing. At least that hopefully keeps them from going out of business and people can get out of the house a bit. People must have respect for themselves, their families, and their fellow humans and wear a mask. It’s not political, it’s not about 2nd amendment, It’s about common sense and decency for all of us. The virus doesn’t care who you vote for or what party you belong to. It will go after you regardless, so the more we can do to help each other through this pandemic the faster we will get through it so we can slowly start getting back to what the new normal will be. Sadly I think the old normal is gone forever.
How have you been able to use social media during these unprecedented times? Are you finding that you use it even more now to stay connected to fans and other musicians? Have you changed the way that you utilize it these days?
I have to tell you that for me it has been the complete opposite, I know that seems weird with Covid-19 and the fact that so many people have been home and not working as much. I have been so busy working on my CD’s since this all started, and on top of my ranch responsibilities of taking care of the horses, etc., my days have been insanely full and busy. I probably should be using social media more to connect with friends, fellow musicians, and fans, but I have just been immersed in trying to get all these projects done. Recording full-blown productions in the social distancing reality is a whole other set of hurdles to jump over, and that has also been very time-consuming. It has been rewarding to hear the end result, but man it is a different recording world these days. I didn’t leave my house for any of the sessions on any of these CD’s. Every session was done in social distancing and literally every track was recording one at a time in isolation. Insane!
What has it been like having to reschedule all your shows this year? Are there shows getting scheduled for 2021 that you already looking forward to or you waiting to start making future tour plans?
It has been such a drag to lose the work and the live music experience, and lets not forget about the lack of income, dealing with airlines to reschedule etc. But, what are you rescheduling and where and when? It’s all up in the air. I hope to be playing live in 2021 on stage with my friends, but it is impossible to imagine where and when at this point. When it is safe to travel and perform I will do everything possible to get out there as much as possible, trust me!
Since we are all really missing live music, can you recall a favorite show of yours from the past?
My last performance at the Boscov’s Berks Jazz Festival in 2019 was a blast. I had my full ten-piece Brian Bromberg’s Unapologetically Funky Big Bombastic Band with me at a sold out performance. It just doesn’t get better than that! I posted some videos of that show on my youtube channel so you can check them out and see how much fun we were having!
What do you think ultimately makes for a great show for you?
Me not messing up! A great show for me is a great crowd, a great band, and a ton of fun! Nothing better I tell you!
What has been a favorite show of yours by another artist?
In no particular order or genre: Buddy Rich Big Band, The Pat Metheny Group, Journey, Tokyo Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, The Parliament Funkadelics/George Clinton, Joe Zawinul, Weather Report, Freddie Hubbard, Charles Mingus, on and on!
Tell me about your first memory picking up the bass? What got you interested in it to begin with? Did you ever think that you would still be playing it today?
I grew up playing drums, still do actually, even play drums on some of my CD’s! My father was a drummer and my brother is a drummer. I was working four nights a week as a drummer at 13 years old, crazy. When I was in elementary school and Jr. high school I also played the cello as my parents thought it would be good to play a different type of instrument than the drums so I could have a more well rounded musical experience. I love the cello, a beautiful instrument, but I was always terrible at it as it never felt natural to me. Apparently, my Jr. high orchestra director felt the same way about my cello playing and suggested that I learn the bass as there were no bass players in the orchestra. He said to me one day “Brian, see that big ole bass over there? We don’t have any bass players in the orchestra. Why don’t to put down the cello and learn to play the bass? We have plenty of cello players in the orchestra but don’t have a bass player, why don’t you try the bass?”? That was his way of saying to me that he would rather have one bad bass player then listening to me trying to saw my cello in half! I had no interest in the bass as it just seemed so big and cumbersome to me, but I told him that I would talk with my family about it and let him know. I told my family about the orchestra director suggesting that I play the bass and my Dad and brother (the drummers) got excited as they said that if I played bass then we could play together as I would play bass and they would play drums. They said I could play jazz with them, and apparently, I was sold on the bass right then. The next day I became a bass player whether I liked it or not! Actually, the bass came very naturally to me as I already had good rhythm and groove from being a drummer, I just didn’t know that I had melody in me. The rest is history as they say.
Let’s talk about your soon to be released album, Bromberg Plays Hendrix. What was it like making this collection?
Being a Jimi Hendrix fan it was just insane fun to make this record. I’m more known as a jazz bass player, which is wonderful as jazz has been my life, but we all have a little closet rocker in us so that made this CD even more fun as it took me out of my normal element and allowed me to just go for it and not care about anything else but having fun doing my interpretation of a true icon in music.
Did anything surprise you about the overall process, were there any unexpected challenges?
Nothing surprised me about the process as I knew what I was getting into by doing all of the parts myself on an instrument that you don’t usually do that on. Well actually now that I think about it I essentially had to record the entire CD twice as I had to record all the demo parts to make sure the arrangements worked and also I had to record those parts for Vinnie Colaiuta the great drummer to record to. I played everything so there was no band. I had to lay down demo parts that he could play to with the exact form of the songs. Once he played his parts to a song I was then able to go back in and lay down all of my real keeper parts. I literally did the whole CD twice. Nuts!
The biggest unexpected challenge was trying to play Jimi’s melodies on my basses and have them sound emotional and captivating. Jimi Hendrix spoke to you, he talked to you and reached your humanity, your soul. He didn’t just sing, he communicated with words, in a really deep human way. Trying to replicate that instrumentally on a bass guitar with a metal string hitting a metal wire fret was a joke. There ain’t much soul coming out of an electric bass with me pushing down metal wire on another piece of metal wire. I had to find another way to express myself musically and passionately using the bass as the lead voice. What I found that worked as it is closer to the sound of a human voice is using my fretless basses. They are much more musical and human. No metal bar to press the string onto, just the fingerboard. That makes for much more personality and expression as it is me defining the note and the pitch vs. a piece of wire. The melodies that I played fretless bass on came alive and saved the song as far as I’m concerned. That was an amazing eye-opening experience as it gave me so much more respect for his human voice and his incredibly honest delivery of the song.
How did you go about choosing to collaborate with Vinnie Colaiuta on this new album?
Vinnie and I have been friends for years and have done countless sessions together in the Los Angeles studio scene. But, more importantly, he is the most in-demand drummer in the world today and he is just brilliant. I knew he would have a blast and just kick ass on this CD. He did the entire CD in one session on one day. He just came over to my studio and just hit it and killed it. He truly is amazing!
What does it mean to you to be able to release it on the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death?
It truly is bittersweet as the world lost one if it’s true icons that not only changed music but also changed society. Jimi Hendrix was a hugely important figure in the growth of American society. Sometimes sadly that gets overlooked. How many young people these days even know who Jimi Hendrix was? Tragic if you ask me.
How would you say that your remixed and remastered track Jimi? prepares people for the rest of your this album?
Well, it kind of sums it all up and hits you over the head! My song Jimi is an in your face powerful song that sets the tone for the whole CD. More like Bam! It is just insane fun and you need to crank it up when you play this track. Oh my!
Can you elaborate on all the different basses that you used to mimic guitar sounds on this collection? What was it like bringing them altogether so impressively?
Since I am not a guitar player I had to use many basses with different types of strings and tunings to do justice to the CD. That was so much fun as almost every part I played took me out of my element of being a bass player as my role on the instrument completely changed to record the music on this CD. I am the only player on the CD besides Vinnie on drums so it was all up to me to be creative with the different basses. That was a blast to be able to do that and experiment and just have a great time. Being a bass player and not a guitar player gave me artistic license to just do what I wanted and to have fun as I am not a guitar player trying to emulate Jimi Hendrix. That was freeing and wonderful to not give a @#$%^ about what anyone thought about me and my playing, it gave me a free pass with guitar players as I am not a guitar player trying to be Jimi Hendrix. It was quite liberating, to be honest as it was really about the music and my performances of the music. I think I used nine different basses on the CD? Trying to remember.
How do you think future music is going to be influenced by this incredible and absolutely necessary Black Lives Matter movement that the US has been going through? How exactly is it inspiring you and your music?
That is a really tough and deep question and is truly personal for each and every one of us. I’m sure the BLM movement will shape a lot of people’s music, impossible for it not to. For me it’s way more than music, it’s more about humanity, decency, respect, honor, grace, equality, and God. If you truly believe that we were all created equally in God’s eyes then just the fact that there is a black lives matter movement says that there are people who don’t think that we were all created equally, and that is pathetic, disgusting, and ignorant. Any form of racism and antisemitism is a learned behavior. We are not born with hate in our hearts, we are brainwashed and taught to hate by those around us. This world would be a lot better for all of us if mankind remembered that there is only one race of people on this planet, the human race.
If you could get into the studio with any artist today and collaborate on a new song for you, who would it be and why?
There are so many talented and amazing artists out there it would be tough to say. The upright bass jazz musician part of me thinks about who’s sound or voice would be great with the sound of my bass. Singers like Sting, Willie Nelson come to mind as they have such distinct voices. Players like Herbie Hancock or Pat Metheny would also be wonderful to collaborate with. I have played with both Sting and Herbie, but I would want to do it in a better environment. I have been very fortunate in my career as I have gotten to play with so many legendary musicians and singers. I am really grateful for that.
What would your dream music video look like right now?
Wow, I have no idea how to answer that as most jazz musicians don’t make music videos. What I do know is that I would like to lose about ten pounds before I shot the video!
If you could go back in time and tell your younger musician self something about this industry or how your career was going to progress, what would you say?
I would say, kid, get an education and get a good job and career and forget about this music thing, it’s just a fad and will fade away! Seriously though, I can only speak for myself. I didn’t get into music for the music industry. I didn’t devote my life to practicing 5-8 hours a day for years because of the music industry. In fact, I never thought about the business end of the music because all I wanted to do was play jazz and creative music at the highest possible level. Sadly I never thought about how I was going to earn a living in music or about being successful in music. All I wanted to do was play it. The rest came organically and just happened. We don’t make ourselves famous, other people make the artists famous and therefore commercially and monetarily valuable. I’m far from famous and I am far from rich, but I have always seemed to have survived in the music business and somehow earned a living and had a roof over my head. I never asked for or expected more. To be honest I’m not sure I would tell my younger self to do anything differently because it was real, honest, and following a dream. Thank God I had a lot of support on my musical journey. What I would tell my younger self is to be smart, learn as much as you can about everything you can. Don’t be lazy or take anything for granted as you have to earn what you achieve. There is always somebody better than you, faster than you, stronger than you, better looking than you, on and on, so take nothing for granted and earn the doors that open for you and you can’t fail. Being armed with knowledge is priceless. Take everything and everyone seriously and most importantly take yourself seriously and love and honor yourself as you are all you have.