Posted On 22 Aug 2014
As a young and up and coming bassist, Gerald Massoud, is able to play along with any style of music from classical to jazz to country to hip-hop. He began by playing electric bass in high school, he then moved to Tucson, Arizona to discover a new passion, playing the acoustic bass.
While studying classical technique with Patrick Neher at the University of Arizona, Massoud worked with many local jazz musicians to learn the vocabulary needed to succeed in the professional world of bass playing.
Having attended many different camps, lessons and festivals, he has had the chance to study with well known bass players and instructors such as Victor Wooten, John Clayton, Steve Bailey, Francois Rabbath, Brian Bromberg and many others.
Gerald is currently on his way to earning his doctorate at the University of Houston. Learn even more about this talented musician in the following interview with him:
Take us on the journey of your career as a musician? What have you accomplished so far? And what do you have your eyes set on next?
Music was always something fun for me when I was growing up. It did not become a career path until I went to college and realized my golf career was not what I wanted. So, I followed my only other passion in life: Music.
I started on trumpet in 5th grade and quickly became the lead chair every year. It wasn’t until 8th grade when I knew there was something to music and I was good at playing it. I was winning all contests and placing top chair in all regional and state ensembles.
Then, I had to get braces. My music director switched me to tuba so I didn’t have to make a huge change other than my instrument range. From there, I quickly learned trombone and other brass instruments.
It was in high school, after taking off my braces, that I decided not to switch back to trumpet and continue working in the low end of the brass family. In my senior year, I took the next step further and bought my own electric bass. I fell in love with the instrument after hearing an album from Victor Wooten, who would later inspire me to continue my studies.
College was a big step since I quit golfing and went into music full time. It was in college when I started to play upright bass and study classically with Patrick Neher. He taught me more than I expected since I was just a beginner.
I am still working on concepts he worked with me over 10 years ago. While I was studying classical music, I decided to take on jazz on the side as my true passion. By the time I graduated from University of Arizona, I had already played gigs outside of school with Alan Broadbent, Wycliffe Gordon, Bill Watrous and many others.
I then took a 2 year hiatus from school to find myself as a person and as a musician. It was under the suggestion of a golfing buddy back in college to move to Austin. There, I was quickly picked up by Salero and started touring the US every week. This was a huge eye opener for me and I wanted more. As my time was up with Salero, I decided to pursue my masters in music. However, it was not so I could study more music and have another degree. I knew I needed the degree to teach later in life at the collegiate level.
When I started at the University of Houston, I went back to classical studies and played for the jazz department. But then my musical gears started to turn and I wanted to start writing music. I spent many hours studying and copying scores of music that interested me. These two years have taught me more by going straight to the score and learning from the greats than any other class I attended in my undergrad or masters classes. This by no means devalues what I learned, but score study brought me closer to my goals.
Instead of jumping back into the world, I decided to continue my studies and go after my doctorate. I picked up where I left off with score study and have written many works for the jazz orchestra and symphony orchestra. Every recital in my masters and doctorate has contained a work I have either written or arranged.
I am currently working on a new score to a Charlie Chaplin film “A Dog’s Life” and I will debut the work later this year.
My goals are quite simple. I want to be a bassist, composer, and arranger in as many styles that interest me. From my first symphony written for jazz and symphony orchestra, to simple small group works, and my latest movie score, I just want music to be my goal.
How have you grown as a musician since you started?
Music is a funny thing. You start because you love the act of performing. Then you grow to appreciate many other art forms and different facets of your life. I believe when you find your passion and follow it is a career choice, you spend countless hours trying to be better without hesitation. When I started, I wanted to be like Victor Wooten, Ray Brown, Christian McBride. Now, I just want to be me.
There have been many “discussions” about this topic with other musicians I work with regularly. My opinion can be taken however you want it. I believe college is just one way. You can learn on your own, in private lessons, at college, on the street, or by apprenticeship. It really doesn’t matter. I only care that whichever path anyone takes, they take it seriously. There are way too many musicians out there claiming to be musicians because they chose one path or many. But, when it comes time to play, or create as a group, or be asked to be a musician outside their comfort zone, that is when you weed out the hobby musicians and the professional musicians. Sure, there are great performers out there, but not musicians. I believe a musician performs, writes, teaches, and understands that music is a language passed on through different genres. Many times, people perfect a genre and really are not proficient in any other area, including their main instrument. So, if you are starting out and want to be a musician, explore and work hard at everything.
Can you explain what exactly 1920’s Prohibition Era music sounds like to someone who has never it heard it before?
1920’s Prohibition Era music is the combination of simple melodies with specific instruments. A typical band in that era would have a singer, piano, bass (or bass instrument: sousaphone, bass sax, or upright bass), melody instruments (trumpet, tenor sax, clarinet, violin, or trombone), and drums. I say simple melodies because it was party music, just like Lady Gaga or The Beatles. All popular music was meant for dancing and entertaining. But it is the lyrics and instrumentation that determines the era.
Bryan Anthony and the Gentlemen’s Club is a revival band of sorts. We specialize in Prohibition era music because we believe in the art form and the entertainment. The group strives to perform period music with period instrumentation.
My own music is much more modern. Because I have many influences, my own music and playing is derived from different eras. My latest concert in the spring debuted a few of my arrangements of classic Disney music and modal jazz. I find it is best to work with music that interests me and give it my own personal touch. As far as my original compositions, I have stuck to working on major works recently. If you want to hear any of the music, I can send it your way and you can understand.
Are you writing a lot of original material and if so, what are some bands that are currently inspiring the music that you’re making? Do you have a muse?
My muse is everything around me. If it makes me happy, I want to write about it. Too many musicians in the modern age are focusing on deep emotions and trying to write music that is either over complicated or overreaching. One of my latest smaller compositions started at my regular Sunday brunch gig and the patrons asked us to turn down. So, I asked my sax player to take a break and I played solo electric bass for a while. During that little break, I just kept thinking about getting home to see my fiancé (now wife). I spent half a set working out a chord progression and a melody, played at the same time, and finished the song on the gig. When I got home, I asked my wife, Caity, to help me finish the song. We sat and worked out the song all night. It was debuted at a concert I gave last fall and I dedicated it to her.
Thus far, what’s a favorite memory or something quirky that’s taken place with the band (in-studio, onstage, or elsewhere)?
I have so many stories. One of my favorite hilarious memories happened a long time ago when I was just starting out with a band called Dakari Connection. We were a live hip/hop, funk, underground soul band. Our first gig was at a pool hall on the east side of Tucson. We arrived and did sound check pretty early in the evening. When we came back to perform, the owner asked us to head backstage. Little did we know, the backstage was also the backstage for a strip club. However, this wasn’t a strip club for men, it was a strip club for women. After seeing our first man in a thong, we all ran out and just hid around the back bar. How were we supposed to know?!
You are back in school in Houston. What are you studying now?
My doctoral degree is in jazz conducting with a minor in composition. I am essentially asked to perform, write, arrange, and teach.
Typically, how often are you performing these days?
I have about 2-5 gigs a week and put on a concert of my own music twice a year. Some months are plentiful with gigs and others are not. You just learn to roll with the gig schedule.
I want them to feel. Whatever inspired me should come across in my music and make the audience move emotionally. Although I do not write popular music, I try to give the audience something to latch on to and find their own emotional way through the music. When I choose to arrange a popular tune or a classic, I want them to see the music through my eyes and find a new angle to understanding the melody.
Any pre-performance rituals? Do you still get nervous?
Every gig has different rituals. I rarely get nervous anymore because music is what I do. When I am playing as background music, I just like to warm up with scales, exercises, or work out some sort of pattern I am working on at home. If it is a gig of my music, I like to focus all my attention on what brought me there that night. I try to find all the inspiration that brought me there that night and bring all my attention to my muses.
I only give lessons to students really wanting to take lessons. The first lesson for every student is free so I can evaluate them. If they are there just to learn one technique or song and leave, then I don’t take them as a student. If they come to me wanting to better themselves as a bassist and as a musician, I take them as a student. It might not give me a lot of students, but I also don’t want to teach to someone who really doesn’t want to be there.
My first experiences with teaching were bad. I really did not know what I was doing. It was not until many years later that I learned to be specific on what the student needed to learn. That is the key to being a great teacher. You have to find why they came to you and bring out the best in them.
Do you advice for people just starting out playing the bass or really any instrument at all?
Music is not like what people see on TV or at concerts. It will not be easy and you need to dedicate yourself to the art more than any other job you have ever had in the past. If you want to be a hobby musician, I’m all for having fun. I am not against people enjoying making music. But, if you want to perform and be a full time musician, you need to make the decision to giving yourself to it to the point you cannot distinguish your everyday routine and being a musician.
Anything else we should know about you?
I have a wonderful wife and 2 pugs!