NB: This is the fourth in my series profiles on bass players who have exerted the most influence on me as a bassist. This time the focus is upon the great Anthony Jackson.
During my later grade school years (ca. 1976-78) we had what was called “record day” during general music class. “Record day” was an occasional day upon which students could bring a 45 rpm record to school to have the teacher play for all of the students during class. It was not uncommon for my classmates to bring in whatever novelty hit was popular on the radio at the time. I distinctly remember students bringing in songs like “Muskrat Love” by Captain & Tennille or the egregiously awful “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees.
My contributions to “record day” were quite different as my choices included “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, “Rubberband Man” by the Spinners, “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan, and “For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays. Of course I loved much of the rock music of the day–KISS was a grade school favorite. Nevertheless, I always retained a deep love for the R&B and the funk that was popular. Because of that, I grew up with bass lines by guys like Nate Watts (Stevie Wonder) and the man pictured above ringing in my ears. It is Anthony Jackson’s iconic bass line that underpins and drives “For the Love of Money.”
In many ways this will be the most difficult “bass influences” feature to write; difficult because I feel much Jackson’s influence upon me in intangible, non-playing ways. I love Jackson as a bassist and musician. Anytime I see the name “Anthony Jackson” in the credits of a recording I am eager to listen. I love Jackson’s work as a session bassist with Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, and Chaka Khan. His sideman work with guitarists Lee Ritenour, Steve Khan, and Al Di Meola is essential. The setting where I enjoy Jackson the most is in a piano trio with artists such as Michel Camilo, Hiromi, and the late Michel Petrucciani.
Jackson is so much more than a great bassist and musician. He is obviously well-read, a gifted writer, fiercely opinionated, utterly dedicated to his craft, and does not suffer fools gladly. His main influences are quite idiosyncratic: Motown bassist James Jamerson, Jack Casady of the Jefferson Airplane, and French composer Olivier Messiaen. He proved himself to be a restless innovator in the 1970s when he worked with luthier Carl Thompson to develop what Jackson called the 6-string contrabass guitar. Jackson always plays sitting down, rarely plays solos, doesn’t slap, never plays fretless bass, and has zero tolerance for fads of any type. He transcends virtuoso musicianship by also being a virtuoso intellect. He is one of the few musicians that I hope pens an autobiography in the future.
However, where I feel Jackson’s influence most is in his unwavering belief that the electric bass guitar stands on its own merits and is not a sixth-rate instrument played by unwashed schlubs that “can’t cut it on the far superior upright bass.” Much has been made of Jackson’s intensity and hard edge in print. All one has to do is read the “letters to the editor” in the early days of Bass Player Magazine to get a feel for how readers responded to Jackson the columnist. I have no idea as to what motivates Jackson to think and write in the way that he does. Nor is it any of my business. I have a feeling that some of what drives Jackson’s hard-charging attitude is the disrespect he has endured throughout his career toward his instrument of choice. Consider the following quote by Jackson in a joint interview with upright bassist Ron Carter from the December 1994 issue of Bass Player Magazine:
…I never wanted to play upright. But it was a bitter fight–people used to say, “Just think of what you could do on a real bass! You’re wasting yourself on that thing!” I hate to sully Horace Silver, but he and I never got along musically; he would always tell me I was playing too much jazz. He’d say, “It isn’t a jazz instrument–the electric bass is a rock instrument and should always be played with a rock approach.” Of course, that was like lighting a fuse for me. One night, after I took a solo on one of his jazzier tunes, he took me aside and said, “You’re playing a rock instrument, so you should take rock solos.” On the piano, he proceeded to demonstrate a “rock” solo as an example–and a pretty bad one at that!
I am quite fond of the upright bass. Edgar Meyer has long been a hero of mine. I greatly enjoy John Patitucci’s upright playing. I believe Ranaan Meyer from the group Time for Three is an important young voice on the instrument. I deeply admire and enjoy jazz upright bassists like Carter, Scott LaFaro, Paul Chambers, Charlie Haden, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Dave Holland, and Christian McBride. But the upright bass has never held as much allure for me as the electric bass guitar. Jackson’s attitude that the electric bass guitar has just as much a place in jazz as the upright has rubbed off on me and his career has provided a myriad of musical examples about how the electric bass guitar can function in a jazz environment.
Speaking of musical examples, here are just a few of my favorite Anthony Jackson musical moments.
As was mentioned earlier, most people my age grew up hearing Jackson’s bass on the O’Jay’s song “For the Love of Money.” I had no idea who was playing, but that bass line spoke to me (and so many others) in a mighty way. Fast-forward to the early 1990s when I happened to watch a LaserDisc entitled Lee Ritenour & Friends Live from the Cocoanut Grove. Jackson was the bassist in the house band for that recording. He and Ritenour played a guitar/bass duet for the show entitled “Etude.” Here is the clip for that performance. I was struck immediately by the beauty of Jackson’s tone and the stunning look of his single-cut Fodera Emperor 6-string bass.
The next example is Jackson in a big band setting as the bassist for Michel Camilo’s large ensemble. Here we find Jackson locking in with drummer Cliff Almond and driving the band to dizzying heights. This clip also includes some of Jackson’s best “bass faces,” which are legendary. Pay close attention to Jackson’s powerful bass lines underneath Camilo’s piano solo.
The last example is taken from a concert with Japanese pianist Akiko Yano. Almond is the drummer here, as well. This video is a perfect example of why I love Jackson’s musical voice in a piano trio setting. The sound of his Fodera bass fills up so much sonic bandwith that it creates a perfect low-end foil for the acoustic piano. Listen to the way he fades in his lower notes several times while accompanying the piano. Jackson takes a long chordal solo in the middle of this tune that explores the entire range of his instrument. I have no explanation for why the video and audio suddenly go out of sync in the middle of the clip. Thanks for nothing, YouTube.
As I mentioned earlier, I dearly hope that Jackson can be prevailed upon to write an autobiography one day. My hunch is that it would be a real barn burner. I’ve linked to several videos of my favorite Jackson musical performances. Now I want to leave the readers of this blog with a sense of Anthony Jackson the writer.
You see people now who are entering the music business without even a serious attempt to be serious and talented, people who wouldn’t have done more than make coffee in the reception area who are now featured performers. It’s still something I get very angry about but I’ve had to accept it, and all you can do in situations like that is maintain your own stuff.
The apologists, the insecure, and the take-that-jungle-music-off crowd could not destroy jazz. The innovators, upon whom the music has always depended for its incontrovertible spiritual strength, would not destroy it. Why, then, do we now find Mr. [Wynton] Marsalis and his congress of simple-minded wanna-bes extolling the virtues of “pure” jazz, taking upon themselves the twin mantles of protector and rejuvenator? Inasmuch as the form has shown itself to be more than capable of withstanding the vicissitudes of neglect, corruption, revision, and outright attack, I maintain that this latest crop of “redeemers” is more artistically bankrupt, morally hypocritical, and historically irrelevant than any that has come before.
[A recent Bass Player Magazine] article begins, “Should you learn to read music?” Should you not? This is preposterous. Presenting the idea that a musician could possibly be behaving intelligently by choosing not to learn the langue of his or her craft, or even making this an issue worthy of discussion, is possibly the most irresponsible thing this magazine has done.
Many musicians outside of the rock field think of electric bass as a bastard instrument played by the foolish and the incompetent. This attitude has changed little since I started playing, and it’s more pervasive in the jazz world than ever before.
[Responding to the question, “What’s the best advice you can give an aspiring bassist?”] Be honest with yourself. Honesty is an automatic self-correcting process. If people say you played great but you know that a particular tune gave you trouble or that your solo was a mishmash of ideas, then you will correct it. Unless you are supremely a arrogant, shortsighted, narrow-minded individual, your mouth should go dry when you hear yourself play and tune in to the buzzes, squeaks, and inconsistencies of all types. Ultimately, the responsibility for excellence is yours alone.
1. Jackson began playing the 6-string contrabass guitar exclusively in the early 1980s. His instruments are now made by Brooklyn-based luthier Fodera.
2. Jackson, Anthony, and Chris Jisi. “Anthony Jackson and Ron Carter: Breaking down the Boundaries.” Bass Player Magazine Dec. 1994: 41. Print.
3. “The Genius of Anthony Jackson.” Web. <http://www.daveswiftbass.com/images/media/BGM-Jackson-interview.pdf>.
4. Jackson, Anthony. “The New Dark Age.” Bass Player Magazine March/April 1991: 78. Print.
6. Jackson, Anthony, and Chris Jisi. “Anthony Jackson and Ron Carter: Breaking down the Boundaries.” 43. Print.
7. Ferguson, Jim. “Anthony Jackson.” Bass Heroes. San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1993. 25. Print.