Monday, 6 June 2011

Geoff Gascoyne - Jazz Master

My Thunder Row interview with Geoff Gascoyne

The London Bass Guitar Show showcased many very talented musicians and one of those who caught the eye of the TMBG contingent was Geoff Gascoyne, a bassist of very impressive talents.

I want to admit right off the bat that I am not well-schooled in the style of music we call Jazz. I am only a student, and admit openly that, quite frankly, Geoff’s musical prowess leaves me in the dust. But to me, this is okay, because as I listen to his albums, I enjoy the music purely from the vantage point of a fan, a layman listener. I am neither critic nor connoisseur.

I think Geoff makes music for people like me. I think he wants to share the beauty of Jazz with the listener - to take them on a journey of sound. I don’t know any of the technical goings-on that make Jazz such a distinctive art form, but you know what? His music makes me smile, tap a toe, and even snap a finger or two, so as long as Geoff continues to create great music, I will continue to provide the ears. how about a bit of background? Geoff’s bio and the full (and may I add, jaw-dropping) accounting of his extensive musical efforts can be found on his website. Believe me when I tell you, this here is an extremely abridged version.

Geoff Gascoyne was born in Nottingham, England, on November 23rd 1963. He was attracted to music at an early age, starting with the piano at the age of 6.

Formal classical training lead him to the passing of the Grade 8 examination at the age of (around) 13 and soon after that, his love of the popular music of the day and the need for musicians in local groups encouraged him to take up the electric bass.

In 1981, he joined his first professional group and by 1988 his natural curiosity and self-motivating attitude had lead him to begin studying jazz music.

In 1990 he joined the group Everything But The Girl and toured throughout the world. The band released WORLDWIDE in 1991. There was also another world tour in 1994 with the award winning “Hip-Hop-Jazz-Rap” group, US3.

In 1993, Geoff began to play acoustic bass in the band Wabash and started focusing on composing and arranging for the first time.

In 1995, he performed with Van Morrison on a short tour of the UK.

It was also in 1995 that he recorded his first album as a leader, the widely acclaimed VOICES OF SPRING. It featured 10 of London's finest musicians and singers and demonstrated Geoff's achievements on the electric and acoustic bass.

It was around this time that he also began teaching privately and as a guest tutor at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In 1996 he began to concentrate more on playing the acoustic bass. Geoff recorded his second CD as a bandleader in 1997, a duet album of Christmas melodies with pianist Peter Churchill called WINTER WONDERLAND.

Throughout the late ’90s, he continued to tour and participate in various recording projects, and was involved in the development of a new “Rockschool” syllabus, devising graded examinations in rock, pop and jazz.

In 1999 Geoff even made an appearance in the movie, “The Talented Mr Ripley” as (surprise) the bass player!!

As the new millenium began, Geoff was busier than ever, and in 2001 he released the third album under his own name: AUTUMN, which received rave reviews from the press and marked the start of a new phase for Geoff as a bandleader. Later that same year, Geoff’s quartet recorded SONGS OF THE SUMMER.

From 2002 to 2006 Geoff continued to record, tour, and serve as arranger on many projects.

In 2006 he released his fifth CD, KEEP IT TO YOURSELF for Candid records and toured the UK with a 10 piece band that included his Jazz Quartet, a classical string Quartet and Jamie Cullum as a sideman.

Aside from producing 6 CDs as a leader Geoff has been involved in production for many artistes including Jamie Cullum's first 2 CDs which he arranged many of the tunes and chose the musicians. Geoff is currently producing albums by Joshua Kyle, a young Australian Jazz/RnB vocalist and Jazz singer Gill Manly with whom Geoff works regularly with at Ronnie Scotts.

Geoff currently teaches jazz bass at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama London.

Geoff will also teach this year from Aug 6-11 at The Jazz Summer school in France.


As someone who listens to an awful lot of music from the 30s and 40s, this took me back there so fast, I kinda lost my breath there for a minute.

Rather than review Geoff’s work by using a language I don’t fully understand, let me just tell you about a few of his songs that really touched me.

From VOICES OF SPRING - I very much enjoyed the remake of “On The Street Where You Live,” a tune from My Fair Lady. The bass solo is outrageously good and you hear every single note. Geoff’s fingers are right inside your brain, so to speak.

From AUTUMN - For me, the sweetest track on this album is called “Tribulation.” One man, one bass - deep, acoustic power. This song appears in a different form on another album of his, but this version is solo bass. Since I got the album, I have moved both copies of Tribulation to my mp3 player. When I asked Geoff about the reason this song would hit me the way it did, he taught me a lesson about jazz.

From KEEP IT TO YOURSELF - This is the album where the second version of “Tribulation” appears. Geoff hands off a lot of the work to a family of very uneasy strings, and this is where I learned my lesson. You’ll read what that lesson was in the interview below.

This entire album is tense and experimental. Try a couple of the remakes - “God Only Knows,” after the Beach Boys classic and the jazz standard, “Frankie and Johnnie,” (bonus track) - raunchy, standup bass.

From SONGS OF THE SUMMER - I was hard-pressed to pick a favourite from this album. Everything was just as I like it. How often does that happen? If I was pinned down, I’d choose “One Last Thing” and “New Waltz.” But only is I was pinned down. Pound for pound, my favourite of all the albums.

From WINTER WONDERLAND - Take your pick. Geoff’s take on Christmas songs. “Winter Wonderland” with a great bottom end. Listen to the pulled upright strings rattle and shake! Better yet, listen to this one through your headphones.

From POP BOP - Try the remake of Diana Ross and the Supremes’ “The Happening.”

The bottom line about the music is that Geoff goes everywhere. He is playful and experimental, definitely NOT afraid to change things. He is a master of his craft and every note confirms that, whether played with a soft brush or a sledge hammer.

There are moments where he and his bass are king of the song, and other times when he just disappears into the background. Either way, it work, and I’m very glad I got to meet the music behind the man!

We had a chance to ask Geoff a few questions about his craft.

TR: How was The London Bass Guitar Show?

GG: I met up with some old friends and got some ear damage from all the bass slapping.

TR: Which musicians did you see?

GG: I met up with Laurence Cottle, Janek Gwizdala, and was introduced to Stu Hamm.

TR: Stu Hamm is a favourite among Thunder Row members. What about basses? Did you see anything at the show that turned your head more than others?

GG: Not really, I have all the gear I need at the moment.

TR: That’s something you won’t hear from a lot of the students here! Tell us about the Masterclass you gave at the LBGS.

GG: I played acoustic bass by myself then was asked lots of questions, mainly about doubling with electric bass and technique.

TR: Let’s go back a bit. You started on piano and then changed to the bass.

GG: I started piano at the age of 6 and finished around 14 having passed Grade 8. Then at school I started electric bass in a punk group. I had dyed red hair and I think I had the biggest hands.

TR: Dyed red hair and big hands - the most sought-after attributes for a punk bass player. How did that lead to jazz?

GG: As I became more interested in more sophisticated music styles I discovered jazz. This lead me to acoustic bass which is what you have to play to be taken seriously in jazz. It was around 1990 that I was getting more into it.

TR: Do you still keep up with your piano playing?

GG: Yes. I still compose and arrange at the piano.

TR: Who were your bass influences as you were developing your skills?

GG: For electric bass, it was Bernard Edwards from Chic (for his grooves), Jaco Pastorius (for everything), Pino Palladino (from his time with Paul Young to John Mayer).

TR: And for acoustic?

GG: For acoustic, it was Ray Brown (his time feel, his note choices, his sound), Charlie Haden, Paul Chambers - there are so many more.

TR: To you, is the standup a “truer” bass than an electric bass? That is, more of what the bass sound was really meant to be? Or are the two completely different voices for completely different jobs?

GG: Obviously, the two are very different voices, but I do think the acoustic bass is a truer sound for authentic rootsy musical styles.

TR: Ever switch out a standup for an electric or vice versa, just to shake up people’s perceptions of which bass should be heard in which tune?

GG: I often do in my own group on, for example, a samba feel. A swing feel will always be played on the acoustic bass, mind.

TR: Our members love hearing about gear.

GG: I have a German Flatback Acoustic bass from around 1960 strung with Innovation Golden Slap low tension strings. This has a David Gage pickup going into a Sansamp bass driver then into an SWR Baby Blue combo amp.

TR: And the electric basses?

GG: My main electric is a 1964 Relic Fender Jazz bass. I also have a Marcus Miller 5 string Fender Jazz and a Dean Acoustic bass guitar as well as a Gallien Krueger combo, an SWR SM900 and Hartke 4x10 cab.

TR: Let’s talk a bit about teaching. What made you decide to teach the bass?

GG: Money.

TR: Always a good reason. Do you start from scratch or is yours more of the advanced teaching?

GG: Depends on the student, I recently started teaching jazz to classical students at the Guildhall School of Music. This is a challenge because they didn’t even know what Blues was. But I do teach advanced students too, this can be harder trying to think up new challenges for them.

TR: What sorts of opening words do you give to your new students? You know, to inspire and motivate them?

GG: Be patient, and listen.

TR: I imagine you get a lot of satisfaction watching students progress and awaken their artistic talents.

GG: To watch them steal my gigs? Mmmmm...

TR: Which of your students have gone on to become noted musicians or play in well-known bands?

GG: My past students include Janek Gwizdala, Sam Burgess, Ollie Hayhurst and Orlando LeFleming.

TR: Of course, in addition to teaching, you’re also a very gifted performer. What’s the best gig you ever played?

GG: Too many. Van Morrison at Oxford Apollo...

TR: I love Van Morrison.

GG: Also the Royal Festival Hall with Jamie Cullum on my 40th birthday. The Mingus Big Band at Ronnie Scotts. Dianne Reeves at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

TR: Ever have a performance go bad? Or that was simply not to your liking?

GG: A lot of bad onstage sound usually causes this. Royal Albert Hall can be tricky.

TR: What happens to make it not so good?

GG: A rock and roll sound man mixing a jazz group.

TR: Do you prefer smaller, intimate venues or bigger rooms?

GG: Depends on the music, I like it all.

TR: I’m curious about something. A guitar player or piano player will usually write for his/her own instrument, but people who play the drums or the bass are often composing music for other instruments. Is the majority of your composing done for instruments other than the bass?

GG: Yes, but I prefer to write for specific musicians.

TR: Why?

GG: If I know what they sound like I can get a group sound in my head.

TR: One of your songs I really enjoyed was “Tribulation.” It appears on two of your albums: “Autumn” and “Keep It To Yourself.” and is one of the finest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. How did you see the original tune in your head? Bass only or a multi-instrument mix?

GG: It was first written for a group with soprano sax, guitar and bass. I adapted it for bass and string quartet for my Candid CD “Keep it to Yourself.”

TR: On “Autumn,” it was a bass solo, but on “Keep It To Yourself,” the bulk of the work was handed off to bowed strings. What made you decide to do the second arrangement with strings?

GG: I liked the tune and felt that there was more to it than the first version.

TR: The strings and the faster tempo give it a very unsettled and uneasy edge. Is that a better arrangement for a tune called “Tribulation”?

GG: The unsettled-ness comes from the meter. It’s in 5/4 time.

TR: Ahh, I just learned something. As a student musician, I’m not always aware of these differences at first take. About the two versions - does a composer ever really stop writing/re-arranging a song or is there always a fresh voice to be heard from a tune?

GG: That’s what jazz musicians do.

TR: Which do you prefer? Composing your own or taking the music of others and making it your own?

GG: I like both.

TR: You’ve worked with a lot of very impressive names. Which collaborations have brought you the most satisfaction, either in recording or stage performances?

GG: The ones that lasted the longest. Twelve years with Georgie Fame, seven years with Jamie Cullum.

TR: Because you do work with so many different people, you really have to have a feel for many musical styles. Do you adapt easily to other people’s visions?

GG: I do.

TR: How did it feel when you finally took the reins to create the first album with your name: “Voices Of Spring”?

GG: That was a tricky one to get together. Two days and twelve musicians.

TR: Would it be fair to say that even though it was your name up front, you still considered this album to be a group effort?

GG: It is my concept but reflects all the other work that I was doing at the time (1995).

TR: Tell us what’s coming up for you.

GG: A project with my wife, singer Trudy Kerr called Ted & Gladys. I am working in sax player Peter King’s Quartet and I have some gigs in the summer with Michel Legrand.

TR: You’re busy all the time. Away from the bass, what do you like to do for leisure?

GG: Walk my dogs, watch movies, cooking for the family. I have four kids.

TR: If you could only continue doing one of these, which would it be? Playing, teaching, writing, or arranging for other musicians?

GG: Playing.

TR: Who are you listening to now? What’s on your disc player or mp3 player?

GG: Hampton Hawes, The Bird and the Bee, Paul Simon, Gerry Mulligan, Deadmau5, Elvis Costello, The Wood Brothers, Luiz Bonfa.

TR: Thanks for speaking with us, Geoff. Before we go, do you have any advice for the students of Roy Vogt’s Teach Me Bass Guitar?

GG: Learn to read music, not those stupid TAB things. And buy a piano, learn chords and then listen to the masters. Transcription is the only way to learn the language they call jazz.

Geoff’s music is available online at Napster and iTunes, and some are available on Amazon.

Geoff's website

Geoff's YouTube channel

© 2011 CL Seamus for Thunder Row

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