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Bass Musician Magazine: Jun/Jul 2010

Featuring Eddie Gomez


June 1, 2010 By Rick Suchow 1 Comment
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Interview by Staff Writer Rick Suchow -
Cover Image by Davide Susa
With even the most cursory glance at the long list of major jazz artists who have sought out
his enormous bass talent, one thing is immediately clear: Eddie Gomez has blazed his own
trail. Name after iconic jazz name such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner and
Gerry Mulligan fill his discography and concert history that now stretches back over four
decades. Blessed with an
uncanny ability to find the right note, the right phrase, to instantly absorb the sound of each
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uncanny ability to find the right note, the right phrase, to instantly absorb the sound of each
instrument that surrounds him and react with the perfect piece of the puzzle, hearing Eddie
perform is an experience to behold. Through it all, his unmistakable tone and technique
allow him to put his own personal stamp on all that emanates from his upright, whether in
the role of supporting player or soloist. In short, Eddie Gomez is our modern master of
bass.
Not that his low-end journey has been limited to the world of jazz, as his body of work
readily reveals. Pop, R&B, Classical and Latin artists alike have all utilized Eddies
distinctive dexterity in the studio and on stage. And yet when all is said and done, Gomez
may perhaps be most remembered for the eleven years he spent with the legendary Bill
Evans. Widely regarded as one of the most important jazz pianists of the 20th century,
Evans made major contributions to recordings by Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and others
before breaking out with his own trio in 1959, a group that included bassist Scott LaFaro
and drummer Paul Motian. When LaFaro, a revolutionary talent in his own right, died
suddenly in a tragic car crash in 1961 at the tender age of 25, Evans suddenly found
himself without the telepathic piano-bass connection the two had. He would hire various
bassists over the next few years, but it wasnt until Eddie Gomez joined him in 1966 that Bill
was able to recapture that same level of interplay that made the Bill Evans Trio so unique.
And although Gomez is the first to admit that it took him a while to settle in and feel
comfortable with the trio, its apparent that Bill Evans immediately found his man in Eddie,
and the two would be kindred bandmates for more than a decade.
In the 30 years since leaving the Evans fold Eddies career has never slowed, and hes
added a bevy of innovative and well received recordings to his discography, both as
sideman and solo artist. Continually challenging himself with disparate and wide ranging
live performance situations, he remains to this day an in-demand bassist of the highest
caliber. Now at age 65, Eddies bustling schedule reads like the itinerary of a musician half
his age, and he retains a fresh, youthful, energetic approach to the many projects he
immerses himself in and a wide-eyed optimism about the musical possibilities that have yet
to unfold. And make no mistake, the man is still bringing his A-game; just last year he was
awarded with a Latin Grammy for best instrumental album for his Duets collaboration with
Carlos Franzetti.
His musical endeavors are not limited to recording and performance either. Gomez not only
enjoys success as a composer, writing for his own groups as well as various film and
television projects, but he also finds himself in the prestigious position of Artistic Director of
The Conservatory of Music Of Puerto Rico, where he has been professor and artist-
in-residence since 2005. In fact, the PR Conservatory is merely the latest in a long string of
educational positions that Eddie has held, which also includes Associate Professor of jazz
double bass at Oberlin Conservatory, and artist-in-residence jobs at Stamford, North Texas
State, and Georgia State Universities.
Our interview took place in April of this year, just days after Eddie returned from a
week-long tour of Japan with drummer Steve Gadd. He was also just days away from
preparing for a two week stint at New Yorks famed Blue Note jazz club with pianist Chick
Corea and drummer Paul Motian, a special event to be billed as Further Explorations of Bill
Evans. Chicks concept for the trio was to introduce some lesser known Evans
compositions as well as a few of his own originals, all in the spirit of remembering and
honoring the great Evans. Although this highly anticipated event was to be filmed and
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honoring the great Evans. Although this highly anticipated event was to be filmed and
recorded for a future DVD and CD release, Eddie was not aware of the exact nature of the
project when I mentioned it to him. It was on this topic that we began our interview.

You have a two week run with Chick Corea


coming up at the Blue Note billed as Further Explorations of Bill Evans, which includes
former Evans drummer Paul Motian. Can you elaborate on how this project came together
and what you would like to achieve musically with it?
Well, Chick called me and actually didnt elaborate on what we were going to do, although I
assumed there would be some kind of connection with Bill Evans. Usually I try and stay
away from Bill Evans tributes for various reasons, but I love Chick and I know that hes one
of the few guys that can give it some real credence and validity, so therefore Im looking
forward to it and I think its going to be great. Im not going to do anything different than I
always do with any of my groups, or with any other group. Bill is one of the people in my
heart all the time when I play, whatever it is, whatever genre of music it is. So hes not going
to be any more or any less in my soul and spirituality for this project. But Im looking
forward to this, it will be interesting and certainly very compelling to think about what the
results might be with Paul there. Paul and I both worked with Bill at different times, he was
part of that first wonderful, innovative trio with Scott LaFaro. I came about five or six years
later I guess, I joined Bill in 66.
And Chuck Israels played in between.
Right, Chuck Israels, and also Gary Peacock and Teddy Kotick. There were really some
wonderful musicians with Bill in between the initial innovative trio and myself.
Let me ask you about your time with Bill. How did he shape you as a bassist and musician in
your eleven years with him?
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He didnt consciously shape me, but for me just being around him was really a huge
lesson. His idea of growth and development, pretty much, was showing up for the
performances and letting it happen, letting it all hang out on the performance. That was the
essence of the development, and really the performance was kind of like the rehearsal,
actually going out there and doing it. Its like theatre I guess. Im not an actor, but I think
about the metaphors of theatre and sports, as well as other disciplines. I think its much like
that, you go out there and you do it. You come prepared of course, but you let it happen
and you let it be different when it can be different. You try different approaches.
One of Bills mantras was that the freshness and the creativity happened because you were
doing more or less the same thing all the time, the same repertoire. It did change over the
years depending on recordings and what was going on, but basically the repertoire didnt
change drastically and there were always certain key pieces of music that we revisited. So
the growth happened onstage, during performance, in the club, in concerts. And certainly
thats how it happened for me, just by doing it a lot, just by the sheer work of all that
playing, all that intensity, to make something happen every time you went out and played. It
took me a while to get to that place where I felt like, well, Im kind of comfortable here. It
took a while to get to a comfort zone. In the beginning I was really raw, I had just come out
of Julliard.
Your beginning with Bill?
Right, the beginning with Bill. I had already played with a lot of people like Gerry Mulligan,
Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Paul Bley, and Marian McPartland, and had played quite a
bit of orchestral music and a lot of different kinds of music. But it took me a while to really
feel comfortable with being in the Bill Evans trio. The growth was probably happening all
along, but it took me a while to get my legs under me and feel like this is some place where
I belong and maybe I can make a contribution.

Was Scott LaFaro a big influence on you?


He was a big influence, but not unlike other great bass players. The big three for me were
Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, and Scott LaFaro. But thats not to say that guys like Sam
Jones, Jimmy Garrison, and so many other great bass players I heard with different bands
werent big influences as well. Eddie Jones with Count Basie, the bassist with Art Blakey
and the Messingers, all of them. I just loved bass playing in all its different faces and forms
and incarnations, I wasnt only smitten with modern bass players like Scott LaFaro. Pound
for pound I dont like to say better or best, its just not part of the way I look at things but
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for pound I dont like to say better or best, its just not part of the way I look at things but
Paul Chambers was really a big influence on me.
Let me ask you something that youre obviously in a unique position to answer, having
played for years with both Chick Corea and Bill Evans. As players they seem to have much
in common, but how are they different?
Well I think theyre very different, and both unique in different ways. I think first of all that
Bill is a unique player in the history of jazz piano, as is Bud Powell and Earl Gardener and
Chick is too but theyre very different I think. Chick has a lot of different approaches to
playing, he will go out and play with his electric band, and hell do different projects, and
aim a little differently, whereas Bill was pretty much into trio playing. The tenor of his
approach to making music was pretty constant and straightforward and it didnt vary a lot.
Bill occasionally did different projects too, for example with quintets and he did an orchestra
album which is certainly one of the seminal recordings, as many of them are. But the
approach really didnt vary much, he was always kind of in his ballpark, and highly
recognizable. I think Bill had such a golden sound on the instrument, its just unmistakable
the way he played. You know, some people accuse him of being a romantic. I spent eleven
years with him and I think maybe he was, maybe not. Those are just words that are thrown
around. But I always felt very touched whenever he played, and was deeply moved by his
playing every time he touched the instrument, he was really special that way.
Chick is also a unique player, and has a wonderful sound on the instrument. I think hes
actually maturing in certain ways, Ive known Chick since we were teenagers. Hes multi-
faceted and has a lot of different looks and colors in his pallet. And again, Chick is one of
the few pianists that can really revisit Bills music, play in a trio context, and give it some
validity and with integrity.
Obviously youve matured as a player as well. How would you say youre a different player
today than you were in your earlier years?
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Back then there was a little bit of going to war with the instrument sometimes, there wasnt
that comfort zone that I found in my later Bill Evans years. There was always a kind of like,
well lets see what todays gonna bring. But for me now, Ive really come to a peace, Im at
peace with the instrument. Im not afraid of the instrument, and I feel that the challenge is
always about making music out of the particular days events, whatever the music is.
Whether Im playing with Chick, or in my own group or trio, or doing a guest spot with
someone else, its about rising to the musical challenge and making the most music out of
that situation. I try and leave behind the idea of how I stand versus the rest of the world, the
bass-playing world, I really have left that behind me. Im just not all that interested in how I
compare with someone else, either before or current, or with younger players or any of that
stuff, I dont think its a very interesting topic. So Ive just come a long way, I think, where
Im very comfortable. I think my playing has matured in a lot of ways and I just feel like Im
able to breathe, take deep breaths when its necessary.

You just got back from a Japanese tour with Steve Gadd. Like Chick, you and Steve go back
together decades as well. How would you describe your musical relationship with Gadd?
Steve and I go back a long way, and it really kind of starts with Chick and some of those
early albums we played on such as The Mad Hatter, Friends and Three Quartets. Those are
all good albums that I like very much. And then Steve and I have also done a lot of things in
various supporting casts. Hes played on my albums and has produced a couple of them.
Whats the musical bond you have when youre on stage playing together?
Well I think we agree on what the purpose is. Steve really focuses on the groove, and on
making something feel good, making the pulse and the rhythm sing. Its a song, and were
making it comfortable for each other and for whoever else is on the bandstand with us. It
means being utterly simple and very direct, and to try and really weed out all extraneous
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means being utterly simple and very direct, and to try and really weed out all extraneous
non-musical events. Its really just a matter of simplifying and making everything really work
for the music from a rhythmic point of view. I enjoy listening to Steve play, I love the sound
he gets, he gets a great sound on the instrument and he plays so simply. And he also has
a huge dynamic color, he can play from really pianissimo to triple forte, and knows when to
do it and he always serves the music so well. And I think we both like that. I also like the
fact that with The Gadd Gang Im playing the double bass or the standup bass, the
acoustic bass, whatever you want to call it as opposed to the bass guitar, and I love
playing that music with my instrument.
What are your feelings about electric bass? Does it have any appeal to you?
Not to play it, but to listen to it. I like the bass guitar, especially in a kind of functioning way.
I love it in dance music meaning in rhythmic music, groove music. Im not always keen to
listen to bass guitar solos to be honest with you, sometimes not even regular guitar solos or
you know, bass solos of any kind. I dont know, in bass solos I always hear technique,
except when you go back more than twenty years. It seems that the bass has become very
technical. The bass guitar certainly has, and so has the bass violin, so I hear a lot of that. I
dont always hear a particular unique voice or personality in the playing. I mean, I can tell
certain players. Ill tell you one player Ive always liked, and hes the one guy that does both
very well, and thats Stanley Clarke. I think Stanley plays both instruments with his own
voice and brings a unique quality to both of them. And I enjoy listening, I get a kick out of it,
you know. But otherwise to hear fast guitar playing, whether its a bass guitar or a normal
guitar, Im not all that interested. And that goes for the bass violin as well, or the violin, or
the cello, you know. Id rather hear somebody really dig down deep into their soul and their
heart and play something elegant or beautiful.
But I do like bass guitar a lot, and I love hearing the old James Jamerson Motown things,
hearing Will Lee play, and I like certain Jaco things. Theres a couple of other guys, I mean
sometimes I dont even know whos playing, I just listen to the groove. I like certain pop
music. I like the Black Eyed Peas. I like Prince.
That might surprise some people.
Oh I do, I love that stuff and I listen to that stuff. Sometimes I find myself listening to that
stuff more than the so-called jazz. I like the grooves, I love the way its all put together. And
besides, I love dancing, I think it works. To me music is singing and dancing, and when
those things are happening including in jazz of course, because jazz music sings and
dances it works. You know, you asked me about Steve Gadd, and with other great
drummers too, its a dance we get involved in. But groove music definitely just goes for that
right away, and I like that. So youd be surprised what I listen to (laughs).

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I am! Let me ask you something else. Youre the
artistic director at The Conservatory Of Music At Puerto Rico. As an educator, as a teacher,
what are the important fundamentals that you stress to students? What important lessons do
you try to pass on to them?
I started teaching down there about four or five years ago, and Ive been the Artistic Director
now for about a year. But before the Conservatory, even when I did these master classes
and Ive done a lot of that over the years its always been about stressing the importance
of knowing the history of whatever you do. And in this case jazz, jazz music, its about
knowing the language, the nomenclature, and understanding how your voice or instrument
fits into that and where you are now and where you think you want to go. Its a learning
curve for me because education isnt something you flip in an out of, you have to kind of be
very serious and dedicated, and Im still learning about it. I wouldnt say that Im an
educator, but Im enjoying this academic world and doing a fair amount of it. But its still in
tandem with my performance life and going out there and playing. And to finish answering
your question, what I do is expose students to what Ive done and talk about those things,
and I also play with them, I actually play with the students. So its a question of exposing
them to me, to my world, what Ive done, talking about it and really just giving them access
to me.
Tell me something about your upright bass.
I play this instrument that was put together for me by Arnold Schnitzer, its really three
basses put together, kind of like a Dr. Frankenstein thing. Its relatively easy to play,
meaning I dont have to have a wrestling match with it. Ive been playing it for a while. And it
bows pretty well, which I like, and its comfortable for me. I have a couple of pickups, one
thats made in Japan thats called a Yamaya pickup, and I also have the Realist by David
Gage. I have them both on there, one covers for the other sometimes. I also use an
Acoustic Image amp.
What are your current projects? I know you have a trio, youve got a quintet.
Right, and I do guesting of course, but I love going out with my trio and the quintet. Im
working on a record with the trio, and the quintet actually just did one a couple of months
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working on a record with the trio, and the quintet actually just did one a couple of months
ago that I really like, that hopefully should be out soon. We recorded it in Europe. Let me
see, Im also going to Europe next week with Mark Kramer, whos a great pianist, and Joe
La Barbera on drums, and after these two weeks with Chick at the Blue Note well be going
to South America in May and June. Then later in the summer Ill be out with a different trio,
and the quintet as well. Ill also be doing some teaching in Italy in the summertime, and
then of course continuing my work at the Conservatory.
Wow. Do you ever get a vacation?
(Laughs). I dont know if Im ready for a vacation, my vacation is sort of just stopping. You
know stopping.
Clearing your head out a little bit.
Yeah, yeah, just kind of stopping all the action.
Hopefully youll get a chance to do that at some point.
Yeah, but you know the good news is that everything Im doing is very enjoyable and it
really keeps me going in a good way. It is intense, but I enjoy it because once I get where
Im going, its good stuff.
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