10 Questions With Bassist Extraordinaire Jeff Berlin
Goldmine Magazine March, 2005
Jeff Berlin is one of the great, innovative electric bass players of the last 30 years. He has recorded and performed with some of the biggest names in both jazz and rock including Pat Metheny, George Benson, John McLaughlin, Alan Holdsworth, Bill Bruford, and Gary Burton. You want rock? How about Rush, Yes, Van Halen and Journey.
Photos courtesy of Jeff Berlin
Along with his incredible recording, performing, radio, and television resume, Jeff has also been an educator and teacher of music for over twenty years, and is the founder of The Player's School Of Music in Clearwater, Florida. He has also recorded four solo releases including the critically acclaimed In Harmony's Way, and Taking Notes, and his newest release on M.A.J. Records titled Lumpy Jazz.
Jeff Berlin's creativity and expressions as a bass player are matched by only a few, and he continues to strive towards new heights in the virtuosity of his music. Jeff is a true master of his instrument, and continues to explore and grow as a player and composer.
JEM: Who were your early musical influences, and who influences you now?
Jeff Berlin: Classical music was my first love due to my father's influence. Before I was 10 years old, I used to ride my bicycle to the local music store and buy statues and pictures of Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin, and put them all over my bedroom. As a boy I was insane for Beethoven, listen to the opening of the Egmont Overture and you'll know why. Later when I got into bass, the Beatles were my greatest love, and I'm still a huge fan. As for bass players, Jack Bruce was it in regards to influencing me towards non-typical bass playing. I heard a tune of his the other day, something from Out Of The Storm and I was riveted.
JEM: Where did you grow up, and did your surroundings influence your musical JB: direction?
JB: I grew up in West Hempstead, Long Island, Billy Joel lived a few towns away in Hicksville. Long Island wasn't a hot bed of great music. I studied at the Edith McIntosh School Of Music in Rockville Center, and entered into ten years of serious classical training. This, along with my father playing classical music on the radio probably had more influence on me than anything else. My dad changed my life when he introduced me to music. I was exposed to only top level music, top level teachers, and top level studies since I was five years old.
JEM: What did you consider your first big break or breakthrough gig in the music industry?
JB: My relationship with ex-Yes drummer Bill Bruford opened up many doors for me. I had already entered into jazz, rock, and studio areas when I lived in New York City in the 1970's, but Bill put me on the map by giving me a chance to play bass at a time when very few electric bass players were taken seriously.
JEM: You attended the Berklee School Of Music in Boston, tell us a fond memory or something important you took from that experience?
JB: Gary Burton, still one of my favorite jazz musicians, used to invite me to be his bass player in his ensembles. This was a real honor as Gary led one of the most demanding chart reading ensembles in the school. I would have loved to have played in his band but Steve Swallow was his regular bass player. I also played ensembles with Mike Stern, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, and Steve Smith. All in all, the most memorable times at school were playing with all these future greats.
JM: What was the first record you ever played on, and as a session player, what album are you most proud being a part of?
JB: My first recording was on a solo record by Patrick Moraz called The Story Of "I". I was recommended to Patrick who hired me, unseen and unheard based on the stories that he heard about me. I would have to say that the recording I am most proud of might be the newest one Lunpy Jazz because it most represents where I am at this time as a bass player and writer.
JEM: I recently did a "10 Questions" interview with drumming legend Bill Bruford, can you tell us a fond or significant memory of your time with Bill?
JB: Bill is a bit of a dichotomy. He creates an impression that causes one to think that he's next in line for the English throne. The next minute he's grinning from ear to ear and acting like a nut. He's a great guy and we had a lot of fun playing together.
JEM: It has been stated that you do not participate in questions, articles, or tributes related to your late friend and colleague Jaco Pastorius. We of course respect this, but can you give any indication as to why this is the case?
JB: This is only my opinion that I am stating. The over abundance of tribute records, concerts, ect. and the seemingly impossible task for bass players to put Jaco into a more proper perspective causes me to not want to participate in this over-kill testimonial that has been going on in the bass community since his death. I loved his playing and his writing and I always will. Yet, no drummer, guitarist, pianist, or horn player pines for their main representative like bass players pine for theirs.
JEM: Being the founder of The Players School Of Music, can you tell us the original concept and goals behind the idea, and how those goals and concepts might have grown and/or changed since?
JB: The methods and goals are always the same; learn at your own pace, but learn every day. Practice slowly, but practice everyday. Music is never, never, never obtained through killing yourself in the practice room. Learning music is comparable to jogging. You have to start out with short distances done regularly. Many learning musicians forget that they can't play what they don't know which is why I know that technique exercises don't work. You can only play what you understand which is why you have to learn in pieces according to your ability to learn. The Players School never confuses learning with playing because they rarely relate. We are the very first and possibly the only music school that does not require audition tapes or any kind of audition to come to the school. I, and the teaching staff should be capable of teaching at the level of our students, not requiring students to rise to the level of the teachers.
JEM: With the release of Lumpy Jazz on your own M.A.J. Records label, what satisfaction do you draw from successfully recording and distributing your own music without the backing of a major label?
JB: It is a very hard road to run a company, even a small one. But as a small time record company owner, I have had more success getting my music into the hands of those who want to hear me play. By having a record company and using the internet, I have sold more CDs than I ever sold as a signed artist. For this, I am very grateful to those people who have written supportive letters about what they have heard.
JEM: Name a musician whom you admire and would like to collaborate with?
JB: John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Wayne Shorter, and Gary Burton would all be great. Drummer Bill Stewart sounds fantastic, I'd like to play with him someday. On the rock front, Steve Vai, and Carlos Santana would be nice if they'd give me a little space to play.