3/9/16 – Return to Oz – Larry Grenadier

I made my first official Return to Oz this week, both to see world-renowned bassist Larry Grenadier play with the Oswego Jazz Project, and then to guest speak at a few journalism classes.

3/9/16 – Return to Oz – Larry Grenadier

I made my first official Return to Oz this week, both to see world-renowned bassist Larry Grenadier play with the Oswego Jazz Project (who is Eric Schmitz on drums, Trevor Jorgensen on reeds, Rob Auler on piano), and then to guest speak at a few journalism classes.

I was fortunate to be able to make it to the master class that Grenadier held on Wednesday at 3:30pm in Sheldon Ballroom. Mostly bass players were in attendance, but pianists, drummers, and guitarists were there as well, much to Grenadier’s delight.

“I wish more people thought like bassists,” Grenadier said. “Every musician should be asking themselves, ‘How can I make the band sound better?'”

This was the underlying theme of his whole discussion. Grenadier’s approach to the bass is simple; the bass’s ultimate job is to make the band sound better. This doesn’t just mean playing the “right” notes, or playing in a way that is self-serving only to the bassist. Grenadier stressed many times that “anything can work,” as long as it’s appropriate to the song.

“And each person has their own sense of what is ‘appropriate,'” Grenadier musingly quipped.

Unsurprisingly for someone who majored in English at Stanford, Grenadier had a couple touchstone words. In terms of playing the bass, he compared clarity, grounded, and “earth,” meaning a functional, root-on-the-downbeat style, compared to an “air,”openness, and coloristic to a style of playing that is more rhythmically complicated and uses more extended.

He also discussed his influences from the music of the 60’s and 70’s and the great Motown arrangements and bassists, and he described how he approaches bass lines and soloing.

“I don’t practice soloing,” Grenadier said. “I practice technical things, so that when I’m playing, I have access to everything… Music is constantly asking, and you have to answer. Think about about tension and release, both harmonically and rhythmically.”

His other big speaking about was thoughtfulness is music, when it comes to practice, writing out bass lines, and playing with a band.

He ended his talk with a solo performance of Thanks For the Memory, an Academy Award winning song for Best Original Song in the movie The Big Broadcast of 1938, sung by Bob Hope. Those in attendance got a glimpse at Grenadier’s charming professorial habit of needing to push his glasses back up after playing high up on the bass.

At the concert, Danny Ziemann, who is an adjunct professor at Oswego and bassist for OJP, hosted a talk with Grenadier. They discussed his early life and education, one of his records, and looking forward in the world of music.

Ziemann and Grenadier began the concert with three bass duets, starting with a tune inspired by Oscar Pettiford’s “Laverne Walks,” whom Grenadier described as being “under appreciated and progressive,” and “a bridge between swing and bebop.” True to the analysis, the tune effortlessly combined bebop licks, swing sensibility, and a meld of the harmonic styles. With nice transitions, Grenadier soloed in a true bebop style, while Ziemann played with a more swinging feel.

The next tune, Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” started with Grenadier playing a solo rubato open with bass “tricks” (such as string flicks, hammer-on, hammer-off, and unusual string harmonics), and smoothly transitioned into a meld of accompaniment and melody between Grenadier and Ziemann, ending with an amusing ending, in which the two musicians kept playing higher and higher, avoiding ending on the final root chord.

The final of the duets was “No Moon At All,” a tune that was made famous by Nat King Cole, Julie London, and Mel Torme, and according to Grenadier, was inspired by Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, something I wish I knew when I did my arrangement! The arrangement features a stark contrast betweem the descending chromatic harmonies in the A sections, and circle of fifths in the B section.

With the full group and Grenadier on bass, OJP played four tunes. The first was a composition by Grenadier called “State of the Union,” which Grenadier described as “appropriate for the times.” The piece featured a lilting 3 against 4 feel, causing the audience to sway and bob to the rhythm. Grenadier is considered a modern jazz bass player, and this was a great example of modern jazz.

Next was a modern tune ironically called “Dance.” The piece subbed pianist Rob Auler for Ziemann, and featured unison and harmonized arco and reed lines, moving into a very modern melody with a miasmic form.

Following that, the band returned to Grenadier’s roots and played a composition of his called “JJ,” a dedication to bassist Jerry Jemmott, and borrowed ideas of a bass line Jemmott played for BB King. The piece had a “grimace groove” going on; everyone’s facial expressions said “ugh” in the best possible way. There was a nice mix of rock, Motown, and jazz, with what sounded like a three hand piano solo by Auler, and a killer solo by Grenadier.

They ended the concert with an arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Chi-Chi,” with Ziemann in addition to rest of the band. Featuring bebop licks and swing patterns, it was groovefest the whole time, and ended with a great interchange of bass solo and drums solos.

We all hope Grenadier comes back soon!

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