Music History 101

Music has moved in me for as long as I can remember. I have always loved to sing and sang my first solo as a grade-schooler―an Agnus Dei sung in my scratchy pre-pubescent voice. Sometime in the third grade I picked up my sister’s $17 Sears guitar along with a book that showed some rudimentary chords. My folks were steeped in the classical tradition and declared that guitar was NOT an instrument, so it had to be the instrument for me. I bought a cheap electric guitar and formed a band with a bunch of other kids. I don’t recall how, but I ended up playing bass―the ultimate tool of musical rebellion.

I played bass in an all-white soul band at age 15, and tasted the thrill of perfoming for the first time. Ultimately, the band let me go in favor of someone who could sing and play bass, something I could not conceive of doing at the time. But that action spurred me to study voice, and my singing talents improved dramatically. At the same time I became interested classical guitar and my folks were so relieved that they helped me buy a good instrument and paid for lessons. But I soon realized that I was not going to turn into the next Segovia. Meanwhile I played in a very fun blues band that nibbled at the fringes of jazz.

As a college freshman, I saw a flier advertising try-outs for the Glee Club, an all-male chorus. I made the cut as a baritone―the blue collar voice of the choir. That year we sang for Pablo Casals’ 95th birthday in San Juan. During the concert at his villa, he spontaneously got up and directed us in a piece that he had written―a total goose bump moment. With that chorus, I also sang with the Kansas City Symphony as well as the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. I sang in many cathedrals including St John the Divine in New York City and the National Cathedral in Washington.

During my college days, bass playing took a back seat to singing, but after graduation I returned to Rhode Island and got back into the instrument. I was recruited to play bass in a very talented liturgical group at URI. It was there that I first mastered singing and playing bass at the same time. The musicians I played with in church formed a splinter group called Ricochet, playing country rock music. When that band broke up I got to play in wonderful acoustic trio―Three Legged Horse―the hardest working musical group I’ve ever been with. From there I fell into the circles of local bluegrass musicians in a band called The Greasy Mountain Boys. In these acoustic bands, the bass has primary responsibility for the rhythm, a role I still treasure with apologies to all my drummer buddies.

When I moved to Connecticut for my job, I discovered that my office mates were also talented muscians and we formed a band called “The Eds” (all editors!). And although we practiced regularly and became very tight, our crazy schedules precluded any chance to perform beyond company picnics and such. But it was during this time that I took a really active interest in playing upright bass. I started using the upright bass as a singing accompaniment, something a few quarter notes outside of the musical norm.

When first I came to Cape Cod, music seemed to be in hiding. I was here for over a year before going to my first open mic. I trapesed in with my big bass and sang one of my original tunes. I had dabbled in songwriting, but never had a place to showcase my songs. At an open mic soon after, Bert Jackson came up to me after and asked if I wanted to join a jazz trio―gulp! I’d never played jazz, and didn’t consider myself that competent on the upright bass. But I found myself playing jazz and facing one of the steepest learning curves imaginable. Bert and I still play jazz together in various configurations, and he has been a steady support throughout my struggles with the genre. A few years ago, I was asked to play in a roots-type of acoustic band, much more within my comfort zone. Suddenly my bass-playing seemed to be in demand. I now find myself playing in three different bands, playing three different kinds of music. I’m so lucky to have talented musicians willing to share their knowledge and talents with me.