Berlin is a legend of the electric bass, known as a major
innovator through his incisive playing through recordings and
performances for the last thirty years.
His numerous recording credits include six highly acclaimed solo
records, Champion, Pump It!, Taking Notes, In Harmony's Way,
Lumpy Jazz and Aneurythms. Jeff tours with his band that has
features ex. Pat Metheny drummers Danny Gottlieb and Paul
Wertico, steel drummer Othello Molineaux, trumpet player Randy
Brecker and pianist/bassist Richard Drexler.
toured with BX3, a bass conglomeration that includes the great
bass players Stuart Hamm and Billy Sheehan. In 2009 Jeff toured
with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Jeff
also played in Asia in an explosive trio with drummer Dennis
Chambers, and guitarist Scott Henderson.
you get the gig with Bill Bruford? Were you a Yes fan
Jeff: My ultimate favorite two bands were The Beatles and Cream.
The Beatles were continuously unique, inventive, and their songs
got into my heart and have never left. But in terms of a
'playersí group, then Cream were my main inspiration in playing.
But, Yes was that orchestral rock band, creative and with really
brilliant songs. My friend Phil Mandel 'discovered' Yes and
turned me on to them.
What was it like working with Bill Bruford?
Jeff: It was wonderful. He was a guy with vision and I learned a
lot from him. He and I sounded great together and we had a nice
musical influence on each other. I opened him up to an
American-type feel for music, and he opened me up to everything
else. I learned so much with Bill, lessons that have ingrained
themselves into my musical life to this day.
Reportedly Allan Holdsworth overdubbed his guitar on the
first two Bruford albums and was not present when the rest of
the band recorded their tracks - is this true - can you
Jeff: I actually donít know Allanís methods of recording
when he did those solos. But, I would say that essentially, you
are probably right. I think that he may have come in after the
fact and laid down that remarkable guitar playing of his.
On Gradually Going Tornando you sang lead vocals on several
tracks - was this your first attempt at singing on record? Was
this a conscious move to make the band more commercial sounding?
Jeff: Yes! Bill wanted to see if my vocals could help with the
commercial impact of the group. My problem was that I had a
boring voice. I could hit a pitch, but I really had no style, no
real sound as a singer (although Peter Gabriel vocally did
imitate me on one of his records). As I said, I could hit a
pitch, but I gave it my best shot, but I think that it might
have been much safer for all involved if I didnít sing.
played with Allan Holdsworth in the early 80s - can you tell us
about working with him?
Jeff: Heís a true original, one of the greatest guitarists
who ever played. I loved playing and touring with Allan. We
were, and are, great friends! We toured around in a beat up old
Cadillac toting a U-Haul behind us and we played all kinds of
different venues around America. The band was Allan, Chad
Wackerman and Paul Williams on vocals (I really loved Paul. We
have a lot of fun on the road together). But Allan was great!
Recently we got in touch to discuss the possibility of playing
together again. Time will tell!
You have played with some of the greatest drummers in music -
can tell us who.
Chad Wackerman, Vinnie Colaiuta, Simon Phillips, Danny Gottlieb,
Dennis Chambers, Steve Gadd, Louie Bellson, Billy Cobham, Mike
Clark, Neil Peart, Alan White, Alex Van Halen, Billy Hart, Ray
Baretto, Jeff Porcaro, Bernard Purdie, David Garabaldi, Mitch
Mitchell and a whole lot more than that. I am always going to
grateful for the wonderful times that I had joining my bass to
the incredible rhythms of these drum Masters!
What were the circumstances in you getting the gig with
Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, Howe (original members of YES) -
what was it like playing with the legendary group?
Jeff: Their bass player got hepatitis from eating
shellfish and their tour was in jeopardy of being cancelled.
Interestingly, it was Steve Howe, not Bill Bruford who brought
my name up as a replacement.
I am a
super fast learner and I was known for this. One Sunday night,
Steve Howe called my house and asked if I would play their tour.
He gave me the list of songs.
I went out and bought the CDís with these tunes and wrote out
music charts on what I heard. I reviewed Close to the Edge
because I had heard that as a kid and sort of remembered it, but
I didnít need to write that tune out.
On Wednesday, we rehearsed, and on Thursday I was touring with
them. Frankly, I treated the gig as a sort of music school
assignment; 'Your homework Jeff is to write out the bass parts
for these tunes. It was a piece of cake!'
But still, the gig was fun, the music was great, and the
musicians were wonderful guys. I enjoyed the tour.
Tell us about your current bass and rig
Jeff: I play Markbass Jeff Berlin 15 inch combo bass amps and a
Dean Jeff Berlin Bass.
The amp that I play was originally a standard model 15 inch
Markbass combo. It was the amp that Marco Devirgiliis first sent
to me to check out. When I plugged into it, the amp sounded so
utterly unbelievable, that I was really shocked at the
offered me any kind of amp that I wanted, I asked if I could
stay with the 15 inch amp that he sent me. It was, and still is,
THE finest amp I ever played through. It is light, it puts out
tons of highs and because it is a 15, it puts out really great
lows as well. My only alteration was to remove the tweeter
because I donít like the sound of a tweeter.
The bass is a plain jane instrument, just the way that I like
it. It is a four string passive bass, because I donít like the
sound of an active pick-up either. The bridge is my usual Leo
Quan Badass Bass Bridge, the pick-ups were made for me by Bill
Bartolini himself, and the strings are nickel because I donít
like the sound of steel strings. They are DR Strings, the
Lo-Riders in .040 .060. .080 .100 You can get tons of lows out
of thinner strings. Itís a myth that if you play lighter strings
then your bass sound with sound thin as well.
You are active and renowned in the field of music education,
and have very strong opinions about the subject - can you
explain your stance. Also talk about the music schools you
started in Florida.
Jeff: I noticed that the quality of musical instruction began to
go away around the time that the 1970ís ended. Two handed
tapping and rock exercises became popular lessons with many
magazines and their impressionable young readers began to
believe what they were reading about music education and its
false lessons that put rock music into a classroom instead of
great musical information.
My problem was that I knew that few would become good players
via these pseudo study principles. Players who sought out a
decent education didnít have the musical experience to know that
they werenít being given important musical information in these
schools and lessons.
So I told
people that music is factual for a reason, and should be learned
this way, that art and academics were two different points of
view and needed to be regarded differently. But, many people
couldnít separate art from academics and still canít! Therefore,
they missed the point about what great musical learning is all
about. For these reasons, I am called controversial. But Iím
not! Iím right! And Iíve proven it for two decades of teaching!
My son got cancer when he was 5 years old. When he was
diagnosed, I put my bass in a closet and didnít touch it again
for two years. I had to make a living. So I started The Players
School of Music which I feel is one of the finest little music
schools in the world.
from all over the world come here and tell me that they donít
find at home what we were teaching them here in Florida. Some
people who come here couldnít read a note. In ten weeks they
were soloing and reading charts. And they do this 100% of the
son was cured of his cancer but I kept the school operating in
order to provide a good source for learning how to play music
for anyone who wanted to improve their playing the right ways.
Tell us about the new CD
Jeff: It is a recording of three guys in a room playing
standards together. I call the CD 'High Standards'! It is
shifting, a little rough, bumpy sometimes, missed notes now and
again, just a wonderful example of an organic recording session
with very little discussion and very little rehearsal, if any.
We just wanted to play. And it came out great! I solo on almost
every tune and left them the way that they came out. Bumps,
shifts, fret noise, it is the real deal and I never recorded
quite like this before.
Richard Drexler is the pianist, but he is also the upright bass
player. We played trio tunes with me usually on the high
pitchers, and his upright bass beneath. And it works
beautifully. Then when Richard soloed, we would swap positions
and then I would take the low sonics.
Danny Gottlieb is the drummer and I have never played with
anybody as tuned into the other musicianís thinking as Danny is.
No joke! He is a one of a kind player. Weíve known each other
since 1975 when he was the drummer in Pat Methenyís band.
You will be touring in support of the new CD release, can you
tell us about the band, and what to expect from a Jeff Berlin
Jeff: I have a joke relating to touring to promote this CD. 'The
Audience will be on Its Foot!' Meaning; only a few people care
about players anymore. I also joked that if Michael Jacksonís
CDís always go Platinum, then 'High Standards' should definitely
You are also performing with jazz legends Scott Henderson and
Dennis Chambers, can you tell us about working with this
Jeff: It is three middle-aged players who are actually teenagers
at heart. We kid together, we love to hang out, even after long
flights to get to the next gig.
together, we hang out in each otherís rooms after the show is
done. We simply like each other as people and we love to play
together as well.
this is the most peaceful and fun band I was ever in. Players
want a sense of peace when we are bundled up together for weeks.
In this group we have it. We simply love to hang and we love to
play! Friendships on the road are organic, they either work or
they donít. This one works beautifully. Plus we play our asses
off in this band, especially those guys!
Can you talk a bit about how you practice and compose.
Jeff: I havenít touched a bass in three weeks. I have a growth
on my right thumb and it is killing me. So I bought a wart
remover and froze the darn thing. For two days I was seeing
stars. That bump hurt worse after putting on that freeze stuff.
But, today my thumb doesnít hurt much at all. Then I can get
back to practicing and writing.
How do I practice? There are lessons that I have found over time
from phenomenally gifted teachers and music authors and I work
on their material.
Bergonzi and the late great Charlie Banacos figure greatly into
my practice life. The Dave Liebman book is a bit hard, but I
find things there to use. Plus I have a ten page Keith Jarrett
transcription that I did a few months ago and I am still picking
my way through it.
But, I write differently. I simply play the bass and see what I
hear that I like. Recently I found some stunningly beautiful
harmonic things that, in my opinion, have no precedence on bass.
I need to continue to examine this to see what will come of it.
I write on
piano and I sing to myself melodies then write them down.
Writing is a task for me because it never comes easily to me. I
have to put in hours to realize and then develop ideas. But, I
guess that if it was easy, then everybody could do it.
Are there any other new projects (recordings or gigs) you are
Jeff: Herbie Hancock and I have chatted about possibly
hooking up. Heís an old friend and playing with him would be an
honor. Also, Simon Philips and I have talked about touring
lot of music schools are asking me to come and give clinics to
discuss what and how to improve their playing. Scott Henderson
Dennis Chambers and I will tour together this year and next.
Plus we plan on recording together this year. So, as long as I
am healthy, I will keep playing and learning and showing other
guys what to do if they would like to improve as players.
Interview © April 2010
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