As the first in a series of guest bloggers to the Loving & Living Music project, we give you Eric Rupert. As I’ve talked so far about the listening aspect of musicianship, I invited Eric to write from a different angle, one that he’s passionate & highly knowledgeable about – the importance of stylistic & historical knowledge of music.
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As musicians we are called on to use our experience, ears and instruments to create substance to the music we perform. To play with great feel and musicianship we need to go back to the beginning of our craft, mainly our predecessors. Before finding our own voice we need to know who’s been here before and how they made their mark on the music and on us. Like in any history lesson we need to explore the explorers. This means listening and learning about the musicians, not just on our own instrument, but the whole group to understand how they achieved the sound and textures which created the sounds of the times.
All genres have a groove, whether it is rock, country, classical or jazz. To understand the music we have to find out about the creators. So we ask ourselves who played piano on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, what drummer played on Aretha Franklin’s Respect, who’s bass sound is on Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues, what inspired Dave Mason’s trumpet solo on the Beatles Penny Lane? All these things we should know before we try to find our own voice. It’s like collecting an encyclopedia of players, grooves, colours and textures to be used at the drop of a hat or on the gig. These are the building blocks of the “Tools of the Trade”.
Every week we should listen to something we wouldn’t normally and research the musicians; this doesn’t mean we have to like it, it just helps us learn more about our art. Find music to listen to by a player instead of an artist, you may find a person you already respect has done some varied musical work. A great example is pianist/keyboardist Don Grolnick who has performed and recorded with Steps Ahead, Brecker Bros, Bette Midler and James Taylor, quite a dichotomy of genres and artists.
This will bring us to ask why drummers should know different between Purdie or Porcaro shuffle; bassist and piano/keyboardists need to know the difference between a New York style groove (e.g. Will Lee on bass, Richard Tee on keys) an LA laid back style (e.g. Nathan East on bass, Dave Grusin on piano) or Blues style (Roscoe Beck on bass, Johnnie Johnson on piano), players that left their thumbprint on each. Guitarists should know who played different styles (e.g. Brent Mason in country, Chuck Loeb in jazz, Dan Huff in rock) to emulate them as a sideman. The players of the time and genre are the keys to a deeper understanding of the music. Classical musicians need to know more about the time periods, like painters do, of the pieces they play and the feeling around the era or the country of origin.
This takes us back to the question at the top: Where do we get the knowledge we need? We each take a glimpse back and learn from the forefathers of our idiom.
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Eric Rupert has spent 20+ years teaching and playing bass while recording and touring worldwide with artists from Dizzy Gillespie, Dolly Parton to Slash and West End/Broadway shows. He endorses Ibanez Basses, BBE Pedals, Breedlove Acoustic Basses, Stentor Upright Basses, Laney Amplifiers, RotoSound Strings and Ritter Cases.