Bassist Martin Wind Talks about his Musical Journey and New Album Featuring Four Double Bassists

Photo Courtesy: Peter Coco

Hometown: Flensburg, Germany (most Northern city in Germany, right at the border to Denmark!)

How did you get started in music?

My father encouraged me to pick up the guitar, because “I’d be popular with the girls when I’d be playing songs by the campfire” – I’m not kidding! I never really felt at home with the guitar, it was not my “voice”.

What attracted you to the bass and who were some of your favorite bassists growing up?

When I was 15 years old my high school band director asked me, whether I’d like to play electric bass in the high school big band. I literally thought “sure, I’ll give it a try, but I won’t be turning into a bassist”. Truth is that I felt a deep connection almost immediately and never looked back. I played and studied the electric bass and picked up the upright bass at age 17.

Some of my early favorites on electric bassist were Mark King (Level 42), Darryl Jones (Sting, Miles Davis) and Marcus Miller (Miles Davis, David Sanborn), and my most important first influence on the upright was the great Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, who get famous playing in Oscar Peterson’s trio.

What types of techniques have you learned on the bass such as slapping, tapping, and others?

When I joined my high school big band, most of what we were playing at the time were classic big band arrangements by Neal Hefti, Sammy Nastico, etc., so I was trying to learn how to play decent walking bass lines. The drummer of that band got me into checking out some other styles, especially funky r & b, soul, and fusion. I started listening to bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, Level 42, Cool and the Gang, Shakatak, Chuck Mangione, Sting, etc.; I really got into playing slap bass, since that was the rave back then. I got to see Mark King of Level 42 live once and could not believe, how he’d be playing all that rhythmically intricate stuff AND sing lead at the same time…that completely blew my mind. I never really got into the taping technique, but I do appreciate it.

How would you describe your music to new listeners?

A very interesting question…Well, I would start with the following: it usually is at its core melodic, lyrical, and soulful in the sense that the listener will hopefully be touched or engaged by it in some fashion. I have never tried to serve or imitate any trends because I don’t believe in them. Did Beethoven write any of his symphonies or string quartets to satisfy any trends? Did Charlie Parker come up with “Now’s the time” because he thought it’d make him famous? Composers write the music that they need to write, that they hear or sense around them somehow. I’ve always wanted my music to feel and sound good, as well.

It is something that I’ve worked on as an instrumentalist and the producer of most of my own albums with the help of excellent studios and engineers, of course. I also want my music to have a surprising element to it – nothing is more boring than predictability in music, which is one reason why not too many current pop acts have really touched or interested me.

Photo Courtesy: Peter Coco

What was the idea behind “a tour de force”   and what was the process of recording four double bassists?

It was not my intention to create “a tour de force”, but I’m happy that my dear friend and idol, Rufus Reid, who you are quoting here, has perceived my latest album “The New York Bass Quartet – Air” as such. The initial idea behind this project was the following: to document some of the arrangements that I had written for the bass ensemble at Hofstra University (where I’ve been teaching for the past 10 years) with a group of bassists with exceptional arco skills and wide musical and stylistic backgrounds. I found these special musicians in Gregg August, Jordan Frazier, and Sam Suggs. Interesting about the recording process was that we initially tried to record in separate rooms with headphones, but we could not hear and especially feel each other well enough. So, we changed plans rather quickly and ended up playing in one room in a circle towards each other. Everybody did have his own microphone, but there was one standing in the center of our circle, as well.

Was there more specific equipment used to capture the low strings sounds? 

There are several microphones out there that capture the low string sound of an upright bass well. Just as crucial is a recording engineer with good ears, excellent taste, and no ego – same goes for the participating musicians, by the way! We found that person in Dave Kowalski, who recorded us at a wonderful studio right in my backyard: “Teaneck Sound”, about 7 ½ minutes from my own home in Teaneck, New Jersey. And it was just as important finding an excellent engineer to mix the material. I was and still am amazed at the clarity and three-dimensionality that Tyler McDiarmid was able to achieve – I can’t imagine that it was easy to do with four instruments occupying the same register plus organ, piano, and drums…

What was your favorite song to work on?

Well, it’s difficult to name favorites among the material that we recorded. I remember really enjoying the compositional process of my own piece “I’d rather eat” – it was one of those pieces that never lost its momentum once I had the first few bars down, and a general direction was established. That is what you love as a composer, that the piece is writing itself and that you are just the medium that receives it. This is special, since it doesn’t happen all too often…to me anyway! I also enjoyed writing the arrangement to Charlie Haden’s epic piece called “Silence”. It is “just” a short chord sequence of about eight bars, and I really enjoyed developing ideas and motives – music theory teachers would call that “Durchführung”, I believe, whatever happens after the main melodic material has been presented and is then being “messed” with. I also remember the process of recording Pat Metheny’s beauty “Tell Her You Saw Me”, because of how the character changed with every additional instrument that was added: first the basses, then the Hammond B3 organ (Gary Versace), drums and percussion (played by Matt Wilson), and the accordion solo (Gary Versace again!). And then, of course, having drums legend Lenny White (Return to Forever, Miles Davis) play this incredible back beat on Weather Report’s classic hit “Birdland”!

Who is your dream collaborator?

I’ve played a couple of concerts with Pat Metheny, which was an absolute dream – I would not mind having a few more of these amazing experiences. There are several other musicians that I would love to collaborate with: I’ve been wanting to play and/or record with the always-elegant pianist Kenny Barron. We only played a few tunes at the Stanford Jazz Camp many years ago, but I can still recall what it felt like…he’s the Rolls-Royce of pianists, it feels so darn comfortable to be swinging with him! There are a few drummers that I’d love to play with such as Joey Barron, Bill Stewart, and Brian Blade. A few years ago, I got to play with Sting, but I was “only” in the orchestra, not really in the band. I’ve always loved his music, his lyrics, his attitude…and he started out as a jazz bassist! I’d love to play with guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Joshua Redman and Maria Schneider’s large ensemble. But I must admit that I feel really blessed with the kind of company that I’ve been able to surround myself – I love all those wonderful musicians and human beings that I’ve been sharing sounds with over the years.

How do you get through writer’s block when you’re not feeling creative?

I had several composition lessons with the great pianist and educator Kenny Werner while I was a graduate student at NYU in the late 1990s – his advice liberated me in so many ways!
Here are several of his teachings:

Don’t judge what you’re writing (or playing, for that matter!), but accept and welcome it

Keep as much on the manuscript paper as possible, do not erase – you never know how you feel about what you have written the following day

If you don’t like a chord progression literally “play” with the material: lower every other chord by a half step, change the order, play it backwards, etc.; same applies to melody and rhythm

Stay detached as long as you can – don’t think that the next note has to be the perfect note and the next chord has to be the perfect chord, since it is that pressure that so easily paralyzes us as writers

Have you faced adversity in the music industry?

Of course, like most or all of us that have been professional musicians for a while. It is difficult,
especially as an artist, to sell yourself, to offer your “product”. It takes a minute to get used to
being rejected, when you’re trying to get a record company interested in working with you, or a
club or festival to hire your group. Right after moving to NYC in 1996, I got a taste of the big time, when my trio “Dreiklang” won the Cognac Hennessy/Blue Note Jazz Search in Germany. The main prize was to release an album on the Blue Note Jazz Label, so at one point I found myself sitting in the office of label president Bruce Lundvall overlooking Central Park. Overall, it did not turn out to be such a great experience – too many opinions, too much pressure and nobody really seemed to be talking about the music, especially at EMI Germany. So, I feel very fortunate to have been in a long and productive relationship with a small, but surprisingly active German label called “Laika Records”. Also, I’ve been mostly in charge of booking my own projects myself – that way there is nobody else to blame but me if nothing is happening or things are not working out.

What are your musical aspirations?

I’m just trying to continue to grow as a musician in my playing, writing, and teaching. I’ve been
doing this now for about 30 years and know that this is not a sprint but a marathon. I’ve had the
fortune of playing with some of the founding fathers of our music, and their curiosity and
dedication even at an older age always inspired and encouraged me. I played with the great
pianist Hank Jones when he was 92 years old – he seemed so excited and, in the moment, when
playing “Body and Soul” with me even though he must have played that song hundreds, if not
thousands of times! That is one of the wonders of music: there is always something else to learn
and to discover, the journey never ends! This is also what seems to keep musicians youthful.

Do you have any projects coming up?

I have some nice concerts and tours coming up over the next two to three months: in February I’ll be playing a week at Dizzy’s in NYC with the great singer Ann Hampton Callaway and the trio of pianist Ted Rosenthal, as well as a week at the Birdland Theater with my “sister”, pianist, and
singer Dena DeRose – we’ve been playing music together now for close to 20 years. In March I’ll
be finally touring again with another of my closest friends and musical partners, the beforementioned drummer and bandleader Matt Wilson. And in April I’ll be going to Europe again for a duo tour with one of the European jazz icons, the Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine, who will be turning 80 years old this year!

Is there anything else you would like to contribute?

My homepage is www.martinwind.com; both of my most recent albums are available on iTunes,
Bandcamp, Amazon, etc.

Photo Courtesy: Peter Coco

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