Reggie Washington:”Musicians nowaday don’t understand their role now in world situations because due politically. Music is a form of power…”
Born in 1962 in Staten Island, New York, Reggie has been molded into music from an early age. His parents were lovers of music (Jazz, R & B, Gospel, classical music, rock …) At home, they listened to music every single day from morning till evening even when they go to sleep. Reggie first played the cello in several orchestras (Youth Symphony, All City, All Eastern USA Youth Orchestra) before diving into the world of bass. During his secondary years, he began acoustic bass, then classical bass, as well as Afro-Cuban Jazz. He started the electric bass at the time when his brother Kenny and Marcus Miller (great bassists) spent their nights playing and listening to music at home.
In his musical journey, Reggie shared the stage and recorded with a large number of exceptional musicians!! Big drummers such as: Kenny Washington, Lenny White, Jimmy Cobb, Buddy Williams, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Terry Line Carrington, Billy Kilson, Omar Hakim, Greg Hutchinson, Willie Jones III, Gene Lake …
He also shared the music of some great artists as Branford Marsalis, Salif Keita, Cassandra Wilson, Ravi Coltrane, Steve Coleman, Don Byron, Mike Mainieri, Roy Hargrove, Cheick Tidiane Seck, Meshell Ndegeocello, Kenny Kirkland, World Saxophone Quartet, D Angelo, Chico Hamilton, Arturo O’Farrill, Lester Bowie, Will Smith & Artur Blythe, Lisa Simone.
Brother of the famous drummer Kenny Washington, Reggie had so far not a soul leader. He played everything; Jazz, funk, R & B, blues…. We saw him alongside many of his fellow countrymen. But the one who has most influenced him is the guitarist and composer Jef Lee Johnson, musician and member of The Soultronics a group from The Roots and noticed with Marcus Miller, D’Angelo, Esperanza Spalding, Jill Scott, George Duke, Erykah Badu, and many others.
His meeting with guitarist Jef Lee Johnson has radically changed his vision of music. Jef has become his reference.They do not separate any more and finally played together at the trio News From the Jungle. In 2010, Reggie invites him to play with him and after his death; Reggie dedicates the third disc released in June 2015 under his name to the missing friend.
Determined to succeed the Jef Lee Johnson tribute, Reggie strikes a majestic double-blow and releases two album ‘Rainbow Shadow 1 & 2′ composed by himself with lots of groove, funk, soul, jazz. By paying tribute to his friend Jef Lee Johnson, a major musician, Reggie Washington who did not wanted to be in the limelight, finds himself there with a lot of class.
Musicians nowaday don’t understand their role now in world situations because due politically. Music is a form of power, with it you can touch a large mind of people at one time, very quikly through the strenght of music.
So tell me, your instrument, which by the way, fascinates me a lot, is your longtime companion,. Let say from a young age, you are fascinated by sounds. From Conga to Bongo, passing by the Cello, you fall to the bass. And there you explore all what it can give you from the acoustic to the classics you finally find yourself on the electric bass. A whole trip, tell us a little about this journey, it seems in your brain there is a constant bamboula party going on!
Answer : (peal of laughter), this is a very interesting journey. I just say having the opportunity to take this journey, my parents they love music, they made that really available to my sister and my only brother. We all musicians. So beside the Bongo and Conga, I play saxophon, flute, all the instruments within my house. The instrument I really took for, was the Cello, you see Cello sounds like a human voice and you I can play it very well, for me, is very easy.
From the Cello, I went to bass just because they needed bass players in the Orchestra when I was in the high school. They moved me from the Cello section in NY orchestra to the bass section in NY Orchestra. That’s the only reason I swift to the bass. I thought they will going to put me back in Cello section after they found bass players, after the audition. But I find out twenty years later that a colleague of the conductor, the Orchestra said you should get that gap to put him in the bass section because he will do you much more good in the bass section than in the Cello section.
So I didn’t know this was just another instrument to play, and bass speaking that became funny too ! I do play on the street to make money and that was fun, and plus you can make money and have fun. My brother is a professional musician so when I was seeing him go on touring come back with nice stuff, differents stories, I was so waouh ! I think I want to do that ! So I study my way on to playing professional. The reason I took bass is, it’s a supporting instrument, it’s a quite the bottom. I like to be supportive when I play, in my band I’m not the sound who instaure the time in the band, I play my role I play bass, and to be supportive I enjoy that. So that’s what make me love Bass because it’s a supportive.
You have been always evolved among the great, with the best collaborations from your beginnings and this thanks to the supervision of your parents, your brother and especially under conductors such as James Levine, Morton Gould and Claudio Abbado, Anthony Diaz, William Blossom, Paul West just name them;and you have certainly learned a lot. Can we say that the merit is theirs or there has been in you this desire to succeed, to seek perfection in everything you do or it is just out of curiosity that we have this beautiful sounds today?
You know it was all natural. The teachers and conductors saw something, I didn’t see anything. I just like to play because it was easy and I could express myself. I always want to be a sportman, I wanted to play basketball, I wanted to play football, the american football, but I never grow.
Music was another way to get this creativity out, I like to draw, photography different things like that, but music, I have heard it since I was born because my father had a urge record collection so music was playing in our house every single day. From morning we wake up, my father would play record before go out to work, then after my brother will do the same thing !! So i twas like you go to school, come home, music is on ! We going to room looking TV, come out, music is on ! Eat dinner, music is on ! And even going to sleep. We had a radio and my brother broke the on and off swift, so radio stay on all night. That radio it melted, it burn up in you so hard I think about fifteen years before it stop working; but every single day I heard all type of different music, classical, r&b, jazz, rock, country. We couldn’t turn the radio off, so we were just turn the stations. This was from 1969 to 1979 were this radio was on and we were just listen to music since then. So it was there and just to happening that we like it.
We were able to also see people doing it as a profession. Some people came to my house, I met Reggie Workman ; at the time when I met him, he was the first best bass player I was seen, I was five and at that time he was playing with John Coltrane. Now after forty, fifty years I’ve thinking about it, this is waouh ! This guy is a legend and he was playing at the night club by the time I met him. I met Dizzy Gillespie like we’re talking here and he was a mega Jazz story.all kind different places we were able to see great players. My brother was older than me and he was able to participate with some group of players, but I was just watching and listening and at that time I wasn’t really thinking being a musician. I just like it and it was fun.
It seems so natural in you , to move from funk, R&B to blues and then go to Jazz, I mean is like waves in your brain ….
Yes, because this is just music. We have two type of music, good or bad and we have different genre of music. But the best way to play this type of thing is to appreciate and to put your ego aside and learn what music is about. I learned so much from some of my guadeloupian friend, Jacques Schwarz-Bart. He showed me the concept of the Gwoka. Playing with Hervé Samb and also much this Senegalese djembe drummer who taught me the concept of this Senegalese thinking on music.
You know I taught to play Afro-cuban, Rock n’roll. They’re all different languages of music. If you want to speak these languages you have to learn and appreciate them. I’ve been fortunate off to be around people that were given all these informations. They wanted me to learn this music For one of the reasons. I try to get old anought to understand what that was then, how the learning process happen, and I’m still learning, I’ll always be learning. That is the great thing about what music is, when you try to learn about something new.
You have been a keyplayer on the modern Jazz and over the last 20+ years, you have amassed recording, collaborating and/or touring credits with a diverse and talented melange of artists with different genre, what motivated you to become a group leader?
(Peal of laughter) Is funny because Ron Carter asked me the same questions here in Paris a number of years ago. Ron Carter is one of my mentor with world renowned bass, he asked me, ‘what moved you to be a leader ?’ I told him, I was tired of being like the enchor, the center in other band situation. Though I like that, I enjoyed that ; but I didn’t want to be that anymore. I wanted to create something on my own. When I said this to Ron, he looked at me and say, ‘I’ll be near, don’t acts’. I had to think about it for a while, and you know Ron Carter has been the center of groups like Miles Davis Quintet and many others. It was just the desire to express myself.
I think it was time, in 2005 to really set this work, because I had band before when I was in New York ; but it was nothing serious. There the timing was to much work for what I was willing to get. I started thinking a little more about it in 2004-2005, like what about my legacy ? What am I going to leave ? Am I going to be the best sideman ever to work the earth ? No, I don’t want that, I want to make my own, make some other noise. So that’s the mere reason.
How does it feel to be considered as one of the most beautiful sound of the electric bass today?
(Laugh)…..Maaan you know, it gives me a one feeling to see how this things really happen in people. To me it’s a testament to hard work and finding the right people to guide me. Plus it was a learning experience. During the time that I was comming up, there was solo players like Larry Graham and Verdine White, Paul Jackson all the solo bass players that was in the time. They had the sounds, and this is the sound that I was listening to. Also when a young rocker, who I know since when I was 12-13 came in, he was not that older than I’am, but I heard him, and the things that he was doing with that instrument and who he was around to make it sound him like Roger Sadowsky and different people that were working with him to work on the sound.
I had a sound in my head and I wanded to have a command but I couldn’t. I found a friend who’s name is Boody Pfiefer. Boody and I have been together since 1982. We are like and old couple, like husband and wife. From the beggining we talked about how the bass works. He showed and taught me how the bass works and the things that I can do to get the sounds that’s in my head out into the instrument.
So over these thirty years this is my idea of relationship. He worked on my first bass I had, then he made one of first bass and I had that bass for more than twenty seven years. I tried to work on that sound, to make it sound like when you put on the record on your CD, on your cassette, you say « hoo ! that is the guy ! » It always sounds the same, it’s present, it clear and it’s got bass !!That’s the things I was looking for.
Means that you are a kind of guy who is looking for perfection; who likes when the work is well done and when the public gives you a good return on this work!!
It’s very satisfying. But perfection it’s not that important, because every moment is a special moment. It doesn’t have to be perfect just for that moment to be special. Because we all going to make mistakes. But sometimes when you make mistakes you go to some place else ; but it might be much special than the direction you were going to. I’am not the perfection minded that I used to be, but I don’t say no to perfection as well, but just the moment is good.
Talking about your work as a leader. Your last CD “Rainbow Shadow”1&2 was a tribute to the late and great Jef Lee Johnson. Jef was a truly amazing musician and I see he appeared on your 2012 album, Freedom. I’d be interested to hear the back story about the project. In addition, what was the disruption of his influence on your evolution during your collaboration.
I met Jef Lee in 1986 after I left Ronald Shannon Jackson by the Decoding Society. Since then, we were always going back and forth in doing touring and we always wanted to play together but we were always short of time, busy doing something else. That was in 2001-2002. We played some divers Festivals here in Paris with his band; News from the Jungle and that was a special Quartet, really, really wonderful Quartet.
From that moment, we had a couple of other things that were income. We are come in tragedies between us, so our friendship went to a different level, we were conversing a lot more at that time. When I got to start living in Europe you know, I had another practice called Music of the phrase, and I got Jeff to do that. From that moment, we started really getting together as friends. Along with, his music going influence, which is, he play with everybody. He has a very interesting approach to how he interpret music, it’s an interesting concept about how he hears music. It’s special, I will say.
He started to influence me in many other things; the way I listen to music, the way I play music, the way I’am as a sideman. He is a very supportive player, he listen to the music and put what’s importante in the music, just for the music, none of the other, none of the crow. He made me really thing differently in how I can conceptionise music to be more suportive, just play what’s necessary; because a lot of music today is like delipics ! Who can play the most note, who looks the best while they play.
With him, when we were playing music, if it was one note that could be playing, it will be that note. That’s all the necessary. And I started to really think about that, this definitively makes it the better place, when you think that where music is ; not to play for yourself, you play for the good of the music. He used to say : « I play for the music, no less, no more, no bullshit » I tooked that high.
FREEDOM. That was the first time I was able to reccord a project that I started in every level of the process of reccording a CD I had something to do with. He was helping me in how to use him in the best way. He helped me in how I should see the music, how I should hear the music. How do you want it to sound ? Do you want it to sound flat or just to be a moving thing, something that touches you, something that makes it like a painter.
So I started to listen to his music to understand what is all about. When you put it on with earphone, and you close your eyes, you can hear and see the music. Different parts, different intruments moving from left to right, in and out, like waves and wind. You feel the intensity of whatever instrument was used, and you can do this if you have an ingeneer that understand what you talk about.
We had to play, so we went to the studio and he told me, we play turn and after the turn, I’ll stay here and you just keep playing back three or four time and I put different stuff on it, and he’ll do the same. We did it every single time and it worked incredibly well. Just as I can take this, and put it here, like the painter, using different colors on his board and it was amazing, FREEDOM is that.
After he passed away, I started to really getting into to his music to see the different things and how he was doing stuff. I think most of Vol2 than Vol1 is like the way he would put together a CD. Like there‘s a lot of tunes, they are different types of motives. Maybe, I have some tunes that are 9mns, I have some tunes that are 1mn 20s. I wanted to show more tips, in telling a story instead of having seventeen separated tunes. It’s always good to listen to the CDs gradually, all the way through.
That’s why I don’t like to have my CDs sold on ITunes; because ITunes will gives you each tune that you can buy. People used to take tune1, tune3, tune6…No I don’t like that one! It’s taking away from the story that I’m trying to tell; you just listen to music while CDs are telling a story!!! I have listened to almost all the fourteen discography that he has and there is a chronological order that he has in his music. I told him before he passed away that “it sounds like your music is telling a story, from CD to CD” and he looked at me and he said “Yeah, how did you know that!!?” He never thought that anybody listened to his music. I asked him if he has the lyrics, his answer was “No, I don’t write the lyrics out, nobody is listened to them”. I told him “why, I’m!” So that was another thing he did which gives me a different frame of mind when I was listened to his stuff.
Lyrics are poetry or prose and they tell story within him. If you take the music away from them, there’s a lot of very acoustic stuff. Lot of his lyrics, are still effective till these days, because they still speak off time and things that are happened now. It’s amazing that things are not getting old they’re getting timing. So I’m still a fan of his music and I also still love his music. That’s how it really affected me.
I’m very curious to see how his music going to affect me when I go to another project; a Jazz Quartet project, where I’m playing more acoustic bass. I’m curious to see how Jef’s influence and the stuff that I’ve learned from that collaboration are going to affect me in a Jazz project. Because they say there is two types of music, good and bad, and good music’s’ always influence in more good music, so I’m going to see how this Quartet is going to work.
What do you think about the industry of music nowadays ? Don’t you think they want to interfered in the howabout of the singer’s work (to tell you how to sing, how to put your voice… do you think the singer is free to do what he want, We have for example Richard Bona who left the music industry to build and manage himself the outputs of his albums and control his earnings .
Richard and I were talking about this around 1997 in New York. We have been friend ever since, and he’s going down the same mood, but he get in to the Industry and got out. I didn’t get in there, because I could see it trough other people I was woking with. They want to take what you have, they want to manipulate it the way they want it. I just want my music to be heard. It doesn’t have to be a sudden look, I don’t want to have a sudden game make or architect or any thing like that, because that’s not what I’m trying to say here. That’s why FREEDOM came out.
Freedom to do what I want, when I want it and how I want it and how the people that I’m working with, working with them and not have to deal with somebody telling “hoo we are going to move back you list because we didn’t do enough PR”. They will come out with some type of excuse. I have seen some of my friends, trying the best to get a record deal, and you know, they can be pushed aside or they do get the record deal, but they have to deal with all kind of nonsense and not having the power to say this is my material, this is something that I have created. It seems like you just keeping it!! No, I can’t handle that. I don’t have to be the richess human being on earth, because this is not going to happen, but I know that, that priority is mine and I can do anything I want with it. That’s what I’ve done with both of these projects Vol1&2.
All those tunes that are almost recorded are tunes that I liked, and I personally listened to them over the years since I’ve known Jef. Is not some producers who telling me that, « this tune wouldn’t be very great for your album, I think you can get great record play with this one » I don’t hear any of that because I’m the producer.
I was next to my Engeneers when all this stuff were recorded. When it was mixed, I was there. When it was mastered, I was there. So everything that was done, I had something to do with it along with Stefany.That’s the most satifying feeling for me. When you act like that, there is nothing people can say !! They can’t critic it, I mean negatively, because sometimes when you put out something yourself, they always try to find something wrong. It doesn’t sound comparable to this, to that. You know, they always try to compare me to Marcus Miller. That’s my big brother !! We’re different and if you ask him, he ‘would say, yes we’re different. The only similar is that, in me I have all that motivation to be supportive while he is very particular, very perfectionist. Those are things I got from him, he’s striving for perfection and having everything in his place. I’m a kind of like that, but I let thing go. I like things to happen naturally, if they don’t happen, ok! I can deal with that.The Industry doesn’t want that type of creativity because they can’t control it.
People always ask “what kind of music is this?” I can say It has Blues, R&B, Funky, Jazz, rock elements to that. But people think fusion is different. Yes it is. Is a fusion of many different genre of music and we just play it. Complexity have big influence of the people that I’ve have played with in my life time all these type of people have influence on what music is. What you call it. But all I wanted music to do is to touch somebody, even can change the way somebody view the day, the way the view music in general, that’s all I want. Industry does see things that way.
Listening to your albums, it looks like there is a need to get out of the jazz trails and explore other skies, and that means music is without boundaries. Do you think your audience would appreciate this change?
Some do, you see it by the respond that you get. It just like « Man I have no idea is going to be like this, waouh I’m going to sit down and listen to the next step. » Some people didn’t know what they’re going to hear, so they’re surprise !! You know you have your audience when everybody shut up, and somebody else walking on the stage started talking and you see it before four or five people….shuuut !! I got him ! Laughter. I want people just to listen. A good men of people, if they listened to enough music, they’ll get it ! When it come to concert, I like to always give of myself in this concert. Chiken Harlmiton used to tell us that « you never know who’s in the audience, why this person is in the audience » Years ago we have some culture of people used to came about to the gate, and this concerts change my life.
But as I got old, I started to realise there’s a power in music. Why people go to concerts if not to feel good, fell better. Who knows what their feeling better from, or the reason they feel that they have to go to a concert to change their mind !! Who wants to go to a concert and think they’ll live the same way they came in, not satifyed and fustrated ? I had so many people come up to me and say « Hey man, your concert really change my life » Ok !! I started to understand, maybe this guy could have the worst day of his life at work, and went to a concert to free his mind up. This is a mind open to express a mind blood. I don’t think person is average cake, because they go to a certain level they never go over, or it’s just hear all the time or overwhelming.
I’ve tried to get my concerts in to go some place, avoid journey and when you going to hear something and you leave, something is going to stay in there. That is what you don’t have in the mainstream music industry. A lot of stuff is so visial, and a lot of stuff that is being said by the singers in their songs don’t mean anything. Its been turned going into like fantansty world. This is not the way it should be.
Musicians nowaday don’t understand their role now in world situations because due politically. Music is a form of power, with it you can touch a large mind of people at one time, very quikly through the strenght of music. You can say something that can change a person life imediatly for good or for bad. I try to look at what I do in that frame of mine. People who are listen to this, I want them to learn, I want them to believe me, because this is what is really much about ; when you listen to their sounds, you can’t believe them, you can’t believe in what they say !!
But when you listen to Marvin gay or Samuel Cooke, they tell you about something and make you feel your are into that. Now it’s not even like that any more. People are talking about things that are not even obtainable to the people that are listening !! ‘I got my car, I got my money’ Lyrics of love, compassion heartbreak make me think about my baby. These are words that touches people !! Maybe they had heartbreak, maybe they had love these type of things that are not being taught anymore. Their music is like there is no value to it, and you have to hear some of those tunes to months or years.
You can go back to a Marvin tune and listen to it over and over, and over again, because it’s speacks to a time, it’s speaks to a specific emotion, to something that everybody can touch. Music is life and that’s what I’m trying to do.
What advice would Reggie gives to a young singer starting out there?
I’ll ask them to learn their craft, learn on where you came from, do you homework and seek out to people that you admire. That’s why I’ve been very lucky, being able to do that.
The full second thing is you know people that I used to look at on a record when I was a little boy, to get to play with those same people and won a record. That is the most satisfy thing to me for these playing of music.
I want young musicians to find out the past, find out were they came from because you are going be in my seat in twenty, thirty years, an you’re going to have the responsability of taking this plateform and the way maturity involve over that twenty years and you going to have to tell all the young generation of musicians, the same stuff. This type of mentoring is not happening now and this is killing the music.
I try to get young musicians to the sense that, if you’re serious about music, you need to know everything you can about it, and to appreciate what its really is, because you have to found out the begginings. How can you know were you’re going, if you don’t know were you’ve been ? Some of these young musicians used to tell me how they were listening to my music when they was nineteen or twenty when they were in College.
Young musicians have to get an education of the pass so they can be stronger going to the future. Also they have to stay humble and be patience, work on you craft, do you job, be consistent and enjoy it.
Your celebrity allowed you to travel the roads of the world by linking concerts, what is your best memory of concert?
Everything !! hoo my goodness. I couldn’t tell you, because there’s been really wanderful memories of things. Playing with BS In Berlin was very funny because he brougth me to a different level of commerciality were you are on TV almost everyday or you’re playing crowd of hundred thousand people. The first time I played in front of a crowd, it was on 1995/96, I got nervous when they opened up the curtain, I was very choked because of the huge crowd and they were like crazy, it was amazing to see that kind of fanatisism, it was crazy !
Playing with legends it was cool, because I used to see their records in my house when I was 5 years old ;We sit in front of the record player and read the liners note about they music and be able to play with them. They talk about the history, because all the Jazz musicians are all legends and even in their tunes they tell stories.That was happenig there nd they knew, and those things can’t really take out of my mind.
Every moment was wanderful moments full of experience and I can pick one. Maybe my first experience as a leader. That is special, it’s your stage, it’s your band, they are listening to you, they came there because of you, you arrived to the venue… I’m used to just going about my business being as a sideman, but as a leader, they come to you with the questions. Walking to the club and is your picture in the brochure it can be litle bit overwhelming those things they stick out.