Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Calgary Scene - Kodi Hutchinson

Today's Calgary Scene column features Kodi Hutchinson, one of Calgary's busiest bass players. Kodi was one of the first Calgary musicians that I played with after I had left the stage production of "Barrage" in 2006 and I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to play with him often in various rhythm sections over the years. Kodi is a very talented musician who always brings a wealth of experience to the bandstand.

1) Can you tell us about your musical background? How did you learn to play Jazz?

I think I started music like most kids. When I was in grade 3 growing up in Calgary, my parents started me in piano privately. At the time I was a pretty hyperactive child, and ended up not endearing myself to my piano teacher. She suggested to my parents that I find something that was more suited to me. It was a short lived start in music.

When I reached grade 6, I ended up at new elementary school which had an orchestra program. I saw the double bass in the corner, and thought, I have to play that! Unfortunately, even though I let the teacher know I wanted to play the bass, she said there was a taller boy in the class, and I would have to play cello. I wasn’t a big fan of the instrument. It had a terrible set-up, with the strings constantly cutting into my fingers. However, I carried the cello home and practiced as I was instructed. I do remember clearly my very first ever concert at the school on the cello. After all my practicing and dragging this strange object around all year, the concert was a study in stage fright! I was so nervous, I don’t think I played a single note! I just wiggled my fingers with everyone else, looking terrified around the crowd. I look back on that now with a smile, considering very little makes me nervous on stage any more. I definitely try and keep those early experiences in mind when I deal with students nowadays. I find it helps to remember what they might be going through when they pick up the instrument!

Junior high school began, and my family moved to a new neighbourhood right around the start of the school year. Because of the move, I showed up at my new school 3 days late for school. When I got to band later that week, I was handed a Euphonium. It was the only instrument nobody had chosen, and now it was all mine. Although I had never heard of the instrument, I took to it immediately, and ended up playing it all the way through to University. While I was in band, there was a double bass sitting in an instrument cupboard. I started trying to play it at lunch times. I remember teaching myself to play ‘Stand by me’ by ear. I’m still amazed I could play the bass. It was so badly set up I could get my entire forearm between the strings and the finger board. I had a great junior high band teacher named Bob George. He was an excitable man who loved what he did, and got all of his students excited about music. I would say he was probably the first person to get me thinking about being a musician, and he was a great teacher who I think put me on the right path!

One day in grade nine, Mr. George mentioned to the concert band that his electric bass player had quit jazz band. He asked if anyone in the band had any experience playing a string instrument. My hand shot up! “I would love to play bass”, I said! He said I would have to get lessons. “No Problem!” Was my response. To this day my mother remembers how much I bugged her to get lessons. She explained to me that she finally had to give in, because I had never been so committed to pestering her about anything so much in my life. She found me a great teacher who really made me work on technique. I was also slightly obsessive about the instrument, and played for hours every day. My family got used to not being allowed to go on holiday unless my bass was in the car with us.

For high school, my family had moved again, I moved to my sister’s high school, Western Canada High School. The school had a great band program run by a very intense band teacher named Mike Klazek. I played in every ensemble whether it was on Euphonium or bass. The school had great bass players, including my fellow classmate, Jeremy Coates, who is now an amazing 6-string electric bassist in Alberta. It was very competitive trying to get to play in the band with him. I would say Jeremy and I pushed each other as players during those years. I think I have counted 18 different professional musicians that came from my high school graduating class, including recent Emmy award winner Dave Pierce. I would say the great musicians at my school probably pushed me to be able to become a professional musician. Also during high school, I was probably playing between 4 to 6 hours a day. I was also going to jazz camps, and studying and playing with whoever I could. Every Friday after school, my music friends would head over to Jeremy’s house, and we would play jazz together from our Real Books. I was being exposed by my bass teacher John Hyde to players like Ray Brown, Jaco Pastorius, Ron Carter and Paul Chambers. My mother was also great, buying me jazz albums from those artists because she knew how excited about music I was.

In grade 12, I started playing the upright bass. Finally I was playing the instrument that I was so excited about all the way back in grade six! To get my technique together, John sent me to see a bassist from the Calgary Philharmonic named Sheila Garrett. It was with her I started studying the mechanics of the instrument for the next 3 years.

Due to my late start on double bass, I wasn’t able to apply to music programs on the instrument. I went to the University of Calgary studying history and business. However, I played in every band I could in the school including the UofC Red Band. I also joined the Calgary Youth Orchestra. To this day, most of the music students I went to school with, think I have a music degree since I was around the faculty so much and playing in so many different groups. I actually graduated with a business degree, which is a surprise to most of them!

While in University, I went to lots of jazz jams, and would check out any jazz concert I could. I was that kid who would ask anyone who was coming through town for a lesson. Somehow, that put me in the radar of the people running the Banff Centre Jazz Programs. Every year they’d have a bassist who couldn’t make the program. I started getting invites to go there for the summer jazz program. That is where I really started learning jazz getting to study with great bassists like Don Thompson, Ray Drummond, Johannes Weidmuller, etc.. I have been in the jazz program there a number of times over the years. I have also travelled to play with Hugh Fraser’s Big Band workshops in Calgary, Banff, Edmonton, and Vancouver. It was a great education getting to play with world class musicians like Silde Hampton and Maria Schneider. I also spent 3 years as the house bassist at the Kaos Jazz and Blues club. I was playing with musicians travelling through Calgary on a regular basis, getting ‘schooled’.

Although that’s how I started to learn jazz, I’m still learning. I still grab lessons when I can, and check out as much new music as possible. I try to learn as well from the musicians I play with. Right now I’m on a Canada council study grant where I’m studying with a number of teachers in New York. I intend to try and keep learning about jazz my entire life. For me, the day I stop trying to learn is the day I should do something else with my life.

2) Who are your musical influences and why?

My main influences I think are my band teachers and other private teachers growing up. I had some great teachers including Sheila Garret, John Hyde, Ken Coffey, Dale James, and Hugh Fraser. All great musicians, and such giving teachers!

My first influences on upright bass would be Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers and Charlie Haden. I love how Ray Brown and Ron Carter create their walking bass lines, and the attack they put on their notes. As someone who came to double bass a bit later than most, I really like Paul Chambers ability to play such melodic bebop lines in a very confined range of the bass. As for Charlie Haden, his is a tone and sound that I have always strived for. His ability to play such simple phrases that are so melodic is amazing, as is his ability to play with time and play over the bar lines as a soloist. He is a study in beauty and minimalism.

As for electric bassists, I was a Jaco fan from the first time I heard him. I probably spent most of my High School and University years trying to transcribe his solos and grooves. I am also a big fan of John Pattitucci. He is an all-around great musician on both electric and upright bass. He really plays like a horn player as a soloist on both instruments.

My influences change as I get older, but those are the players I really first started checking out.

3) Name your top 5 favourite albums and how they have influenced you.

I’m sure like most musicians, my list of favourite albums changes over the years, so I thought I would put a list together of albums that influenced me most early on with some albums that I am really into right now in no particular order. I tried to keep the list to 5 albums, but it was so hard, I ended up with 7. Otherwise, I have recently been checking out artists like Gerald Clayton, Taylor Eigsti, Brad Mehldau, Maria Schneider, Aaron Parks, Christian McBride, Seamus Blake, Donny McCaslin, Matt Penman, Esperanza Spalding, and the SF Jazz Collective to name a few:

Quartet West – "Haunted Heart" (1992)

This was the first album I did a transcription for upright bass. The track was ‘Hello My Lovely’. It was my first real complete look at playing the melody, solo, and walking lines for an entire song on upright. I really love the simplicity of Charlie Haden’s solo and how wide and beautiful his tone is. He pushes and pulls the time in a way that really grabs your attention.

Charlie is the master of playing minimalist solos. He seems to play half as many notes as any other bassist, but in the end, they are always the ones you wish you would have played. All of Charlie’s albums are always so melodic, even when he is playing free. He has been a huge influence how I write music. I am a strong believer in finding beautiful melodies because of his writing and soloing style. Some other great albums featuring him are ‘Nocturne’, and ‘Beyond the Missouri Sky’.

Paul Chambers – "Bass on Top" (1957)

Paul Chambers is definitely one of my favourite bassists alongside Charlie Haden. His time feel is always so even, and his solos are very melodic, emulating horn phrasing. I really got into ‘You’d be so nice to come home to’ from this album. Recorded while Paul Chambers was at the height of his ability and notoriety, this track has it all. Paul is playing the intro and melody, then kicks into a great solo right out of the gate. After that, he creates some great swinging bass lines that really flow. For a long time I tried to emulate Paul’s time feel and bass line structure. He also showed to me, that a double bassist could be a main melodic instrument, if placed in the right setting.

Ron Carter – "Standard Bearers" (1978)

This was the very first album I ever owned of a double bassist as a leader. When I think of it, this very well might be my first jazz album I ever owned. I believe my mother bought it for me. She was very keen on trying to find music for me to listen to when I was starting jazz band in high school. The recording itself is not the best. It was recorded during the 1970’s explosion of double bassists using pick-ups, so the bass sounds a bit processed. Ron Carter plays melodies and solos on piccolo double bass, while Buster Williams plays walking bass on the tracks. There are lots of tuning issues and such on the album, but it had heart. As far as influence goes, I just was fascinated with the album and learned some of the melodies and walking lines on electric bass. It was my first time trying to read chord charts and lead sheets along with an album.

Unlike today when we have so much access to music, this was the first album I really got to explore. This was in large part due to the fact, that for quite awhile, it was the only recording I had to listen to in the pre-digital age. I spent hundreds of hours listening to these tracks. This album led me to Ron Carter’s work with other artists such as Miles Davis. That is where I started to listen to more seminal albums with Ron on them.

Jaco Pastorius – "Live in New York Vol. 2" (Released 1992)

This was my very first CD I ever owned. Once again given to me by my mother. She really had some great luck with finding music for me.

Although like most bassists, I spent a great deal of time transcribing music from Jaco’s self-titled album and his work with Weather Report, this album spoke to me more than the rest. It was interesting hearing Jaco in a live setting playing a mix of his music as well as very well known pop tunes of the day. It showed me another side of Jaco and made me think of what type of music was viable for jazz. Not just standards and originals. It is a fun album which has its ups and downs, but that is probably why it influenced me so much when I first heard it. I really enjoyed hearing great players live with blemishes and all. It made me realize how ‘human’ music can be, and still be great.

Chris Thiele – "Not All Who Wander Are" (2001)

I spent a number of years touring in Celtic, bluegrass and world music in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. From my travels and the musicians I got to work with, I started to discover the world of New Grass. These blue grass musicians blew me away with the amount of influences they were bringing into their music. New Grass showed me bassists like Edgar Meyer, Victor Wooten, and Byron House. Although I had met Edgar through my double bass teacher Shelia Garrett in University, it wasn’t until I was more immersed in that world that I started to truly discover his range as a musician. I was also a fan of the band Nickel Creek, so I bought a solo album by their front man, vocalist / mandolinist; Chris Thiele. This album has both Edgar Meyer and Byron House on it. Edgar is so amazing on tracks such as ‘From Sinai to Canaan’. His classical technique on the bow, mixed with his ability to solo and create beautiful moods and melodies, just makes this already great album amazing. This album really has influenced my playing in genres outside of the jazz idiom.

Avishai Cohen – "Gently Disturbed" (2008)

This album has been a huge influence as of late for me. I first heard Avishai in the late 1990’s with Chick Corea and then on his album ‘Adama’. He was fascinating to me even then. This album is an amazing display of what the bass can do within a compositional framework. Although a jazz album, it is classically influenced while utilizing modern grooves, and odd-meters. It is one of my favourite albums of all time. This album I think will show itself as a major influence in my writing over the next few years. I think I have listened to ‘The ever evolving etude’ more times than I can count. This album demonstrates what a true artist on the instrument can accomplish.

Oscar Peterson – "We Get Requests" (1964)

I attended a great workshop with bassist John Clayton when I was in University. He has the ability to play like any jazz bass player you care to name. This is due to the large amount of transcriptions he has done for bass. When the clinic was over, this was one of the albums he recommended. Although not an album for bass solos, Ray Brown’s walking lines make it worth the listen. This is an album that I keep going back to throughout my career.

4) What sort of things are you practicing or developing musically these days?

At the time I am writing this, I am on a Alberta Create Development Initiative (ACDI) Grant to study in New York. So I’m definitely in study mode musically right now.

I really wanted to find some teachers that would help me work on a range of things. Currently I am studying with Jay Anderson (Double Bass), Garry Dial (Theory), and more recently Chris Tarry (Electric Bass).

I am working with Jay on a better understanding of my movement, soloing, and lines on double bass. Right now I am really focusing on trying to work through making longer bass lines harmonically which are more melodic.

With Garry, he is really making me go back to basics for theory and helping me work through exercises that make theory more automatic in my hands. He teaches the Charlie Banacos method. It is really great for me as a bassist. It has been helping my ability to function on chords much more quickly, and to better understand harmony. I know it will help me both as a player and composer over time.

With Chris I am working on melodic techniques and electric bass issues. Chris has a very strong melodic approach and has great ways to explore that.

5) What interesting projects do you have on the go at the moment? (gigs, recordings, etc.)

Right now I am working quite a bit with drummer and band leader Karl Schwonik. I have been on 2 of his albums; ‘Visions from the farm’, and ‘1+4’ featuring Remi Bolduc (Both WCMA nominated). I have 2 tours scheduled with Karl for the upcoming winter. I also teach at his summer jazz camps for the Wetaskiwin Jazz Society each year. This coming summer we will be working with New York percussionist Rogerio Boccato at the camp. We will also be recording an album with Rogerio on it. Very exciting.

I am also recording a new trio album next year with my own group ‘The Hutchinson Andrew Trio’. It will be our third album, and we will be recording in New York. The album will feature a very special guest that I’ll keep under wraps for now, but we’re all very excited. Chris Andrew and I will be writing music for it over the next couple of months.

I am also excited to be a part of a concert featuring Maria Schneider this coming winter with the Calgary Jazz Orchestra. I just saw her live in New York, and I study with her bassist Jay. I played for her at the Banff Centre Jazz Workshop in 2007. This will be my second time playing for her. It should be great. I love every chance I get to work with world class musicians like Maria.

6) As a sideman you have played with a great variety of artists and genres over the years. Can you tell us about your experiences and some of the lessons you have learned from playing with these musicians?

Being located in Alberta has afforded me some great opportunities as a musician that I might not otherwise have had living in some other places. We have some great musicians travelling through that local musicians get to play with, as well as some great musicians living here.

Nearing the end of my time at University, I was made the house bassist at Calgary’s first jazz club KAOS. I spent 3 years playing with a number of great musicians coming through town. It was a great proving ground that really forced me to get aspects of my playing together, and exposed me to what musicians in different parts of the world were doing. It also gave me an idea of the expectations put on players to succeed at a higher level.

I have also been part of the Banff Centre for the Arts Jazz Programs numerous times. I would honestly say, Banff was the closest thing for me to going to music school. The format of the program is more intense than any music program I have had access to. It’s probably part of the reason that it is so popular amongst up and coming players in Jazz.

As far as specific artist lessons, there are a few that come to mind. The most important was being able to play with jazz great, Slide Hampton (trombone) for an entire week in 1998. It was part of a Hugh Fraser Big Band workshop in Edmonton. Slide at the time was 65 years old, and a recognized Jazz Master who had played in Dizzy Gillespie’s band. Every day we rehearsed new music with him and the big band. For the shows we would play a set up front of quartet music, then get into the big band sets.

Slide just played amazing each night. We were all in awe of him. But the funny thing was he just kept saying how he needed to go practice to keep up with us, and how blessed he was to get to play with us. He was so supportive. I was blown away. Here was one of the recognized greats on his instrument, and he needed to practice, and was honoured to play with us!? It struck me how music is about life-long learning, no matter how good you are. It also showed me the importance of being graceful to others in music and in life. I really strive to approach music and life like Slide does. I want to keep his attitude of trying to evolve as a musician in whatever way I can for my entire career. Music is about growth to me, both as a player, and as a person.

I also had a number of lessons playing in other Hugh Fraser workshops and bands. He really was a huge influence on me as a person and a musician. A number of times I have been on stage with artists in small groups alongside him such as PJ Perry, Don Thompson, and Julian Priester just to name a few. Many times they have called a song on stage at a concert that I didn’t know. As in the jazz tradition, they played the song anyway, and I had to adapt and play the song as best as I could. It really showed me how to keep my ears open, and play simply to make the music sound good. Hugh definitely taught me that in the end it’s just music. No-one gets hurt. I learned to be relaxed in stressful situations, and adapt quickly by listening.

In the end, the overall lessons I have learned are to keep a positive attitude about music, and towards people. Also, always keep moving forward and learning. Be adaptable, creative, humble, and flexible. And finally realize that what we do for a living is amazing.

Being a musician can be a struggle, but in the end, it’s the only thing I want to be!

7) Favourite place to eat in Calgary?

Such a fun question since I’m kind of a foodie! So many Choices. Right now I am a fan of the ‘Home Tasting Room’ in Calgary. A great open concept kitchen with a tasting menu. Bring your wallet and some friends!

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