Now, Olle is in India, opening a jazzclub, but back then some 35 years ago, we sat in his apartment in Örebro drinking beer, listening to music. He was a vibes and piano player, and very important to me, as for my introduction to jazz.
We listened to an LP with Red Mitchell, One Long String,with Bob Stensson on piano and Rune Carlsson on drums.
What struck me then, and the still strikes me, is the three dimensional quality of his sound, and the feeling that there was a human voice hidden in the strings of his bass.
I knew instantly that I wanted to be able to play like that.
When I first met with Red, my bass was tuned in fourth, as normal. We played a tune, Red on the piano, and after, he accepted me to study with him.
I soon found that Red had a mission spreading the fifth tuning. Spreading it "around the world" would be an appropriate way to put ut, as he saw music with all its ingrediences was the substance that could save the world.
I started to tune my bass in fifths and of course I discovered new ways to do things, some advantages and some disadvantages. I used the fifth tuning at the concert with Gerry Mulligan in 1980, but went back and forth between the systems for a couple of years. To me, the free floating quality of the fifth tuned bass vs the tension and gravity of the fourth tuned bass, was an issue. Red could make up for those differencies, and his playing had the both the freedom of the fifth tuning and the tension and gravity you associate with jazz.
If you were to answer the question: What makes Red Red? , tuning in fifths would be the wrong answer.
"Trying to save the world with each note" would be a better answer.
In this mission, there were no coffee breaks. He was constantly working with musical ideas, and ideas of how to add meaning to his music. He loved the alto player, Johnny Hodges, and worked very hard to be able to portrait him in the way he played glissandos on the bass. He even used his dreams in his work, and he could take a musical phrase to bed, and try to dream the words behind the melody.
In spite of his constant work, he kept an image of jazz improvisation as a way of spontanious communication, and never stressed the tons of work behind each and every expression.
Listening to different bass players, I would say that the closest I have heard to Red's fantasy and elegance is the bass player Jim Fergusson, although he is using normal tuning. But also a musician that is working with words close to the melody. There are other bass players that have found their ways to really dig into each note, fantastic guys like Jeff Johnson in Seattle, but with another set of reference, another artistic aim, so to speak.
At some point I had to face the fact that Chuck Israels' bass playing probably is closer to my emotional reference than Reds, but trying to learn from his playing, has also given me a clearer look at Reds playing. Isn't that funny
"Trying to save the world with each note". I wonder if this concept can be seen as naive or out of touch with reality?
For a social worker, a banker or even a psychologist, for sure.
For a musician? Well, obviously that depends on the musician.
For me, after many years, this concept makes more and more sense, and I cant see anything that could make it irrelevant.
In any case, that was what Red was busy doing.