Interview by 'SMASH'
Edited by Paul Determan
Thanks for joining us at Talkbass.com. Please introduce yourself! What are your current projects?
Hi there. My name is Rufus Philpot -British Bass player, currently residing in Studio City, Los Angeles -and from 2000-2004 I was in NYC full time....
Current projects would include PLANET X with Derek Sherinian and Virgil Donati, The Virgil Donati Group-(either quartet or trio,) Down to the Bone-a British Acid Jazz Band, and when I am in NYC I try and play with my old trio, JVR-which features Joel Rosenblatt on drums.
Most recently, I have been recording bass tracks for the new Planet X CD, which I believe Allan Holdsworth will be playing on too! Last year I recorded a great tune on Derek Sherinian's "Mythology CD - again with Holdsworth on guitar and a great (British!) drummer, Simon Phillips.... I also toured Australia with Virgil's Quartet (me,Virg,Steve Weingart and Tony MacAlpine) in July, and I JUST found out we are going back as part of his new Trio project, this time with Mitch Forman on keys in December! We play regularly too at a great club in L.A. called the Baked Potato. Its a great trio-Virgil and Mitch are superb musicians.
A few weeks back I played with Scott Henderson,Scott Kinsey and Gary Novak-that was so much fun-Gary swings his ass off and the two Scott's were... well, phenomenal!
Plus, on the educational side, I have recently given some Masterclasses at both the Musician's Institute and Los Angeles Music Academy. I also have a number of private students who maintain a weekly tuition routine with me when my schedule permits. Any interested parties should direct their enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. In that area I am also putting on a series of small group classes which will focus on soloing, melodic concepts, and bass line construction. These should be really fun. I also am formulating an instructional dvd which will focus on melodic concepts and some cool technical stuff. And a solo cd is in the works.. .Again, anyone interested should drop me a line and get on the mailing list. There is also a variety of music to download on my website-including some fun stuff I did with JVR.
What is the extent of your formal music training (any teachers of note?), and how much does this come into play in your work ... is it necessary to have a formal background to land gigs?
Not necessary at all! I DO have a degree in music, but have never found it to be an issue. For instance, I was on the faculty of the Bass Collective for a couple of years, and I got that job through personal recommendation - not a formal qualification. Having said that, I recently did some masterclasses at Musician's Institute and was told that what was nice about my approach was the fact I could clearly articulate what musical concepts I was demonstrating. So training helps when you are teaching. And I am finding i have acquired a number of excellent students here in LA-and they all tell me they like my approach-so maybe a little formal training doesn't hurt!
I would definitely say learn to read music!! All of Planet X and Virgil's solo stuff is written out, and Virg sometimes brings stuff in which we will sightread. It's a fun challenge! Plus, if you sub on different gigs, people will often have bass charts, so that side of "formal training" has been valuable. Buy the Charlie Parker Omnibook and practise that, and some drum rudiment reading stuff for rhythms-and you're away!!
As for teachers of note-well, in a way, everyone I ever listened to or transcribed...but I DO have to mention Laurence Cottle, a truly great bass player and composer living in England. I learned a lot from him, and also Dill Katz-another London based bassist who got me listening to music coming out of Africa. Lastly, I learned a great deal from drummers-they have always been my buddies! Roger Hempshall, who teaches percussion in Newcastle-upon Tyne opened my ears to SO much music. And now here in the U.S., guys like Joel Rosenblatt, Virgil Donati, Gary Novak and all those guys -well, I learn from them every time I play with them..................
Planet X - TJ Helmerich (guitar), Virgil Donati (drums), Rufus Philpot (bass)
There's a lot of talk about gear here, and I'll be honest and say that the first thing I noticed on your site - http://www.rufusbass.com/ - is that you play Ibanez.... Please talk about your choice of gear - why you chose it, favoured EQ settings, anything?
Ha! Yes-that pic was taken in Poland last year on a Planet X gig, and I had just gotten that bass!! However, the bass rig was provided by the venue. Sometimes, sadly,boutique manufacturers don't have international distribution in all countries-whereas say if you are playing in Eastern Europe or South America for example, there will most likely be a GK or Hartke rig there, so you use what is available. It's the life of the touring musician. However, I am officially an endorsee with Ibanez and LaBella-those are the only two companies up on my site homepage at the present time, because I believe in their product quite strongly. HOWEVER!- i think also it's important to make sure your technique and skill on the instrument comes through, no matter what you play through. My Ibanez I used in that pic is a stock Roadgear, but I use it in preference to a $5000 bass that was previously my main axe! I have always liked Ibanez -my first proper bass was a Roadster 11 Active...They also built me a beautiful fretless-great woods and passive electronics-in fact that is the route I am going for the new fretted bass too.As for the five string fretted Roadgear-it plays great, is light ,well balanced and doesn't sound too "hi -fi"...Perfect.
As for amplifier endorsements...watch this space-I have some exciting news regarding that dept. soon! (and maybe keep yer eyes and ears open at the NAMM show too...)
If I am involved with a company, it is because they listen to me and I genuinely dig their product(s).I really like the fact that a kid can see me playing my fretted bass and buy one like it for less than $1000!
Particularly in this security conscious climate - when you fly, airlines are less and less inclined to let you bring a bass in the cabin. So now I just check mine - and I know if, God forbid, anything happens to it in transit, Ibanez can get another to me fast-I really like that! Again, if you tour-these things really matter.
In the case of bass strings: always La Bella. Killer strings and a GREAT bunch of people-who really care about their product. I have done some bass masterclasses in conjunction with LA Bella both here in L.A.-where i now live-and in NYC too.............
As for EQ settings etc....Well I love a nice bit of growl in the midrange, tight focused low end and smooth highs- I do not like that glassy treble which some active basses have. For sound, I love guys like Willis, Anthony Jackson, Matt Garrison,Jimmy Johnson, Victor Bailey, Pino and -here's a name you don't see enough of-MICK KARN. He and drummer Steve Jansen together are ridiculously original. Check out Japan "Tin Drum" and the JBK stuff too.....Early Jeff Berlin-his stuff with Bruford...very tasty.
Photo by Amy Rogin
Your site has some excellent clips on it. Great playing in a variety of styles, and superb tone. Any styles you prefer over others?
Thanks! You know I love most styles I am asked to play. In NYC I was so lucky to meet musicians from Spain,Ecuador,Argentina,Africa,Brazil,Columbia, Cuba and - well everywhere! I got to play so many different musical genres. I have always loved flamenco guitar for example. Paco de Lucia's bassist Carlos Benavent is stunning, and Vicente Amigo too....and in New York I played with some very fine guys in that genre, including percussionist Minu Cinelu, who played w/ Vicente and also Weather Report and Sting!
I have noticed some of the guys with the most amazing touch and tone have been coming out of Africa-or Paris,France where there is ,of course, a great African scene too. Richard Bona is superb. Actually Richard's original trio gig was the first band I got up to play with when I first arrived in NYC! Also some other African Bassists of note: Etienne M'Bappe,Michel Alibo(Ivory Coast)-stunning-and Zawinul's new guy, Linley Marthe...
Sometimes I think its a good idea to listen to stuff that is sylistically removed from some of the stuff you play-so I don't listen to too much high powered jazz/ rock or fusion before a Planet X show, because when I play I like to bring influences from other stuff, like electronica,flamenco,African music-anything that can add a different flavour to the way you play. I love playing simple pop /rock stuff too -I was just listening to Coldplay's latest - this is a great example of the bass playing what is 'right' for the song...love it! Also some of the electronica/drum and bass stuff: Aphex Twin, Squarepusher is really interesting-and I think Bjork is a total genius...
What path did you take to get to this point, musically and professionally?
Well, many long musical hangs with many a bottle of good red wine!!!
But also, I always wanted to play with the people I listened to when I was at college-a lot of American stuff especially: Tribal Tech,Weather Report,Michel Camilo,Brecker Bros. etc and it seemed the way to do that was to move here! I actually came to NYC in '96 for a week, and was immediately struck by the vibrancy of the music and the city. I met Matt Garrison a day after arriving, and Nick Epifani. They were so hospitable - Matt took me to some jam sessions to meet people, and in 2000 I got my first Artist Visa to move here. Musically, I just played with as many people as I could, and it was strange-there seemed to be a very positive energy there at the time, which meant I met people really fast and ended up playing with a lot of the people who were my inspiration when I was a kid!!!. My first album session was really special-I was hired for a project and,although I didn't know it, the producer had replaced the entire live band apart from me...so, suddenly in walks the new drummer, Buddy Williams -now this guy has played with Marcus, Dave Sanborn,George Benson AND a lot with Anthony Jackson - so it was a huge thrill to play with him (after being in NYC for only a year). Also I must thank drummer Phoenix Rivera for recommending me to MANY people-and THIS is crucial: personal recommendation....We function a lot on word of mouth-and the better the person recommending you, the more credibility it gives you.
Most recently another buddy, Ric Fierabracci (who is a seriously talented bassist, touring with loads of great people including Chick Corea) told Virgil and Derek Sherinian about me-and thats how I ended up playing with those guys...
On a brief (don't want to put anyone to sleep here!) philosophical note..It is really important to believe in what you do-I knew even at 19 I wanted to play with the people I have mentioned- my feeling was "@#$% it, go for it and don't let anyone stop you.!"...Seems to have worked out ok I think?!
What are some pros and cons you discovered about 1.) studio work, 2.) gigging, and 3.) touring as a hired gun?
Studio Work: Fun,exciting-I like the level of detail involved, and the pressure can be a good stimulant. Gigging: well-I love it-but obviously if one is treated well/paid well its more enjoyable.....Live performance is very important to me. Touring as a hired gun....Hmmmm..Well, I am not really a hired gun in Planet X, and Virgil's projects feel very much like a band to me now.
Down to the Bone is fun, because even though the albums are generally put together back in England,with the live band here it really takes off.. Hopefully when you get hired,people want you for what YOU do. And the better known you are the more this happens...
What might amateur players be most surprised to learn about the life/business of a pro?
Hmmmm...that it's not all glamour,piles of cash and beautiful women- although when I was last in Poland....
Down to the Bone, Live in Milwaukee
Any advice for those that are starting out in bands, maybe starting to play their first gigs? ie : what should they be most concerned about - gear, lessons, ... ?
Buy a decent bass- but not necessarily some boutique instrument. Most manufacturers make good starter instruments, but too much emphasis is placed on getting the latest gadget. Think about a lot of classic bass tones: Marcus,Jaco,Jamerson, etc... It was usually played on a a Fender jazz bass: a 40 yr old design,passive electronics and...four strings..so sometimes I think we all should keep a focus on what's really important: learning to play well! Believe me, I still agonize over stuff I play now - whether I have been playing with good time,note choices,dynamics, feel, phrasing..it's a never ending quest!!!!
ALSO- get a couple of good lessons to start you off at least. Some of my students have been playing for a year..some for twenty, but all of them know the importance of studying hard.I also wholeheartedly recommend transcribing as much music as you can..NOT JUST BASS LINES!!! TRANSCRIBE MELODIC STUFF TOO-sax solos,guitar lines,chordal stuff, drum grooves-this will ensure your reading level goes up, your ear improves and technique is greatly enhanced. Try figuring out some Michael Brecker sax stuff-or I always had fun playing some of Metheny's stuff....his guitar break on the track Third Wind on his "Still Life Talking " cd for instance....Ok, so that is more advanced-but as a beginner..sit down and figure out anything you hear that grabs you-I loved the Bass Line from Walking on the Moon-its easy-but quite brilliant... AND-the most important thing-play with other people!
What can we expect from your Pro Forum on the site - are there specific topics you're keen to discuss more than others?
Well-I feel like I have discussed gear enough here, so I would prefer to focus on playing concepts, improvising, etc..........
ALSO again!!!- I am in the process of preparing a DVD (AND- a solo cd is in the works ...) so readers should check back in to get an update on that-or sign my guestbook to be on the mailing list for any bass related events- either visit www.rufusbass.com to do that or e mail : email@example.com