Feature Interview: Jeff Berlin

Discussion in 'Features' started by TalkBass, Mar 23, 2004.

  1. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    This feature was published on TalkBass.com December 2000
    <p><img src="http://www.talkbass.com/images/featureindex_berlin.jpg" align="left"><b><font size="7"><center><b>Jeff Berlin</b></center></p> <p align="center"><i>Feature interview for TalkBass.com by <font size="2"><a href="mailto:[email protected]">Jason J. Bundy</a></b></i> </p> <p>As one of the most accomplished bass players of our time, Jeff Berlin has redefined the role of bass players, musicians and music teachers everywhere. In his professional musical career of 30+ years, Jeff has to offer more than just his incredible playing - he offers us his refreshing and rewarding perspective of music learning based on his vast knowledge and experience. </p>
  2. TalkBass

    TalkBass News Poster

    Mar 12, 2004
    <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>At what point in your career did it become apparent that the new styles of music learning didn't work?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">About 20 years ago, in the early 1980's, when I began to see transcriptions of rock guitar solos and bass solos. These solos that appeared in many top music magazines generally did not have any meaningful tonal content which would make them meaningful educational pieces. Because rock is an emotional, powerfully expressive music, this doesn't mean that it should be considered as educationally meaningful as jazz might. I think that in studying jazz or classical music, one would benefit from looking closely at the notes and harmony. Since rock music is generally neither melodic nor harmonic it doesn't really pay to pursue learning the solos of players in that genre.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>What about players like Eddie Van Halen, or Yngwie Malsteen?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The transcriptions of these players were real popular with young players and certainly beautiful to look at on music paper; those transcriptions really looked like modern art. But if you slow down what they played, you would find that there is more technique than tonality, very little there to deserve the time trying to learn the notes that they played. You would actually do a whole lot better by listening to their records and trying to imitate what you were listening to. At least you'd be doing some ear training. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The truth is that you can't teach technical prowess via their transcriptions and you can't teach technical prowess via technique exercises. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>Many other players think otherwise.</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Some still do. Some players got mad with me because I was against methods of learning that pretty much every music magazine and music video stood for and endorsed. My negative attitude caused many people a lot of consternation. They thought I was deliberately stirring up the pot rather than making concrete serious statements. Well, if you have technique and don't have the music to go along with it, then what good is your technique. I come from a serious musical background and players with my kind of musical history know that a lot of the methods that people have pursued for the last twenty years don't work, never have worked and never will work. The proof of the pudding is that musicians who, for twenty years, having pursued practicing with these methods are unable to gig except in a bar, can't play the music they hear inside their heads, and don't know how to play their instrument except for a few licks in one position at a time. Too bad for them because there has always been an easier road to learn how to play. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>When did you start applying these methods to your own playing? </b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">You mean reading and studying content rich music? Since I was five years old.</font></p> <p> </p> <p><b><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">And you never did it with a metronome? Can you clarify your thoughts that has been discussed in your Bass Player Magazine column?</font></b></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I never practiced with a metronome because I knew that time was an internal thing. Good time comes about from understanding music internally. If you here it internally the external part, what you hear from other musicians, is easy to understand and function with. It is nothing.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The other day my seven year-old son was sitting on the couch and was clapping on the two and four while singing a melody against the rhythm and his time was perfect. Look at someone tapping their foot to a song. Usually it is right in beat, either on the one or the two. They didn't acquire this talent by tapping their foot with a metronome. This is what my seven year-old son also proved; that most people have a really good natural time sense. They just don't know what it is or what it means. They only know how it FEELS.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">It's been proven too many times to me. All those articles about how to use a metronome in 30 different ways will not help you to accomplish what they says they will help you to accomplish, which is to help the musician to have good time. Here's another thought about this. Name any drummer in the world with metronomic time. Name any bass player with the same ability. If you can't do this, then the metronome is an unrealistic tool unless you use it realistically.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>So then the best way for a musician to learn is to just get in there with other musicians and just play.</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Certainly every great player in rock, jazz or blues got their sense of time by playing with other musicians, listening to music and practicing. If you want to rock out, you don't need to spend a penny on any kind of rock educational video or handgrip. Just play regularly with three or four other guys that think along the same musical lines as you do. Buy CD's of your favorite players and learn from what you hear. Rock music, in fact, live music in general is not about academia. It is about non-academia. It is about expression and feeling. Jazz is the same way, by the way. </font></p> <p><b><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">You have been playing for a number of years now and you have played with many people in a variety of musical situations, how do you consistently challenge yourself on the bass?</font></b></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I challenge myself on the bass by trying to play music that is not natural for me to play.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>How do you mean?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Well, I have had different heroes in music. The discovery that I made was that every hero I had didn't play bass.Not since Jack Bruce was I starry-eyed over another bass player. My heros are players like vibes player Gary Burton, who is on my new CD. I don't think about music the way he does, so I have a lot to learn from him. Another hero is David Liebman, the great sax player who is also on my new CD. He is so beyond my musical capacity that when I hear his playing, I am (to quote Howard Stern) LIQUIFIED.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The way I get better and continue to get better is to practice music that is not natural to the bass.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Incidentally! If you are a beginning player you WANT to imitate bass players. You imitate the concepts of all the good walking players, the R&B players, the funk players, the jazz players, the good rock players. But as you progress through the higher echelons of music and become someone developing your own concepts, you will not want to sound like those people anymore. As a professional career looms large, you will want to do away with imitation. To be a Jaco clone or a Stanley Clarke clone, you really don't want that professionally. You know what I mean?</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>Yes I do, because at some point the musician struggles for their own identity on their instrument.</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><img src="../images/berlin2.jpg" width="169" height="253" align="left">It is hard to be original. It is the last thing any musician ever develops. The reason is because you are going to spend your first years taking things in and out of your playing, including what equipment you use. That is what makes you evolve into an original player. It does not matter what you sound like when you start out. It doesn't even matter what you sound like on the beginning of your recording career. All that matters is what you ultimately end up sounding like and what you ultimately accomplish. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>How is The Player's School of Music different from the others, such as BIT and Berklee College of Music?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">There are two differences. One is that we teach music instead of styles. Generic musical information is the way to go because every style of music has a G triad in it, for example. It isn't necessary to teach you this triad in the style of Glam Rock. This, to me, is a rip-off. I will not cater to popular learning concepts if they have no meaning to the students that we teach. Even to the point where I would rather close the school down, I will not take people's money unless they are ready to come in and be serious about their music. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">All I am asking from our students is mean it when they say that they want to learn how to play and enjoy the experience of learning. This is also why I have done away with auditions. It seems quite un-necessary to ask someone to study so that they are good enough to come to school to study. If you love music, then the audition is over; you passed. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The other difference is that we give homework here. If you can do your homework that week we will move you onto the next assignment. If you practice it and can't get the homework down this week, you get another week. If you can't get it the second week you get a third week. The idea here is that you don't have to learn your homework by Thursday at 6.30pm. You just have to learn your homework before your turn 75 years old!</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">We have just about a 100% improvement rate from our students. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>That is incredible!</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">But it is not an exaggeration. We have ten week courses at the Players School. A guy will come in never having read a note of music in their lives. Ten weeks later they're playing jazz tunes, reading charts, improvising solos. It is no "genius thing" that we are doing, it is just the methods that we teach with are irrefutably great lessons. And what we do with those methods is to encourage people to keep hacking away at it. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">We have the guitar teacher, Bill Norman, checking in on the bass students. We have the drum teacher, Dave Via, making sure the guitar students are understanding the information. And I check on the drummers making sure they get what they need </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">We all look out for each other.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>Excellent. Very well said. You mentioned your new CD which will be coming out soon...</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">The title of the CD is "In Harmony's Way". It will be availabe in about three months, in March.</font></p> <p> </p> <p><b><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">What new styles or approaches do you experiment with on the new CD?</font></b></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">A lot of new things are on this because as a player, I like to keep growing and not stay in one area of music. This is the most "jazz" CD I have ever done. It is hard swinging. I have a couple of hard R&Bish type tunes with horns. I have a trio consisting of Pat Methaney's old drummer, Danny Gottleib, and this wonderful piano player named Richard Drexler from Clearwater, FL on this record. For me this is the best trio I have ever played with. Danny to me is the unsung hero of this record. His drumming has really set him apart from anyone I have ever played with for one main reason; Danny plays the drums to serve the music. Danny has an organic approach to serving the rhythm section. He has a phenomenal instinct to lift the music to someplace higher. He is so subtle and musically attuned. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">And Richard is such an amazing musician. Just brilliant. He contributed a tune to the record using a title that he has bantered around for years. Everytime he mentioned the title of his song to me, I would be in stitches. It's called "Liebman on a Jetplane" which, of course features Dave Liebman on soprano sax.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Richard also wrote some of the horn parts on the record and even played upright bass on a couple of tunes. Richard's piano playing puts him right up there with any great player on piano right now. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Gary Burton is also on this record. Gary plays on the tune, "This Is Your Brain On Jazz". Richard on the upright Danny on drums, and me doing the melody and the solo. It is one of the best bass solos I have recorded as far as I am concerned. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Mike Stern has been a friend of mine for 25 years. He kindly agreed to play a couple of solos and he is fantastic. A great guitar talent.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">This recording has practically no "fixes". I practiced like a dog for three months before we recorded and the bass solos just poured out of me. I am very proud of this record. My guest artists are old friends of mine that have honored me by playing on my record. I feel that this is one of the best playing records that I have done. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>It appears that these musicians brought out a lot in you as a player.</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Yes. Very much so. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>Did you use the 5, 6, or 7 string basses on your new record?</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I only used one bass on this recording, my Dean "Jeff Berlin Standard". I don't play anymore than 4 strings (I might use a five string if required on a session). For my own musical purposes, I am strictly a 4 string player because I believe that more strings will not make me play better. I believe that whatever I can't play on a 4 string bass needs to be investigated by me. All you can do on a 5, 6, or 7 string is play higher or lower, not necessarily play better music. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">What I have found by limiting myself to a 4 string, 3 octave bass is that I am constantly called upon to re-evaluate what I do. I'm better because I'm using the same three octaves in new ways. I have actually grown to a place where I don't think I have ever played as well as I am playing today. This is due to the fact that I put a concentrated effort into a lot of practicing this year. I wrote this new record in 90 days. Any time between classes I was writing, anytime between giving lessons I was practicing. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>Tell us more about your tunes.</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><img src="../images/berlin3.jpg" width="178" height="253" align="left">I have a tune on the record called "Emeril Kicks It Up". I wrote it for the chef who appears on the Food Network. This tune has horns and a smoking solo from Mike Stern. </font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I did another song called "Runaway Train". You know how I am not a fan of slap bass. I just don't find much musicality in this style of playing. So I decided to come up with something that is similar to slapping but with an original way to do it. And I did. I feel like I found a particular way to slap the bass that is different.</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">After coming back from my session, I've written two new pieces and have ideas for more. I tell you, the music just keeps pouring out of me. I guess after putting 30 years into the bass, I should be getting something out of it!</font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"><b>It sounds as though you have a reached a new plateau in your musicianship.</b></font></p> <p><font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">I would like to think so. </font></p> <br><br> <font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">For more information on the Player's School of Music visit <a href="http://www.playerschool.com">http://www.playerschool.com</a></font>
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    Nov 5, 2009
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