Bassist/Music Director for Alicia Keys, Rob Thomas, Queen Latifah, J. Cole, Ed Sheeran and more.
What are your steps for learning new material for a gig?
Usually, I'll have a recording of the music. If there isn't a particular "live" arrangement for me to learn then I like to use the album or popular version as my key reference. Then I learn it verbatim. There may be key elements that I’ll need to focus on. As a bass player, my focus is not the lyrics. But if I have a complicated form or I'm short on time, sometimes learning the lyrics helps as a guide. That may be the only thing that really sticks out to help you remember there’s a different chord progression on the third verse leading into the third chorus on one of 15 songs.
I try to break down the song form in the simplest way possible. You always try to memorize the form. That’s why you might write a chart and being able to do a chart quickly helps. If you can throw it into Capo, it gives you that basic chart form.
Slowing down like you can do in Capo can help, too. Not something I have to do often, but if I have a particular arrangement like for the Christina (Aguilera) show I did recently as a one off… They were using arrangements from a tour a few years ago. I was checking for certain parts, what lines were part of the arrangement vs fills the bass player was doing that night.
How has your process (of learning songs for a gig) changed from when you were in school?
The only thing that’s really changed is that I’ve been doing this for a while now so I start to recognize song forms very quickly. A lot of pop music now has the same song form or one of a few similar forms. The biggest difference today from years ago is that more songs have minor roots, especially in R&B and pop. There’s almost always now what I call an 8-bar minor blues progression in the verses, the standard harmonic form. If I do a gig without a rehearsal, it’s about recognizing the form type. If someone plays me 8 bars of a groove I kinda figure out where it’s going, lay out the first time and catch it the second time.
You’ve spoken about musical intuition as something you rely on when performing with new artists… what does that mean to you? How do you develop it, access it?
Musical intuition is your ability to adapt to a musical environment quickly, an intuition about a situation you’re used to working in. You can’t fully predict a musical situation but you can be able to make quick adjustments on the fly. Especially when performing songs last minute. A drummer called me in recently for a gig with a local singer/songwriter and said, “I’m working with this kid can you do this gig? No rehearsal but don’t worry, just show up.”
This (musical intuition) is not just something you wake up with. It’s something that can be developed. If you work in a lot of different types of musical situations, your experience helps you develop this. It takes a lot of studying music and a whole lot of listening. When you listen and analyze you develop an understanding of how the music can work or flow.
It really comes down to being open-minded and listening a lot. All musicians have certain styles that they’re more comfortable with, even those of us that are pretty versatile. There are still styles we’re more comfortable in because we spend more time in them. But being open and always listening, always trying to learn more and be aware to how music is developing, will help you develop musical intuition.
As a music director, what are your responsibilities for preparing the band?
I send the audio file or YouTube link and if we’re using charts, I’ll get the charts prepared. Capo fits perfectly for situations like that, particularly when there’s a lot of music and not a lot of time. Anytime you can combine sending a chart with the audio file it definitely helps.
As MD, if there’s not a set band to work with, you also have to make sure you have the right people for the job and that the collective can work together well. There’s a certain trust factor that the title holds. You are the band leader, arranger and the one that artists and show producers depend on to make sure everything is executed well.
How helpful will Capo be on your iPhone and iPad?