Photo Credit: Jordan Hemingway
It’s a rare thing for a band to stay together for four decades. Keeping a group afloat for 40 years is an impressive feat to say the least, but for BassDrumBone it’s just the beginning. The jazz collective is comprised of Mark Helias (double bass, guitar), Gerry Hemingway (drums) and Ray Anderson (trombone).
BassDrumBone drummer and New Haven, Connecticut native Gerry Hemingway knew after the first time the trio played together in 1977 that it was something special. That feeling has remained the same, despite the changing trends in musical style.
“Over the 40 years, what’s very interesting is that in the first chapter -- in the very beginning, there was a very, very natural chemistry between the three of us,” Hemingway said. “A very clear and easy understanding about how to make music together. We would play each other’s pieces and within minutes, we would have an interpretation and a real piece of music that was alive. It was just an easy flow between the three of us, a good understanding. That’s never been lost, that’s a continuity that’s always been there over all these years.”
Throughout that time, the collective has spent a massive amount of time together, becoming their own little family. Sometimes, though, the band has gone years without being active. This absence of BassDrumBone as a group doesn’t mean the behind the scenes activity is missing, though. Each band member is involved in other projects, with composer roles, band leaders and playing as freelance musicians, in varying locations.
“We spent a great time together, we played well over 1000 concerts all over the world over these 40 years,” Hemingway said. “We’ve done many, many tours. We haven’t always been active, sometimes three four or even more years has gone by, and there has been no activity.”
“We are individually extremely busy. BassDrumBone isn’t the only thing we do, but it is an important thread, and important continuity.”
Given that improvisation is an often utilized component in jazz music, weaving in and out of times, textures, tones and often unplanned solos. It’s a uniqueness that keeps the music fresh and ever-changing, a quality deeply rooted within the group.
“I could easily imagine the music could become a repetition of the same formula over and over again. I think this is not uncommon for many bands who have played together for this long,” Hemingway said. “But in our case, we’re evolving all the time. Things are changing, music is developing, new ideas are being brought in, and situations are pretty lively.”
Recording for BassDrumBone’s newest album, “The Long Road,” was released in November 2017. Many of the songs were rehearsed for a few days, and the band had never performed them live before. With the new content comes room for experimentation during live shows, something the band looks forward to during the SSJF this weekend.
“Now, when we do play these new pieces, we’re kind of discovering all kinds of new things about them that the recording only touched upon. As a live performance, we see new options and new possibilities emerging from these pieces,” Hemingway said.
BassDrumBone reflects the diverse influences on band members, including jazz greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, rock classics like Cream and Jimi Hendrix, and an appreciation for classical music.
“Among the three of us…we have very, very broad points of view about what music is and what music interests us. We are very widespread in our considerations about music,” Hemingway said.
While its genre is more or less considered jazz, Hemingway assures listeners that the breadth of their discography includes a variety of styles. That wide range of sonic variations, opens the door for even more improvisation and experimentation.
“There’re no restrictions for us, we’re very free to move however we feel in the moment and that is what can make the situation pretty interesting when you come to hear the band live. It keeps it interesting for us and for the audience as well.”
BassDrumBone is scheduled to perform Saturday, June 24 at 1:10 p.m. at the Kozmic Picnik at the Broad Art Museum Sculpture Garden (547 East Circle Drive).
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- East Lansing's Summer Solstice Jazz Festival: The Styles, The Sounds, The Artists
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- Founders of the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival Going Strong after Decades
- Rodney Whitaker Quintet Prepares for East Lansing Jazz Festival
- Website of the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival