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Gerald Veasley's Bass Bootcamp - March 28-30, 2008

Bass Bootcamp
Scheduled in conjunction with the Berks Jazz Festival, Gerald Veasley's Bass Bootcamp is an annual event that is held each March in Reading, Pennsylvania. Founded in 2002 by Veasley, one of today's leading contemporary jazz bassists, to help bassists jumpstart their playing, the Bass Bootcamp has since become one of the most popular and successful yearly bass events in North America. Led by an international faculty of professional bassists whose mission is to inform and inspire students in a challenging yet supportive environment, former clinicians include Michael Manring, Gary Willis, Victor Wooten, Brian Bromberg, Adam Nitti, Victor Bailey, Bakithi Kumalo, Richard Bona, and Doug Wimbish. For three intense days, bass enthusiasts from around the world will gather at the bootcamp to participate in a series of non-stop workshops and clinics that run throughout the day, and at night, campers will have the opportunity to attend world-class festival performances.

In this interview, Gerald Veasley, the artistic director of the Bass Bootcamp, discusses this year's event.

What is the Bass Bootcamp, and how did it get started?

The Bass Bootcamp is an intense weekend experience where bassists have the opportunity to get immersed in every aspect of playing bass. The basis of the entire camp was formed through my own experience as a private teacher for the past several years along with my experience as an instructor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. All musicians, at a certain point in their studies, have a tendency to hit a plateau where they get stuck in a rut and don't know what to do next in order to take their playing to the next level so we have tried to design a program that would really inspire bassists and help them get past that plateau.

Regardless of age, all bassists face similar challenges, and those challenges are what we try to address at the bootcamp. In my teaching, I've found that there are basically two different categories of players. First, there are those players that can play the bass very well technically, but they hit a wall with regard to their theoretical knowledge, sight reading, or ability to analyze chord changes. These might include bassists who have been playing professionally or semi-professional for several years. The other class of players is just the opposite. They understand music theory, and they can read music really well, but they struggle with establishing a groove or lack in technique. Splitting bassists into these two classifications isn't always this cut and dry, but these are the kinds of bassists I've taught over the years. I really enjoy teaching all bassists regardless of the challenges they might face because one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is to see the student experience that moment of insight where you can tell that something finally clicks.

Each year, we have a bootcamp jam that is open to the public. A dilemma that I often see bassists experience is stage fright when playing live. We try to eliminate that by having everyone play in front of a supportive group of peers. We want all of our participants to be able to utilize the concepts being taught at the camp in a live playing environment. We don't want people to be intimidated or put on the spot, but we encourage bassists to let go of their inhibitions when performing.

We schedule the bootcamp to take place during the Berks Jazz Festival because this permits our students to not only receive instruction from some of the world's most renowned bassists but it also gives them the chance to check out some amazing festival concerts. This year, Brian Bromberg, Michael Manring, and I will be featured performers at the festival. In years past, groups like the Jaco Pastorius Big Band and the Yellow Jackets have also appeared at the festival.

Is there anything that makes the Bass Bootcamp unique when compared to other bass events?

I think every bass event has something special to offer. The Bass Bootcamp is unique in terms of the interaction bassists have with all of our instructors. We spend quite a bit of time just breaking down the barriers between students and teachers. Our instructors get involved with each participant as much as they can. Our camp is not like a clinic that is held in a music store where those in attendance spend most of the time just observing the clinician play some songs and answer a few questions. We want our students to engage in the instruction because there is no better way to make sure that you know something than teaching it yourself. As soon as someone walks through our door, we want them to be involved in the entire process of learning and teaching. We only have a weekend to work with so it is important that we get beyond the "wow factor" quickly. We do something we call the bass circle where players are required to learn specific parts and then teach that part to someone else in the group.

The Bass Bootcamp was originally setup as an event about bass, which it still is, but I've noticed over the years that it has really become a life-changing event for so many players. When you have so many like-minded individuals together in an environment like this, there is a certain energy that people leave with which has been a really positive consequence of the camp, and that energy is difficult to convey without experiencing it firsthand. The bootcamp has become an event that goes beyond just playing bass because so much of what you learn can be applied to life. We want participants to think about their own musicianship and what they really want to say with their instrument because everybody has a unique story to tell through their music.

Who are the clinicians that will be teaching at this year's Bass Bootcamp?

The faculty changes from year to year. This year, our instructors include Michael Manring, Brian Bromberg, Will Lee, Oteil Burbridge, Gary Willis, Adam Nitti, and Andrew Gouche. I try to pick instructors that are not only some of my favorite players but they have to be open and willing to share their information as well. In addition to choosing instructors that can teach the nuts and bolts of playing bass, these players will also share their insight on how to be successful in the music industry if you are interested in playing bass professionally. Since we only have a weekend to work within, it is extremely important that our instructors have the ability to explain what they know because there are so many fantastic players who have a difficult time transmitting their message in a concise amount of time.

What are some of the subjects the instructors will cover during their clinics?

The subjects that are taught vary from year to year depending on the clinicians. We receive excellent feedback from our campers, and they have helped us put together a program that consists of material they really want to learn. Every year, we add new classes. Michael Manring is really adept at teaching technique. He also has some great relaxation drills, and he even incorporates some of his yoga practice so that students reach an optimal level of relaxation which will assist them in obtaining a better command of their instrument. Gary Willis shares his approach to improvisation. Besides being one of the most versatile players around, Will Lee teaches the practical perspective of the working bassist and how to become employable. Andrew Gouche is a giant of the gospel genre so he will be demonstrating the things that he does. Adam Nitti is really good at teaching the application of theoretical knowledge such as using scales to create bass lines. I teach conceptual classes on taking your playing to the next level and breaking down the mental impediments to making great music. Every instructor brings their own unique set of skills to the camp, and they all have structured agendas.

Should participants bring their own equipment?

In addition to their main bass, students should bring a cable, a tuner, a notepad for taking notes, and staff paper if they can write notation. I would also recommend that they bring a personal headphone amp so they can plug directly into their bass to hear themselves.

Are bassists of all playing levels encouraged to attend?

Yes. We have had students as young as 12 and as old as 68. We have also had participants from all walks of life including surgeons, pilots, attorneys, private business owners, and college students. We have students come from around the world including places such as Europe, Canada, South America, and Asia. Regardless of your playing level, preferred performance genre, age, gender, or the profession you might have, that little kid inside of everyone never leaves. About 80% of our participants are not interested in becoming professional musicians. They attend the camp because they just love playing bass. They find the camp to be a fulfilling experience because it enriches their lives.

Can you provide us with a schedule of the events taking place?

Each day, the schedule is slightly different. Registration is finalized on Friday morning. Classes then begin at noon and run until dinner with a short break in the afternoon. Friday evening we have a meet and greet with the instructors where everyone can get together and hang out. The Friday night concert this year will be Brian Bromberg. We've started doing optional midnight classes at the request of our campers because when people are tired their barrier to learning seems to break down. On Saturday, we start at 8:00 AM and run until dinner time again with short breaks during the afternoon. On Saturday night, I'll be presenting a live concert, and optional midnight classes will then follow. On Sunday, we start at 8:00 AM, and classes run until 4:30 PM. We then end with a closing ceremony that concludes at around 6:30 P.M.

Multiple classes will take place simultaneously in conference rooms located throughout the Sheraton Reading hotel in order to accommodate as many students as possible while exposing students to instruction that is appropriate for their playing level. If someone is a beginner, we don't want to put them in a class where the material is going to be over their head. Likewise, we don't want to place an advanced player in a beginner's course. We will have up to four classes running at the same time because we try to pack as much instruction as we can into a weekend experience.

Do participants need to register in advance?

We have had students register as late as the day of the event, but I would certainly recommend that people submit their application as soon as they can due to the availability of hotel reservations. We have a block of rooms set aside at a discounted rate, but those are only available for a limited time. We try to keep a low instructor to student ratio so if the camp gets filled before the day it begins, we will post a message on the Bass Bootcamp web site.

Who is sponsoring this year's Bass Bootcamp?

The sponsors for this year's camp are Ibanez, Aguilar, Roland, SWR, and D'Addario. Unlike other bass events, we don't have exhibits where sponsors can setup a display to demonstrate their products. Our sponsors understand that we are focused on instruction, and we really appreciate their support.

Can bassists setup a private lesson with the clinicians?

Yes and this is such a great opportunity because you can take a private lesson with world renowned players in a central location. How often are you going to have the opportunity to take a private lesson with someone like Gary Willis who lives in Barcelona, Spain? Each instructor sets their private lesson fees which are generally discounted for campers compared to their regular lesson fees outside the bootcamp, and we take care of the scheduling.

Contact Information

Bass Bootcamp
P. O. Box 12599
Philadelphia, PA 19151
Web Site: The Bass Bootcamp

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