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Jim Stinnett - August 2006


Before joining the faculty of the Berklee College of Music in 1986, Jim Stinnett studied acoustic upright bass under the guidance of James Harnett of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and later attended North Texas State University in 1978 where he became a member of the critically-acclaimed 1:00 Lab Band. After concluding two years of touring with that ensemble, Stinnett continued his studies with Ed Barker of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and acquired his bachelor's degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. Through his independent publishing company, Stinnett Music, which was formed upon the release of his first book in 1983, Stinnett has documented his teaching methods within a series of self-published books and play-along recordings that address subjects including walking bassline construction, sight reading, slap bass playing, and the music of Paul Chambers. In addition to his current position of associate professor at Berklee College and the instructional-based publications which he has authored for bass, Stinnett is also the founder of the Bass Workout, the Stinnett Academy of Music, and the New Hampshire Bass Fest.

In this interview, Stinnett discusses his latest recording project, the New Hampshire Bass Fest, the Bass Workout, the Stinnett Academy of Music, his instructional books, teaching at Berklee, and much more.




Can you tell us about your latest recording, Two Low, with bassist Rob Gourlay?

Jim Stinnett Two Low came about as a result of my association with two outstanding people, Rob Gourlay and guitarist Lionel Loueke. Rob and I have performed and taught together regularly for the past seven years. Besides being my good friend, Rob is one of the most accomplished bassists alive today. I am always thrilled to get the chance to play music alongside Rob. I first met Lionel Loueke at Berklee when he was a student in my arranging class. Lionel and I immediately hit it off and have performed together numerous times. I was honored to produce and play bass on Lionel's first U.S. recording, Incantation. Over the last six years, Lionel has appeared on the play-along CDs that accompany three of my books. We have also worked together on four additional CDs. Our collaborations have become highlights of my career.

Two Low is the most challenging project I have completed. The plan was to write original music and feature Lionel. Because of Lionel's hectic schedule with Herbie Hancock, Terrance Blanchard, Sting, and a host of other great musicians, the project took two and a half years to complete. Not once did all of the musicians on the CD record at the same time. First, Rob and I would lay down some tracks. At a later date, Dom Moio would come in from Arizona and record some percussion. A few months later, Lionel's touring would bring him to Boston, and we would sneak up to the studio. Twice our scheduled session with Lionel was cancelled because of his tours outside the U.S. being extended. My son, Grant, and I would record some of his tracks, and Rob would come in later and do some solo work. Finally, Joe Hunt moved back to town and laid down his drum tracks. As the songs metamorphosed with all the great musicianship added, I would go back in the studio and redo some of my original bass tracks. It was a very long and tedious process but well worth it.

We wanted the CD to be bass-centric but not overloaded and self-indulgent. The attention paid to texture was a central focus for both Rob and I. For my compositions, I wanted to move in a specific direction. I wanted to write songs that anyone, not just bass players, would enjoy. I also wanted events in my life to be the conceptual inspiration. Most of my previous composing has been the result of preconceived musical devises and techniques, but these would be different.

My friend and mentor John LaPorta passed away so I composed "JLP" and dedicated it to him. John loved playing melody so I simply played a melody on my bass and wrote a song to accompany it.

I always enjoyed the Mr. Rogers show, and his passing resulted in the composition "I Miss Mr. Rogers." This tune was composed playing the piano, and much of the music is comprised of sequenced tracks. I played a melody and then added parts using the computer. When it came to composing the bass line and changes, I created a fun version of "Rhythm Changes" but in two different keys. The magic of this song is Dom on brushes and Lionel's incredible solo.

My wife, Jamie, enjoys driving music. "Motor" was composed for driving on a nice sunny day, with your hands on the wheel, the top down, and the open road ahead. My original intention was to add a melody, but Jamie liked the nice little groove so well that I did not want to obscure it. Besides, I think the bass line is the melody, anyway.

"African Dream Quest" was influenced by Lionel's beautiful voice. The looped bass lines and the accompanying djembe are a foundation for Lionel's narrative of the story of a youth and his search for manhood. It is so easy to write a simple song and let great musicians make you look good.

"Double Agent" is just me playing bass along with my drum machine, doubling and tripling the lines, adding some fun-sounding notes, and then letting Rob do his thing with the talk box. I really enjoy the use of space in composition.

I used to play a lot of big band and always loved the sax soli sound. For "Chippers Dream," I created the changes first, added a melody, and then composed the soli. Rob, some sequenced vibes, and I play the soli and melody in unison, octave, and harmony.

On the songs not composed by me, I just tried to help fulfill the vision of the other musicians. Grant's tune, "Slippery Moon," is a feature for my Rob Allen fretless. I really enjoy the sound of this instrument and love the setting Grant created.

Two Low is really about the camaraderie between good friends and their desire to make some pleasant music.

What is the New Hampshire Bass Fest?

The New Hampshire Bass Fest (N.H.B.F.) will be a four-day celebration that takes place from June 20-23, 2007 at the New Hampshire Community Technical College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Our goal is to provide a combination festival, school, and a great hang. Each day will feature numerous performances, clinics, master classes, lab-style playing classes, lectures, and concerts. A variety of contemporary styles and techniques for both electric bass and double bass will be featured. Various instrument and equipment vendors will have gear on display as well.

Complete registration details are available at: NHBassFest.com.

The artists confirmed as of now to appear at the N.H.B.F. include Rufus Reid, Michael Manring, Steve Bailey, Lionel Loueke, Dave Buda, Rob Gourlay, Bruce Gertz, Marshall Wood, Joe Hunt, Dan Wilson, Everett Pendleton, Tom Arey, and Dino Govoni. Please visit the web site for the most up-to-date artist information and links. A few more additions are anticipated.

You'll note that a number of the artists I've mentioned are not bassists. This event is for all musicians. All of the artists will perform and teach.

Can you explain the Bass Workout program?

The Bass Workout (B.W.O.) is a three-day intensive workshop. In 2006, we are presenting six Bass Workouts. The goal of each B.W.O. is to answer the question, "what and how do I practice to become better?" With our practice CDs, the student can replicate, at home, the same practice environment created at the workouts. We offer a variety of levels and style-focused workouts.

Bass Workout Level 1 - No music reading skills are necessary for this workout. The focus is on learning how to practice effectively and develop good technique. Topics include: left-hand technique, walking lines, slap-tap, funk, reading, transcription, practice habits, and ear-hand coordination.

Jim Stinnett Bass Workout Level 2 - In this session, we develop strength and stamina through intense exercises. Using the same topics as in Level 1, we work on developing concepts based on the music of great players.

Recording Workout - The first day is a combination of labs and time set aside for each student to practice with the faculty guitarist and drummer. The evening concert is a dress rehearsal for the following day's recording session. On the second day, we spend ten hours in a professional studio. Each student records his or her song. The third day includes an evaluation of the recording session and more lab work.

Slap-Tap Workout - We spend all three days working on slapping and tapping techniques and learning songs in the styles of Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten.

The Jazz Workout - This workout is all about learning walking lines and soloing on standards. Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and Christian McBride are our models.

Registration, prices, and complete details are online at: BassWorkout.com.

Is there an audition required in order to attend any of the Bass Workouts?

B.W.O. Level 1 is open to all students, and no audition is required. B.W.O. Level 2 does not require an audition but a conversation/interview is recommended. B.W.O. Level 3 does require an audition. This can be done in person or by MP3/CD. You can contact me through my web site for specific audition requirements.

Of all your Bass Workout sessions, which one tends to be the most popular amongst your students?

The advanced-level bass workouts are the most popular because students recognize the value of the programs. The Slap-Tap workout is very popular, too.

What was your mission for founding the Stinnett Academy of Music?

The Stinnett Academy of Music (S.A.M.) grew out of my desire to teach in a group setting. My favorite style of teaching takes place within a playing lab where each student is able to use his instrument. At Berklee, I have taught a variety of labs for over twenty years. The Bass Workout was created to allow me to teach bass students in this type of lab setting with the topics of my choice. S.A.M. is just an extension of this teaching environment that includes all instruments and a wider variety of subjects. I also feel that music education has become a bit self-serving, and one of our goals at S.A.M. is to prepare students for professional performance.

Which courses are offered at the academy?

Some of the courses will be offered each semester with other courses being rotated in. Be sure to check out the S.A.M. web site for descriptions, syllabi, and availability at: StinnettAcademy.com.

Theory/Ear Training Level 1
Theory/Ear Training Level 2
Fretboard Harmony Level 1
Fretboard Harmony Level 2

Music Reading for Guitar and Bass Level 1
Music Reading for Guitar and Bass Level 2
Music Reading for Guitar
Music Reading for Bass

Writing Your Music Level 1
Writing Your Music Level 2

Jim Stinnett Jazz Improvisation
Tap Technique - Guitar and Bass
Slap Technique - Guitar and Bass
Practice Techniques
Jazz Voicings For Guitar
Walking Lines Level 1
Walking Lines Level 2
Walking Lines Level 3
Technique Builder 1
Technique Builder 2
Transcription Lab
Slap/Tap Lab - Guitar and Bass
Basic Guitar Lab

Jazz Ensemble
Funk/Fusion Ensemble
Bass Ensemble
Guitar Ensemble
Ensemble Techniques
Free Form Ensemble
Drum Circle
Latin Ensemble

Success Principles

How long do classes typically run?

Starting this fall, S.A.M. will offer a twelve-week fall semester, a twelve-week spring semester, and an eight-week summer semester. I want to stay flexible enough to offer overlapping, shorter sessions as well. In the near future, we will be adding an online component to S.A.M., too.

How does the Stinnett Applied Music Method work?

Very well! The Stinnett Applied Music Method (S.A.M.M) is a very simple, yet specific style and program of teaching music. The underlying principle of my teaching is "less talk, more music." I don't ask the student how he is doing on his scale practice. Instead, together we play the scales. In our practicing together, I often answer student questions with "use your ear." After a few sessions using these simple techniques, we can play and practice the assigned lessons with very little verbal communication. This focuses attention on listening skills. All progress is measured by the quality of performance.

Students learn theory and ear training with their instrument in hand. We play music and analyze it. On the elementary level, that may be simply analyzing a major scale after we have played it. The process of playing and listening rather than passive observation is vital to the development of good musical skills.

Transcribing music played by the masters is a vital ingredient of the S.A.M.M. In most classes, the students transcribe and perform for their peers. This activity is highly motivational for all students and illuminates the level of musicianship we want to achieve.

All of the basic technical material played by students is performed in all twelve keys. This practice produces a quality of performance as opposed to the age-old problem of students learning an abundance of material poorly.

S.A.M. practice CDs are perhaps the most important element of the S.A.M.M. No matter how well a teacher presents a lesson, if the student does not know how to practice this assignment at home, they will not improve. Every lesson is accompanied by a play-along recording. This practice CD, which is used in class, is given to the student so he can go home and simply push play in order to practice exactly what was assigned in the exact manner learned in class.

The Stinnett Applied Music Method is a focused style of teacher-student interaction that is designed to put the student in a position of using and developing aural and physical skills.

Can you tell us about your approach to writing instructional books?

I think of my method books as workbooks. They are specifically designed to lead you through a graduated learning process. If you can play the first page well, you will be able to learn to play the next page with a minimal amount of practice. This step-by-step method makes my books practical to use, and I generally place a special emphasis on hand positions and expanding fingerboard knowledge.

Considering 3 of the books you've authored have been dedicated to the analysis of Paul Chambers' work, what is it about his playing that inspires you?

Well, to put it simply, Paul Chambers (P.C.) is the Charlie Parker of bass. If someone wants to learn to play bebop, P.C. is the man. Besides his great groove, impeccable chops, and big sound, his lines are perfect. What I mean by perfect is that P.C. played no filler material. His soloing consists of gem after gem. They are simply constructed yet always fresh. When performing one of his solos, most listeners will think they are listening to a written melody. Like Parker, P.C. was an absolute master of theme and variation. In walking lines, his phrasing and form defines the song. His repetition lets the listener feel comfortable while his groove makes you tap your feet. After 60 years, P.C. still sounds great!

Will you be releasing any new instructional books?

Oh yes. I have a big list on the burner in various stages. Here are a few at the top of the list: First Guitar Book, Secret Chambers, The Quarter Note Melody, 12 Keys To Success, Tapestry, Hooked Up, The East Coast Quarter Note, and Writing Your Music.

Have you ever considered doing an instructional video?

Yes, many times. However, what I have in mind is too cost prohibitive for me at this time. I hope to do this in the future. I have actually written the material for a 12-part series called "Power Lessons," and I would like to set these up as downloads that are available from my web site.

Since you attended the University of North Texas, graduated from the New England Conservatory, and have been teaching at Berklee for the past 20 years, how would you compare your experiences at these three leading institutions?

My experiences at the three different schools coincide with three different stages of my career. I went to Texas to play in the North Texas State University (N.T.S.U, now known as the University of North Texas) 1:00 Lab Band. My goal at this time in my life was to become a great jazz bassist. My time at N.T.S.U. was wonderful. I worked with exceptional students and professional musicians. At that time in 1978, N.T.S.U. was full of talented musicians. Steve Bailey and I became close friends. Steve is younger than me, and I mentored him for a couple of years. Mark Minkler was an excellent student bassist that I learned much from. Mark, Steve, and I played together constantly. We listened to "sides" all night, and practiced/played all day. I enrolled in a couple of classes and took some lessons only as a requirement to play in the lab band. Being a university, the private instruction was classical doublebass only, and I was into jazz. This was the point when I began to transcribe, and my teachers were all the greats including Ron, Ray, P.C., Neils, Dave, Eddie, Scott, Doug, Sam, Reggie, Jaco, Miroslav, Charlie, George, Rufus, and Stanley.

I had already learned that in school the real education was not from the institution but from the environment surrounding it. Many fellow students from my years at North Texas are now outstanding professionals such as Chip McNeil, Gregg Bissonette, Mario Cruz, Bruce Hall, Steve Bailey, Jeff Walters, Gary Willis, Bob Beldon, Tim Riese, Conrad Herwig, Mike Steinel, Mike Smith, Matt Nichol, and Tommy Gill.

While in Texas, I had the opportunity to work with legendary jazz pianist Red Garland who recorded and played extensively with Paul Chambers. That inspired me to study P.C.'s work, and it also led to writing my first book, The Music Of Paul Chambers.

Jim Stinnett I came to the New England Conservatory of Music to study with Ed Barker. The school orchestra was conducted by Gunther Schuller. My bass orchestral literature classes were directed by Henry Portnoi. My harmony teachers were James Hoffman and Robert Cogan. My orchestration class was taught by Tom McKinley, and my private lessons were with Ed Barker, a reigning virtuoso on the doublebass who also happened to be the principal bassist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This was serious classical music. I loved it. It was challenging, and I wanted to be challenged. Over the next five years, I practiced the bass and gained a little mastery. Ed referred many gigs to me, not because I was the best player among his students, but because I was a professional, and he new I would show up on time. My 1986 graduating class included Miles Davis. This school's environment really spurred my growth.

I began to tire of endless gigs to pay the rent and decided to go into teaching fulltime. Berklee College of Music is a thriving institution with highly-talented students from all over the world. Berklee was the perfect place for me to write down my ideas, hone them into methods, and try them out in the classroom. Where else could I work with over 300 bass students in classes focused on walking lines, slap techniques, reading, time keeping, tapping, funk styles, and left hand techniques?

The power and success of Berklee is due to the environment created by scores of great teachers, great players, motivated students, and the diversity of styles and cultures. At Berklee, I was free to learn and teach at the same time. I thrived in the environment. Today, Berklee is the same but bigger. I miss the old days when it was more intimate, but the energy of this big school is awesome.

As a long-time student of both James Harnett and Ed Barker, why did you decide to pursue a career as a jazz bass player instead of an orchestral bassist?

My time spent learning from Jim Harnett and Ed Barker was a really special part of my life. These two men are among the best and most respected bassists to have ever played the doublebass. I was fortunate. My intention in studying with both of these teachers was to learn the bass and not necessarily to become a symphony player. While at the New England Conservatory of Music and studying with Ed, I made a living performing with orchestras. I love playing in a good bass section and cherish the opportunities I had, but the truth is, I became bored. I have not played orchestral music in many years. I do still play upright when needed in my teaching and on some recording dates. A couple of years ago, I was honored to be asked to record with guitar legend Joe Diorio and did so on upright. I actually borrowed a student's bass for the session. I am totally out of shape with my chops on the acoustic upright and therefore quite selective about the gigs I take. I love the instrument and spent many years playing it with numerous jazz greats and top-notch classical musicians. I did play a small bit of upright on my most recent recording, Two Low. The disciplines and techniques I learned from Harnett and Barker allow me to be an effective teacher today.

What classes are you teaching at Berklee?

I teach writing skills, arranging 1, walking lines bass lab, reading bass lab, funk-fusion bass lab, bass performance group, private bass instruction, and survey of bass styles.

Do you feel electric bassists should be "encouraged" to study the acoustic upright on the college level, or should they devote what limited time they may have available to practicing their primary instrument?

I feel that electric players should not be encouraged to study acoustic upright. For most of us, these instruments are two different animals. Obviously, if a student is getting totally into jazz and listening to the classic recordings, he will often want to play the upright which is great, but I see no value in studying the upright if you do not have a burning desire to do so. It is a major undertaking to learn to play the doublebass well and should not be attempted unless one is committed. Many electric bass students ask me if they should get an upright and start playing. My usual answer is no because if you have to ask my advice about whether or not you should play an instrument, then your desire is not high enough. I started playing the upright my second year of college, but that was because I was listening to bebop everyday and would let nothing get in the way of my goal. I put the electric bass down for about ten years while developing a foundation on the acoustic upright bass.

This is a very big question and problem at Berklee. Many students, like I did, go to college, hear jazz for the first time, and get excited about the upright bass. They do not want to accept the fact that they cannot just pick up the upright bass and perform as well on it as they do on their electric bass. I had to be willing to sacrifice one instrument to learn the other. I stayed out of school programs that required so much time commitment that I had little time left for practice. My goal was to learn to play well, not go to school. The vast majority of music lessons in my life were not part of a school program. I only enrolled in school fulltime with the intent to graduate when I was 28 years old. At that time, my primary instrument was doublebass, and I could already play. For most students who play the electric bass well, it normally takes at least a couple years of practicing upright in order to catch up to the level of their ability on the electric bass. For young players who do not have a solid grasp of the electric bass, taking on an additional instrument can be quite discouraging.

From your perspective, what should a student look for in a private bass instructor?

The number one requirement is that your instructor should be a professional player. Your teacher should be able to play like you want to play. I must also caution you though. Just because a person can play well does not make him a good teacher. Your teacher should love teaching. Your teacher should be honest and critical. Your teacher should be motivating and uplifting. I can also say that purchasing music instruction is the same as most everything else you buy. You normally get what you pay for so don't be cheap.

Do you offer private lessons outside of Berklee?

Yes. In fact, I teach more students outside of Berklee than I do in Berklee. You can always reach me via e-mail at: Jim@StinnettMusic.com.

If a beginning student could only take a single 1-hour lesson from you, what advice would you try to convey in that short amount of time that would help guide them the most in their future path?

The truth is that I do not offer any student a single lesson. I feel this is bad education. There is no way to decide what one thing is most important to learn. It reminds me of the question, "which of your children do you love the most?" To answer your question though, I suspect I would try to convince them to believe in themselves. I would recommend a few good books to read. I learned a long time ago that where the mind hangs out, the body will surely follow. I would suggest the following books: The Magic Of Thinking Big, How To Win Friends And Influence People, and Twenty-Four Hour Turnaround.



Selected Discography

Jim Stinnett
Collaborations
With Rob Gourlay And Lionel Loueke:
Two Low
Afrizona

With Lionel Loueke:
Incantation
Friends

With Joe Diorio:
It's About Time

Books
All Cows Eat Grass
PC3 - The Music Of Paul Chambers Vol. 3
Arcology
Creating Jazz Bass Lines
Reading Bass Parts Vol. 1
Reading Bass Parts Vol. 2
Reading Bass Parts Vol. 3
Reading In Bass Clef
Slap Bass Workout
The Music Of Paul Chambers


Gear

Basses:
Rob Allen MB2 Fretless 5-String (tuned B, E, A, D, G)
Rob Allen MB2 Fretted 5-String (tuned E, A, D, G, C)
Fodera Monarch Standard Fretted 4-String
Fodera Emperor 2 Fretted 5-String (tuned E, A, D, G, C)
Heavy Lifter Blizzard Fretless 2-String

Cabinets:
Eden Traveler 4x10
Walter Woods 12-Inch Custom Cabinet

Strings:
Fodera

Other:
Mac G4 With Vision Sequencing Software
Yamaha Motif Rack Sound Module
Alesis SR-16 Drum Machine


Contact

For more information on Jim Stinnett, visit: JimStinnett.com, StinnettAcademy.com, BassWorkout.com, and NHBassFest.com.


© 2006 The IIB