“I started on the trombone. My dad’s a trombone player—he was the bass trombone with the Cleveland Orchestra—and I’ve always liked that range. As a kid, I was listening to all kinds of music and then I heard Led Zeppelin. ‘The Lemon Song.’ When I heard that tune, at the end of it where John Paul Jones is freely playing the jazz thing, I said, ‘I got to do that.’ Not long after that I discovered Stanley Clarke. Then Weather Report.
I was playing with an orchestra in New York, and doing some freelance jazz stuff, when I met [late Weather Report bassist] Jaco Pastorius. I only took a few lessons, but each lesson lasted all day. A lot of people were intimidated by him, but I had a very tough teacher in college who was real strict about everything. So I was used to it.
It’s hard for me to define my approach to composing. Sometimes I’ll have my upright bass out, playing the bow, and write down an idea that pops up. Other times, if I have some tempo growing in my head, turn the metronome on to that time and sort of improvise along with it. The ideas, the instrument combinations, come to me from everywhere. My favorite composers, like [Gustav] Mahler, all have different approaches.
I have a piece coming up in May with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. I wrote a piece a few years for the Britt Festival out West, in Oregon, for their 50th anniversary. So I wrote this piece ‘Celebration’ for orchestra; covered some people that helped build the festival, memorials for some people that we’ve lost over all those years. I’m doing one now for the LPO in celebration of their 25th year. That’s a lot of different eras to cover; it’s hard to do that. But I think it’s turning out great.
Dave [Easley] is a phenomenal musician and one of the most creative guys I’ve ever run into. When we write together, we have sections that open up to free jazz. I’ve always wanted to do that but never really had a chance to do that before I started playing and composing with Dave. It worked out beautifully. We hear each other really well. We have tunes we play together all the time but they are never, ever played the same.
After I started playing bass, the struggle for me was, ‘Which style am I going to play?’ I refused to say, ‘I’m only going to play this one style.’ I don’t want any division between jazz or classical or rock musicians. And I feel New Orleans is one of the few towns where that approach could really work out well.”