Contrabass Conversations is a podcast devoted to exploring music and ideas associated with the double bass, hosted by Jason Heath. Based in San Francisco, Heath has built a strong, loyal audience of followers via his blog, which has been up and running for over a decade. He is an active member of the International Society of Bassists board of directors, and has extensive experience as a performer, teacher, clinician, author and conductor.
With an extensive online presence, Heath has connected a vibrant community of bassists from all over the world. His podcast series features interviews with the top bassists of our time, including Larry Grenadier, Linda Oh and Christian McBride.
I was honoured to be featured on podcast # 631 – Helen Svoboda on finding your voice (listen HERE). A huge thank you must go to John Goldsby for putting me in touch with Jason, through which we were able to have a fantastic conversation covering a range of important topics summarised below:
Who are my influences?
When asked about my influences, I listed a range of bassists who have inspired me, particularly those who bring out an array of options from the instrument that you wouldn’t always think to be possible. Mark Dresser and Barre Phillips were mentioned as my modern influencers, and Charlie Haden remains to be my first ‘bass love’ due to his melodic clarity and essence of refreshing simplicity. In addition to this, we spoke about Larry Grenadier’s latest solo album ‘The Gleaners’, and the many different stylistic influences inherent in his music (leading also to the next question)…
What is jazz?
This is a question that I relate to very deeply, as this genre label is now a culmination of many different sub-genres and styles in this modern day. In particular reference to Grenadier’s album, Jason and I spoke about the difficulty in labelling music that encompasses many different approaches and influences, and the freedom gained in avoiding a defined genre and simply expressing what comes out of your core being. Hence, this is something that I am actively doing in my own research.
How do you practice extended techniques/how do you use them in composition?
This question opened up a world of smaller topics related to the realm of extended technique. Jason and I spoke about the overwhelming nature of this sound world, and the many options inherent within modern musical notation. When asked about my personal practice in this aspect of music-making, I spoke about my decision to take a more intuitive approach to the development of different extended techniques – thus, discovering which sounds and techniques I personally like, and applying them into a creative context via vegetable-composition. This is one way in which I have started to discover my own ‘voice’ on the instrument, without feeling overwhelmed by the endless options available to me.
In addition to this, we spoke about the value of limitation and parameters, achieved through a focus on just one or two particular techniques within a single sketch or composition. Thus, when applied into a creative context, the particular technique/s used consequently becomes less daunting and even slightly humorous when attached to a specific vegetable. When integrated with more common forms of notation/approach, I have also found that the far-reached nature of different extended techniques can become more accessible through a unified focus on just one or two ‘new’ sounds. In relation to this, we also spoke about the world of modern notation and its evolution through past centuries; something that is still highly confusing to bassists in today’s world, particularly regarding the different partials and a lack of uniform approach varying from one composer to the next.
Focus on clarity
In reference to some of my earlier writings from last year, we spoke about the value of simplifying and taking time to learn; letting go of an expectation on oneself to learn all of the techniques and accepting time limits. After all, music is a life-long discovery and no amount of time will allow one to explore every aspect of possibility.
Motivation to continue creating:
When asked about my practice schedule, I spoke about several consistencies in my solo development. Firstly, the value in recording myself and notating specific sketches or ideas on a weekly basis has proved to be a fantastic tool in organising my ideas. As mentioned also above, another aspect of my own discipline involves the use of parameters and limitations – i.e. time limits on practice, limitation of ideas/notes/motifs/techiques, limitation on length etc. With a creatively-scattered brain such as my own, setting parameters upon my own exploration has become an invaluable tool in furthering my growth through a more focused lens. In addition to this, the use of a personal blog has allowed me to document my progress on a higher level, through the knowledge that others may be reading the content and also through the practice of critical reflection and research into other areas of music making i.e. physics of the instrument, technique, notation. It is inspiring to discover other musicians such as Jason who have successfully documented their journeys for other people to share, involving an array of interesting topics from humorous anecdotes to practice videos.
Whilst the above covered just part of my conversation with Jason, it was refreshing and inspiring to reflect on my own practice and musical journey so far. The importance to creating art to reach others (outside of the practice room) has become increasingly apparent to me this past year especially, and the joy in becoming connected with other bassists from around the world has inspired me to continue my blog for years to come.
A huge thank you again to Jason for having me on the podcast series, and for allowing me to speak about vegetable-music for over 30 mins. What an honour! Links below:
Listen to the podcast HERE: https://contrabassconversations.com/2019/10/07/helen-svoboda/
Check out Contrabass Conversations here: https://contrabassconversations.com/about/
Check out Jason’s website here: http://jasonheath.info/