(Double) Weekly Roundup: ‘Cause The Players Gonna Play, Play, Play, Play, Play Edition

Just a little over four years ago, Patrick The Bass Player and I drove to Victor Wooten’s Bass And Nature Camp, about an hour west of Nashville, in the hope that we could learn how to “jam”. It didn’t work out for us — but I suspect it didn’t work out for Victor either, because in the years that followed the “jam sessions” disappeared from the camp calendar.

For 2019, the camp listed just one open weekend, at just over three times the price of the old sessions and with quite a bit of rigor added to the schedule. I decided to pay the money and go, for two reasons. The first was that I’d left a Handwired Tube Screamer on the premises, and I was anxious to get it back. The second, and more relevant, reason was that I’d pulled an Eddie Van Halen in the four years since my last visit, which is to say that I’d replaced a likeable and competent bassist with… my own son.

John started playing upright bass in the school orchestra last year. Two months ago I bought him the remarkable little Ibanez Mikro short-scale bass, in the Jaco Pastorius sunburst finish. I didn’t expect him to take the instrument seriously, but he did. We’ve been learning various songs in bits and pieces, but I’ve had to give him very specific direction on how and what to play. Which makes sense; he turned ten a month ago.

My expectations for the weekend were low. We loaded a few instruments into the Lincoln and put two bikes on the hitch rack because I figured he would get bored after a few hours of the camp, at which point we would street ride in Nashville until we got bored enough to go home.

John had other ideas. Unbeknownst to me, he’d been practicing some of the main line from Jaco’s version of “The Chicken”:

During the Friday night warmup, when everybody was kind of noodling on various instruments in preparation for dinner, Victor heard John playing it and he took me aside. “I’d like to bring your son up with my band when we start the evening.” His band included Jeff Coffin, the former Flecktone who now plays horns for Dave Matthews, and Buddy Strong, DMB’s new keyboard player. I think these guys have maybe twelve Grammys between them.

“Uh, maybe… let me ask him.” To my surprise, John agreed to do it. I was a lot more nervous than he was; he’d already internalized the idea that he was the only kid on the premises and that everybody around him was a first-rate musician. So he went up on stage with very little concern. What happened next seemed like something out of a fever dream, something that I might have cooked up in my own head after I broke my leg in 2015 and while I was strung out on various painkillers: for about twenty-five minutes, John played his line “in the pocket” with the drummer while Coffin and Strong soloed over it. When he started getting obviously tired, Victor and another fellow backed him on a unison line. Eventually John indicated that he wanted to stop, at which point the band accelerated into hyperspace while he stood there next to Victor and watched.

I could tell that he was angry, and sure enough he was: “I’m not as good as those other players. I was wasting their time.” Only my eternally self-critical perfectionist of a son, the same kid who lost two out of seventeen matchups with his self-proclaimed “racing nemesis” over four months and referred to his overall performance as “trash riding”, the kid who won so many fencing matches he started fencing left-handed then lost his temper when he failed to win one out of five bouts the first night he switched, could have come up with this version of events.

“Dude, you did great. You stood next to the world’s greatest living electric bassist and you played in time.”

“Whatever.” And he stalked off to the “Woodshed” building. I gave him ten minutes to be alone. When I came in, I found him plugged in and jamming with a bunch of adults, watching the tune changes, playing “in the pocket”. In the space of a night he’d gone from the kid who would often flub a three-note line in the living room to a living, breathing musician. The next day, during a brief “nature walk” up a remarkably slippery mountain, Victor stopped and singled John out: “You could play anything the Rolling Stones need, man. You could do that gig.” Later on that day, a fearsomely accomplished twenty-something multi-instrumentalist referred, non-ironically, to “young cats like us,” meaning him and John.

We ended up staying until midnight two evenings in a row, at which point I called time on the whole thing and dragged John to the Hutton Hotel in downtown Nashville so Dad could catch up on his sleep. Some time around 8pm on Saturday he’d switched to drums, which he had no trouble playing in a band setting. Then he’d sat down at a keyboard and improvised a bit. It was frankly surreal for me to watch all of this. Music has been a big part of my life but I’ve never had much success with it. Brother Bark is an outstanding saxophonist but he is careful to note that he got there by simply working twice as hard as everyone else around him. John appears to do it all without effort. On the drive home, he decided to sing some of Pat Metheny’s guitar lines in perfect pitch.

Halfway through the trip home, while I mourned the fact that the camp had lost my Tube Screamer at some point between 2015 and now, we stopped at the Louisville skatepark so he could stretch his legs for fifteen minutes or so. “You can try each line just once, then we have to go.” And he rode just as naturally and effortlessly as he’d played. For the first time, I found myself wondering: What if he hurts his hands.

With an hour left to go in our drive home, John got tired of listening to music and talking about bikes. “I want to make up a game where we have a certain number of points and we create combat teams and we decide whose team would win. We start with 100 points. Each unit has to be rated in five areas: attack, defense, speed, stealth, cost. I choose Leopard tanks and assign them 5,4,4,0,5 for a total of 18 points. Which means I can have five units in the field.”

“Uh, I choose twenty armadillos with anti-tank mines on their backs.” And things got sillier from there: one million flies, a tortoise with a nuclear weapon, “hillbillies on lawn mowers with swords.” Twenty minutes after I dropped John off with his mother, I got a text from her.

“I heard all about the weekend,” was the first line. Yes, I thought, maybe I’m not the worst father ever, I spent a few grand to give the kid a once in a lifetime opportunity to play music on equal terms with the best headcutters in the jazz world, I put him up in a five-star hotel, he never missed a meal, he rode a destination skatepark on a custom full-suspension mountain bike with a dropper post. The phone buzzed again.

“What’s this about armadillos?”

* * *

For Hagerty, I covered rebuilt Ford Excursions, SCCA Time Trials at Pitt Race, an unfortunate death at Altamont, and a rich lady having fun rallying an old Porsche.

15 Replies to “(Double) Weekly Roundup: ‘Cause The Players Gonna Play, Play, Play, Play, Play Edition”

  1. AvatarWidgetsltd

    I’m not so eager to believe that the optics are preventing Ford or Chevy from selling the diesel-powered big haulin’ wagons of your dreams. We already have lifted, diesel, 2500/3500 Bro Trucks blocking our forward view. Would a diesel Suburban create a worse impression?

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Arguably yes, because you’d see more of them where the Illuminati live.

      The vast majority of decision-makers in this country have never set foot in Texas or Florida.

      Reply
  2. AvatarCompaq Deskpro

    Bring back the Hummer too. All of the gas guzzler complaints that go along with the style have been largely overcome, and there is no reason a jacked up boxy Traverse wouldn’t sell like gangbusters. (Is chopping a profitable Chevy they were going to build anyway into a real K5 Blazer a bad idea either?) GM is stupid and lazy for not having an off-road brand. Weak kneed Trail Boss and Colorado ZR2 don’t cut it either.

    Reply
  3. Avatar-Nate

    What a great weekend, it’ll be interesting to see where John goes with all this natural talent he clearly has ~ keep allowing him to try new things, he’ll discover the joy of learning new disciples as he goes along .

    Bummer about the amp but I tolja to go grab it way back then .

    -Nate

    Reply
  4. Avatarrambo furum

    Before Isaac Kappy told me to look into Laura Silsby, I would have dismissed the cause of Renee Brinkerhoff.

    Reply
  5. Avatarbullnuke

    My youngest son seems to be blessed with similar axe playing skills. My youngest daughter (his sister) was religiously playing Metallica (struggling with “For Whom the Bell Tolls” I believe) and the boy walked in, picked up another axe, plugged in, and with a bit of fiddling wailed out the line she was working. He continued for a minute or two perfectly, became a bit bored, put the axe back down, and walked outside to go to the skatepark with some of his buddies. Angelica was super pissed – She works and practices hard and is a decent blues guitarist today. He picks stuff up easily and naturally but can move on to other interests just as quickly. Children are truly a gift and fun to watch grow and change.

    Reply
  6. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    As a bass player John has an advantage over young guitarists in that he can have personal access to world-class bassists because the instrument isn’t as popular and the virtuosos are often playing in smaller venues where you can meet the artist. I know a ten year old harmonica player who has gotten tutored by world class players, like Howard Levy (whom the world’s best players say is indeed the best in the world – a different level of playing entirely, even Jason Ricci says Howard’s the best). If you’re a ten year old who can do a passable version of Whammer Jammer, Magic Dick just might want to give you some tips.

    Reply
  7. Avatar-Nate

    All these music & kids storied warm my heart ~ music is *so* important and cash strapped public schools have cut most music programs sharply, not a a good thing .

    I applaud all of you who at least try to teach your kids music ~ I’m the only one in my family who has zero musical talent, I don’t let that stop me from enjoying music as much as I can and I tried to get my son interested in middle school, he fooled with it one or two semesters then dropped it .

    Unless you make the effort to expose them to music, you’ll never know .

    When I was in stir I met quite a few who could easily pick up and play almost any instrument .

    -Nate

    Reply
  8. AvatarDomestic Hearse

    Full Disclaimer: Bassist for 40 years, jazz scholarship many years ago, side gigged for years, currently sorta retired as a player, but never a listener.

    Just saw Victor in the Chicago area couple weeks ago. He had his brothers on guitar and keys. Brought some Berkley College of Music professors along, and best of all, former students.

    I thought the former student part would be — not so good. It was awesome. These are young people that attended his Nature and Music Camp, showed promise, stood out, improved, came back, improved more, and are now well on their way to careers in music. Will we see John up there someday?

    This is probably the sixth or seventh time I’ve seen Victor over the last ten years. His chops were not as spot-on as usual (still Victor at 90% is still better than 99.9% of all living bassists). Reggie Wooten on his Squire Strat and cheap amp blew my mind. Again. His chord voicing, keyboard knowledge, ability to warg in and out of any living player/sound/style, is mind-blowing. Tone is in the hands, not the equipment. And he was all over that well-worn instrument playing it every conceivable way possible. He truly is The Teacher.

    I’m glad your son got that experience early on. To stand with great players — better players — is to stretch your mind, your ability, your knowledge. For him to have this chance early on, so he can see what’s possible, what’s real, is very impactful.

    As a father, shut down that critical gremlin in his head. There’s always some cat that can play a lick better, or technique stronger, or craft a better solo. It’s life. But that doesn’t mean we each don’t do our thing in our own special, unique way. The critical voice in your son’s head isn’t music. It’s what shuts down our creativity. It’s what makes us judge our musical decisions. (Why’d I play that note? I flubbed that line. I better play this hard part in the chorus perfectly.) All that self-criticism in the moment destroys flow, and that’s all that music is. Shut up, get our of your own way, trust your intuitive brain and soon, it will reward you as a player.

    It’ll happen. He’s made everything a competition. And certainly music is competitive. But not in the moment of creation. Then, done right, it’s collaboration.

    You’re running out of hours in the day with this one. Go carts. Motorcycles. Bikes. Soccer. Now music. No wonder you need your sleep, Jack.

    Reply
  9. Avatarhank chinaski

    He’s quite the polymath. Is flying next? Those F35s aren’t going to bomb Tehran themselves (or will they?).

    Non sequitur kickin’ bass-as-lead gem from this morning’s commute: the Joe Jackson album, ‘Look Sharp!

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      His stepmother flies, and I flew in the Civil Air Patrol, so I’m thinking… maybe?

      My dream is actually for him to be an Emirates pilot. Those fellows make bank and the flight-attendant hiring standards are straight out of 1950.

      Reply
      • Avatarsgeffe

        If you have a current medical certificate, especially considering the injuries you’ve faced in the last several years, you might be OK. But if you have to get through a third-class, you’ll at least probably have to have your examiner forward your results to the FAA.

        I’d love to be able to get an SEL VFR, but I’m on two grounding meds as it is, and the fainting spell I had at the end of last October, for which a cause couldn’t be found (probably occasional low blood pressure) would probably be the final nail in the coffin.

        Reply

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