Philadelphia's Best Of The Bass, Part 1 includes WRTI's 8 favorite bebop and hard bop players. The list of some of the most impactful bass players to have come out of Philadelphia continues with this group of jazz, rock, funk, and fusion bassists.
Best known as the first of three legendary Philly bassists to play with trailblazing fusionists Weather Report, Johnson — the first primarily electric bass guitar-playing entry here — spent the early '70s with Chuck Mangione, featuring prominently on 1973's acclaimed The Land of Make Believe.
Soon after, Johnson's playing impressed Wayne Shorter at a gig where Mangione and co. opened for Weather Report. Founding bassist Miroslav Vitouš was on his way out; Johnson was on his way in, staying on for three albums. Johnson's performances on "Cucumber Slumber" from Mysterious Traveller (1974) and "Herandnu" from the Black Market (1976) are bona fide "moments" in fusion lore; Johnson wrote both tunes, splitting credit with Joe Zawinul on the former.
An alum of tours with Bob Weir's Bobby and the Midnites and Santana, Johnson (a cancer survivor at 69) continues to play, record, and teach in Southern California, where he's a member of USC's jazz studies faculty.
Sometime in 1975, shortly before recording his eponymously titled debut which would feature folks like the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius attended a Weather Report concert in Miami. The aforementioned Alphonso Johnson was still the group's bassist at the time. After the show, Pastorius introduced himself to Joe Zawinul, by famously saying, "My name is John Francis Pastorius III, and I'm the greatest bass player in the world."
Some may have a hard time declaring him right, but most would have a harder time declaring him wrong.
That's all you need to say to invoke the memory of the shirtless, long-haired, headbanded kid brazen enough to bring the bass guitar to the front of the stage and talented enough to keep it there. Less than a dozen years after that interaction with Zawinul, he was dead. The most absurd thing is that 33 years after his death, he might still be, as some have suggested, "the most influential electric bassist today."
Upon replacing his hero, Jaco, in 1982, Bailey perfected Weather Report's extant repertoire and left his fingerprints on the final four albums that were to come. That, and he put together the most memorable solo performances of "Birdland" ever recorded.
A man who said "I do it all," Bailey would tour with LL Cool J or Madonna; then, upon returning, he'd jump right back into gigs with the Zawinul Syndicate and Steps Ahead, the fusion group that formed out of the Brecker Brothers' Manhattan jazz club, Seventh Avenue South.
Bailey was the only musician to play in every band Joe Zawinul ever led: Weather Report, the post-Weather Report Zawinul Syndicate, and the big bands Zawinul put together in Europe before his 2007 death. In one of his last interviews, Zawinul said, of all the great bassists he'd worked with, "Victor Bailey is the one who would be in any band that I would ever have."
He died in 2016, at age 56, from complications from Charcot Marie Tooth disease and ALS.
Veasley cut his teeth with familiar local heavyweights like Odean Pope and Grover Washington, Jr. before catching on with the Zawinul Syndicate from 1988 to 1995, proving Joe Zawinul wasn't kidding about his thing for Philly bassists.
And though he's recorded nine albums as a leader — the latest of which is 2018's Live at South — what separates Veasley are things less well known. For instance, his earliest recording experience was as a sideman on gospel records. His uncle, Ira Tucker, is a veritable gospel music legend who, in the late '70s, was asked to produce a string of gospel records, and he put his young nephew on the gigs. The arranger on those gigs was Morris Bailey, Victor Bailey's father and a prominent record producer and arranger during the Philly Soul era.
Veasley's also become one of Philly's great jazz ambassadors; he's either directly or tangentially involved with seemingly every important jazz organization in the Delaware Valley, from heading Jazz Philadelphia to running his annual Bass Boot Camps.
The natural comparison to Clarke is Jaco. Both brought the electric bass to the front of the stage for bands — in Jaco's case, Weather Report and in Clarke's, Return to Forever — that will forever be linked. One difference is that Clarke was excellent on acoustic as well as electric bass, while applying a lot of his electric bass techniques to his style on the acoustic.
After early-career side work with titans of the straight-ahead idiom — Curtis Fuller, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, et. al. — Clarke teamed up with plugged-in pianist Chick Corea, an alum of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, the iconic recording responsible for launching a thousand fusion ships. Together, they founded Return to Forever.
A Return to Forever reunion tour, and trios with French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and fusion gods like Béla Fleck (2005), Al Di Meola (1995) and Biréli Lagrène (2015) would follow.
Legacy-wise, Clarke paved the way for electric bassists — like Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten — to fill halls as solo acts. In comic book fashion, the three bassists teamed up in 2008 to form SMV, spawning a record, Thunder, and an 18-month world tour.
Like Miller, Clarke is a brilliant composer with a compendium of film credits, most notably on Boyz n the Hood's award-winning score.
Tacuma quickly made a name for himself as the 19-year-old electric bassist of Prime Time, a band led by one of the progenitors of the free jazz movement, Ornette Coleman.
Something of a chameleon, Tacuma's as comfortable in a straight-ahead funk or R&B setting as he is in the outer space of the avant-garde. You're just as likely to find Tacuma working with The Roots as you are to find him infusing the music of Thelonious Monk with contemporary rhythms and grooves or collaborating with Moroccan musicians to play jazzy, funky mashups of ancient Gnawa music native to North Africa.
For the last six years during April, Philadelphia's Jazz Appreciation Month, Tacuma has curated the Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival, with the mission of "showcasing diverse styles of risk-taking, progressive music, and groundbreaking artists."
A native New Yorker and Eastman School of Music grad, Boone was fresh off a second tour with Buddy Rich when he landed in Philadelphia in 1985. When he got to Philly, he put down his electric bass and picked up the acoustic; it was the only way to get gigs with the OG's who still very much ran the Philly scene then. He immersed himself in that scene, playing at the old, beloved Ortlieb's, educated by professors like saxophonist Bootsie Barnes, organist Shirley Scott, pianist Sid Simmons, and drummer Mickey Roker.
Boone has preserved that legacy; no one in the city teaches young musicians how to gig and how to become professionals better or more thoroughly than Boone, who, in addition to furiously gigging himself, teaches at Temple University.
And his teenage son, drummer Mekhi — mentored by Philly pros like Byron Landham, Anwar Marshall, and Justin Faulkner but largely self (and dad)-taught — is a bona fide prodigy about whom the rest of the jazz world will soon know.
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