switching from program to program, always staying in the School
of Music, but finding it difficult to lock into a musical direction.
Then George Naff, a graduate student and jazz pianist, took me into
a practice room and told me to play on every beat. He said not to
worry -- I'd soon be playing the right notes. It wasn't long before
I began to get calls from older musicians who wanted a real bass,
even if the player was less than experienced. Guitarist Terry Rosen,
formerly with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and Nancy Wilson, was one
who was willing to help me tackle the learning curve in exchange
for having the sound of the string bass in his group; trumpeter
Johnny Helms, a Woody Herman and Clark Terry alumnus, was another
major influence and help. These two musicians are most responsible
for my on-the-job jazz training.
my junior year, I received a tip from the musicians' union that
the New Christy Minstrels were auditioning. They were looking for
a high-voiced male singer who could sing solos and play string bass.
I knew the job would give me a clearer view of what the business
was like, and take me to cities where I could regularly hear major
jazz artists. I auditioned over the phone and got the job. With
some logistical help from my professors, I left school three weeks
early and reported for rehearsals. The group's first gig was New
Year's week at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach, opening for
Los Angeles for rehearsals, I was taken to Dante's jazz club for
my birthday. There I heard a new group called Supersax, and I was
invited by the bassist, Buddy Clark, to hear the sax section record
tracks for their first album, "Supersax Plays Bird," at
Capitol Records the following evening. This was a huge ear-opener
for me. During another stay in L.A., I went by myself to Diamante's
to hear the Bill Evans Trio, with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell.
It was the late set; I had dinner and listened. The audience was
very small -- only three people, including me. That's the quietest
I've eaten in my entire life. The trio played as though the place
had been packed. I've never quite gotten over it.
acquired a new sense of direction and being very homesick after
six months on the road, I headed back to school. I began to work
steadily with Helms and Rosen in a variety of playing situations.
Still, there wasn't an actual degree program that fit my needs,
so I simply took courses for self-improvement, continuing my voice
and bass lessons and playing with the local symphony orchestra on
friend Loonis McGlohon was responsible for introducing me to another
Challenge/A-Records artist. Bill Kirchner, saxophonist-composer-arranger-producer,
and Grammy-winning jazz historian, has offered a wealth of valuable
advice and direction since I first sent him a copy of my rough mixes.
He is solely responsible for bringing me to the attention of Anne
de Jong and Challenge Records in Holland. Working with Challenge
has been a wonderful experience for me thus far, and I look forward
to a long relationship.
Chuck Israels came through Columbia with the National Jazz Ensemble
in 1978. Chuck was conducting and arranging for the NJE, and Steve
Gilmore was the bassist. When I asked Steve about private bass lessons,
he told me I should try to get to New York and study with Michael
Moore; Chuck invited me to call him and visit if I was able to make
the trip. Then one day, out of nowhere, I got called to play bass
for a new musical about rural life in South Carolina called "On
Green Pond." It was in production at the South Carolina Arts
Commission in advance preparation for a move to the Brooklyn Academy
of Music. Though I have often been blessed with certain events coming
at just the right times in my life, this one was still a surprise.
Chuck when I got to New York and learned that Red Mitchell had just
returned to the United States after living in Sweden for the past
dozen years. Chuck was having him over for dinner, and he told me
that I should come, too. It was a lovely gesture from such an established
player, and one that I have not forgotten. That evening was the
start of a long and influential friendship with Red. I sublet Chuck's
apartment the following summer, spending many nights in an unofficial
graduate school at Bradley's and Knickerbocker restaurants in Manhattan.
These establishments featured duos, and the bassists were always
name players; Bradley Cunningham featured Red on many occasions
with a variety of pianists and guitarists. Red introduced me to
Sam Jones and Rufus Reid at Bradley's. He also invited me to a recording
session with Tommy Flanagan at Penthouse Studios. He always had
words of encouragement and helpful advice for me.
my extended summer in New York, Chuck encouraged me to spend some
weeks at the Eastman School of Music during their summer jazz arrangers'
workshop. Raymond Wright and Bill Dobbins were very kind to me and
allowed me to be involved with the workshop as a singer. I was also
able to work a bit while in Rochester, playing bass with Barry Kiener,
Joe Locke, Bill Dobbins and Lee Musiker, among others. Eastman's
instrument curator hired me to repair some of the schools string
basses, and I ended up staying into the fall semester.
home after so many great experiences, I felt energized to pursue
new goals. I re-enrolled at South Carolina and finished an undergraduate
degree. Then I enrolled in graduate school and finished a Master
of Music in Jazz Studies degree with an emphasis in jazz performance.
My fiancee, Toni Fominaya, was scheduled to finish her undergraduate
degree in music education at the same time, so we got married a
month into that final school year. During those last years in South
Carolina, a young saxophonist named Chris Potter began sitting in
with the groups I was playing with. His dad would bring him to the
gigs, since he was not yet into double digits. He could already
really play, and we all knew we would hear a lot of him in the coming
to Nashville upon graduation in August of 1981. I have been fortunate
to play and/or record with a variety of musicians and recording
artists while living there. Surprisingly, I have played with some
jazz artists in Nashville that I probably wouldn't have gotten called
to work with had I been in New York or Los Angeles, including Teddy
Wilson, Kenny Burrell, Lenny Breau, Cal Collins, Phineas Newborn
Jr., Jimmy Raney, Martin Taylor, the Hi-Los, Jay McShann, Conte
Candoli, Gene Bertoncini, Attila Zoller, Steve Allen and Marian
McPartland. I did many gigs with Mose Allison at Nashville's famous
songwriter hangout, the Bluebird Cafe. I've been on recordings with
Stephane Grappelli, Al Jarreau and Lenny Breau that were done in
Nashville; in addition, I've done television work as a group singer
behind Joe Williams and Teresa Brewer.
mid-'80s, Johnny Helms, one of my important mentors, launched a
jazz festival in collaboration with longtime Columbia, South Carolina
restaurateur Veron Melonas. Artists rarely brought their regular
bands to the Main Street Jazz Festival; instead, several name players
were hired to cover each instrument, and a three-day jam session
ensued. The players were grouped differently from set to set and
from night to night. The musical-chairs atmosphere was refreshing,
and the lack of rehearsal was more than made up for by the resulting
spontaneity. Johnny called me back to South Carolina to join in
the fun a few years into the festival's history. There I played
with Clark Terry, Red Rodney, Nat Adderly, Jimmy Heath, Tommy Newsom,
Lew Tabackin, Arnie Lawrence, Chris Potter, Ira Sullivan, Eddie
Daniels, Nick Brignola, Bill Watrous, Urbie Green, Bucky and John
Pizzarelli, Charlie Byrd, Mundell Lowe, Derek Smith, Ross Tompkins,
Don Thompson, Ed Soph, Harold Jones, Bernard Purdie, Louie Bellson,
Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, and Johnny Frigo.
I took a road gig with pop/country artist Crystal Gayle. The travel
has allowed me to maintain many friendships that would have been
difficult to cultivate with only the phone or an occasional letter
as options. I still work Crystal's road shows and do many of her
record dates as singer, vocal arranger and bassist. Crystal features
me in her show singing with her on some of her well-known duet recordings
with Eddie Rabbitt and Gary Morris. She has also recently been featuring
me on Henry Mancini's "Charade," which I recorded for
my new CD, "Not Just Another Pretty Bass."
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful musicians who’ve contributed to my projects. They include the remarkable saxophonist, Chris Potter; the wonderfully intuitive pianists, Pat Coil and Stefan Karlsson; and my steady pal, drummer Jim White. A special hat tip goes to my new duo partner, the legendary guitarist, Mundell Lowe. Mundell is a constant source of inspiration and encouragement, and I’m very grateful to him for teaming up with me.
Jim Ferguson - 2007