Big band grooves and a self-titled quartet keep a bassist busy
Jazz vibes from upright master Gourlay
My main band at the moment is a quartet under my own name. I also have a monthly Big Band residency at the Vortex in London that plays all my own music and arrangements of Thelonious Monk’s music. My quartet is Helena Kay on sax, Kieran McLeod on trombone and James Maddren on drums. We play my music and we’re currently touring the UK and promoting my first album as a leader, New Ears. I love playing in this sort of combo because the bass has so much freedom and so many options. You can play simply, or interact, or anything in between. I always wanted to play double bass. Maybe I saw one in a film or something and became fascinated – possibly Some Like it Hot where Jack Lemmon is the bass player opposite Marilyn Monroe. They didn’t have any basses at my primary school in Glasgow, so I started out playing cello, and then moved to double bass when I was 14, via a summer of electric bass. A Czechoslovakian plywood upright was my first double bass. I really like plywood as basses they have such raw sounds, and even though I don’t play one now I’m always on the lookout for a good one.
I’ve played five-string electrics and uprights before that I liked, but I love the range of the four-string bass, especially for jazz. I used to detune my E-string to a D or E-flat sometimes if I felt a tune really needed a lower fundamental. Charlie Haden does that a lot. On upright, rockabilly-style slapping is something I wish I could do better. Its history is in really early jazz when the players were trying to make the bass louder.
The best playing advice I’ve ever received has been from non-bass players. It’s good to hear what people want from bassists in the real world, rather than players asking each other about strings. Being a sideman has shaped my approach more than anything. There’s satisfaction to be had in making a band sound good.