Interview - Richie Goods - August 2009
JI: Can you talk about your formative period? Going to Berklee and then moving to New York to study with Ron Carter and Ray Brown? How did those experiences have an impact on your development as a person and musician?
RG: Berklee is an amazing college and probably was the perfect college for me. I grew up in the church with gospel music, and I also grew up listening to R&B and Rock music. Berklee really embraced all of those genres and gave me a solid background in jazz. I was able to play with many musicians that are major names in the music business today and still some of my best friends. I came to New York after landing a gig with Mulgrew Miller, who is very close to Ron Carter. Working with Mulgrew made me realize that I needed to get to that next level of bass playing. I always strive for excellence, and it doesn’t get much better than Ron Carter. Mulgrew connected me with Ron, and he completely changed my approach to the acoustic bass. I studied with Ron every other week for one year. A few years after that, I met Ray Brown, and got to hang with him. I hit him up for a lesson, and the only payment he required is that I continue to study with him whenever we were in the same town. His approach was completely different than Ron’s but very effective as well. I really miss him. Overall, studying with Ron and Ray greatly improved my sound, sense of time, and my walking bass lines.
JI: You seem to be smart about making a career, having not only played with jazz legends like Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band, Mulgrew Miller, Russell Malone, Milt Jackson, and Stanley Turrentine, but also pop acts like Brian McKnight, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Whitney Houston, and Christina Aguilera. You’ve been in the studio with Alicia Keys, Common and now you play with the Headhunters. Aside from that, you have your own production company! First, how do you manage to explore so many avenues without spreading yourself too thin, and second, what advice do you have for someone who is both serious about playing at the highest level, yet also wanting to achieve financial independence, and a good career?
RG: Most of my decisions in my career were not made strictly from a financial standpoint. All the different styles of music I play, producing, and writing are all things that I have loved since I was a kid. I feel like I am really living my dream. It is difficult juggling everything though, but I am a firm believer that hard work breeds success. There’s really no secret, just hard work. I also believe in following my heart in my career decisions and finding ways to benefit financially from those decisions. You have to realize that this is a business. My first goal is to make great music, but there is nothing wrong with making money in the process. I do worry sometimes about spreading myself too thin, but then I think about some of my idols like Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Lenny White. Try to name something these guys don’t do! I am currently working on a film score/ soundtrack to an independent film. I think Stanley and Marcus would be proud of me.
JI: Can you talk about some of the common ground between the world of science and the world of music as you see it?
RG: Science can be broken down into mathematical terms as can music. Usually when I’m playing I think in numbers as opposed to musical notes. Generally science deals with experimentation as does music. The term “Nuclear Fusion” is when nuclei come together to form one greater nucleus that creates a powerful release of energy. Well, that’s what music is. One musician may create good music by him or herself, but when you combine several musicians, you can really get something explosive. It’s no longer four musicians, its one band. In music, as in science, we experiment with combining different musicians, instruments, or elements together to see what we can create. My project, “Nuclear Fusion,” is not only combining four musicians, with different musical backgrounds, but also combining different styles of music - Jazz, Classical, Funk, Rock, Latin - to create something magical and psychedelic!
JI: What is it about musical improvisation that you find so valuable? What does it offer to you, your band-mates, and the listeners? What motivates you?
RG: Wow! Good question. Musical improvisation sets you free! It’s nice to have parts of the music that were pre-conceived, but it also can be constricting. When I teach workshops or master classes, I always teach that music is a language, a way of communicating. Improvisation helps musicians in a band to communicate more candidly on stage - provided they all speak the same language. For me, it’s a pretty amazing feeling to be on stage, close my eyes and really feel each and every band member talking to each other, having a grand conversation without words. The audience can really feel this, and it draws them in. As the conversation starts to get more heated and passionate, the audience starts to give off an energy, off of which the band feeds. Man! I get excited just talking about it! Music is about emotion. When I can make someone really feel something emotional, I know I am doing my job. That’s what drives me.
JI: What was it that initially inspired you to become a bassist? How did it all start?
RG: My first instrument was the piano at age 5 and then several other instruments until I settled on the electric bass in ninth grade and then the acoustic bass in my freshman year at Berklee. Growing up in the black community, when people talked about a song, they usually didn’t talk about or sing the melody or the guitar solo. It was the bass line that got them. I didn’t really choose the bass. I was a drummer in high school and was messing around with the bass and it became an addiction. The next thing I knew, people were asking me to play bass in their band. I just went with the flow.
JI: What are your thoughts about electric vs. acoustic bass?
RG: They are two different instruments. They can serve the same purpose, but they can also play very different roles. I would hate to have to choose one or the other. I love them both.
JI: What are your top five desert island bass records that you couldn’t possibly live without, and please state why? The leader doesn’t have to be a bassist, but please choose albums based on the role of the bass (no pun intended).
RG: (1) Quincy Jones “Walking in Space”. Ray Brown on “Killer Joe” You can’t swing harder than that! (2) Stanley Clarke “School Days” What! I still don’t believe its possible to play that fast! - yet still soulful. (3) Herbie Hancock “Flood” Paul Jackson and Mike Clark together - groove at its finest! (4) Jaco Pastorius “Jaco Pastorius” a true innovator of the bass! (5) Ahmad Jamal “At the Pershing.” Israel Crosby on bass shows that a bass line can be the same as a melody.
I know you said top five, but can I just throw in a Marcus Miller record? Any one will do.
JI: When you first embarked on the sophisticated journey of becoming an improvising bassist, or a jazz bassist, what were some methods that you found extremely useful to achieving your goals?
RG: I learned to read music when I was five years old and learned to play by ear when I was six - that’s really when I started improvising. I had formal jazz and classical theory in high school, but being the free-spirited Aquarius that I am, I have always devoted a lot of time to playing whatever I want - even when I didn’t have a clue about theory. I think that’s true improvisation. I also used to play along with records and transcribe a lot of solos. I did transcribe some bass solos, but I was more interested in improvising like a horn or guitar player. There were a lot of singers that I would listen to, and try to emulate their phrasing and riffs on my bass. Learning to play melodies on the bass helped me a lot.
JI: Some say that stress and angst make for good art, and others say you need to find serenity to really express yourself. Have you found that your life outside of music, or your state of mind in general have a direct correlation to your playing? If so, what activities do you do outside of music to better prepare you for playing/practicing success??
RG: Ahh Yes! I am a strong believer that life is music and music is life. Everything in this life is connected. Anything I do, I relate to my music. Playing sports has always been a major part of my life. So much of sports is a mental game, just as it is with music. Sometimes when I figure out a problem in my basketball or tennis game, I also fix a problem in my music.
JI: What is the greatest compliment that you can receive as a musician?
RG: The greatest compliment I can receive as a musician is when someone tells me that I made them feel something. I think from my experience of growing up in the church, emotion has played a major roll in my music. I really feel it when I play, and I hope that the audience does as well.
JI: Can you talk about your process of composing? Is it something you can do like clockwork, or do you wait for inspiration to hit? Do you do a little at a time, or have waves of clarity?
RG: For me, writing is usually something that is inspired. Sometimes I can sit down at the piano, and two hours later I have a completed song. Other times I can work on a song for months to get it just right. Sometimes I don’t set out to write a tune; I just play either the piano or bass and next thing you know, I have a tune. As far as clarity goes, I usually don’t get that until the tune is played with the band.
JI: Can you talk about your career as an educator? What are the challenges and rewards?
RG: I love to teach. I have not accepted any university jobs yet primarily because I already have so much going on right now. However, I do workshops, master classes, and private instruction. Teaching for me is a way to give back some of the knowledge that was passed down to me. It’s challenging because I have to find a way to articulate the way I approach music and the way I think. Teaching is not only about giving. I get a lot out of teaching. I learn and re-explore my path to where I am now. My knowledge is challenged, and I think that’s a good thing.