Interview - Duncan Hopkins
Double bassist, composer and arranger Duncan Hopkins has worked with such luminaries as Rob McConnell, Scott Hamilton, Houston Person, Warren Vache, Bobo Stenson, Mark Murphy, Dianna Krall, Kenny Wheeler, Sam Rivers and Edward Simon to name but a few. Recently he has been touring Europe with former Jazz Messenger Bobby Watson as well as Bruce Barth. He has toured extensively throughout Canada, Great Britain, Europe, Brazil and the United States. He can be heard on over fifty albums, numerous CBC, BBC and NPR recordings. He is a long standing member of the jazz education group the Global Music Foundation and continues to be visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, England.
What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on
to aspiring bassists?
Be prepared always. Show up on time, be wearing the appropriate clothing, bring the right equipment and play the gig. If you really love music, the other things will sort themselves.
What are three of your favourite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to
Three is very difficult.
Jaco Pastorius — Jaco Pastorius 1976
This was very important to me. It really grabbed me and drew me into jazz. His sound was so unique and his time impeccable. No one has really come close still but he paved the way for how everyone approaches the instrument. From this album I checked out Weather Report - which led me to Joe Zawinul - which led me to Cannonball Adderley’s group etc etc.
Jim Hall Live - Jim Hall Trio 1975
I learned so much from this recording. The songs, the interplay, listening and musicality. Don is so melodic. Still is. I am certain that lifting Don’s solos from this recording moved my playing ahead by leaps and bounds. And of course TC! Not to mention how important Jim was to my musical development.
Gnu High —Kenny Wheeler 1976
For me, this is as good as it gets. I later studied with the bassist Dave Holland at his home in New York state. Dave played jazz differently than other bassists at the time. The time was much more broken up and it really interested me. He also played with more weight and precision than others of this period. Ken’s songs also intrigued me and lead me to really investigate composition. And in fact lead me study composition and bass with Ken and Dave.
On reviewing these three albums there are two things that stand out. One is the dates of the recordings mid 70’s. Hardly the great era of jazz but maybe it was. (Incidentally 1976 was also the year of another favourite of mine - Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life”) The other thing I realise is the absence of Ray Brown who for me is the ground zero of jazz bass. There are many of course who could fit in this spot but for me, Ray was the one. Sorry I couldn’t pick more.
Can you share some practice ideas? What should aspiring bassists focus on? What
worked/works for you? I realize this is a very broad question that varies with individuals' needs, but I'm looking for some general ideas, and in particular what worked for you.
I had a rather boring but steady practice routine. Scales, scales and more scales. Always with a metronome. Always! If you do this enough, you will be working on time, tone, scales, intonation, playing in all keys and a whole lot of other important stuff. Also, listen to good music and practice good music. As NHØP said to me, “do this and you will play good music.”
Do you have any advice for overcoming difficulties or obstacles?
Break it down into a simpler form. Take your time and it is all about repetition. On a larger note, pace yourself. It is (hopefully) a long life and a long career with any luck. Stay focused on your goals and don’t be discouraged by others.
Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?
I am definitely not a gear guy. I have a couple of good basses which helps. A Vuillaume c. 1850 and more recently I bought an Italian Bianchi c. 1936. I stick to simple amps…I still use and love my Polytone bass amp. Ray Brown used to borrow it when he came to town. I figure that if it worked for him, I can manage. I like the ‘woody’ pick ups. I used to use Underwood but the Realist seems to have taken over for that. When I studied with NHØP, I noticed he had three pick ups on his bass. Although he sounded best acoustically and simply. I do use different strings. I like the Velvet Garbo strings. They are all the same diameter and are very supple on the fingers. They sound like gut strings and it slows me down a bit which I like. I also endorse the string.
What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?
I am currently living in Belgium and I have certainly taken a lot of time for myself since arriving. Treating it like a sabbatical of sorts. I have been enjoying playing a lot less but when I do, it is in new and interesting places with new and interesting people. I am about to work on a new recording which will likely involve some solo playing which is new for me as well as with some new European friends. As to my website, the times are changing. I am soon to be dismantling duncanhopkins.com and moving to an artist page on Facebook and also using my google + page with the very catchy URL https://plus.google.com/u/0/106760426476705377679.
Any other thoughts to pass along?
It can be a long and lonely road sometimes. There will be ups and downs. Surround yourself with good people and people who care about you. They will support you when things are tough, and they will keep you grounded when things are too good to last.