Interview - Jodi Proznick
JUNO nominated and National Jazz Award winning bassist Jodi Proznick has performed with many of the top Canadian and international jazz stars over the years and has been a featured jazz soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Jodi’s vibrant performing life is coupled with her deep passion for music education. She is in high demand as a guest clinician and adjudicator. Jodi serves as a faculty member at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Capilano University (on leave) and the VSO School of Music, where she developed the jazz program and is artistic director of the summer jazz workshop.
What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?
Bass playing is physically, emotionally and intellectually exhausting at first but, like anything worthwhile, leaning into the early challenges sets you up for a life of ongoing, intense musical joy.
A relationship with the bass must be viewed as a long-term project. It takes time to nurture and grow. Aspiring bassists need to find joy in the process, exercise patience and take delight in small improvements.
Rudiments are key. Clear tone, good intonation, solid time and a handle on the major, melodic and harmonic minor systems will set you up for years and years of wonderful music making with others. These basic skills unlock the capacity to make deep and flowing music in any genre.
Developing competence as a bassist is not about how fast or how much you play, but the quality of the sounds you produce. Dig deep into the music you love. Check out a variety of approaches. Choose a favorite bassist to study and try to embody that musician - the sound, the articulations, the feel and the note choices. Imagine that you are an actor playing a role. This way you will be able to access deep wisdom from the past when the music in front of you calls you to respond. Bring the richness of the past into your musical present.
The same focus on quality holds true for practice time - the priority is depth, consistency and efficiency over quantity. Practice daily, trying multi-faceted exercises slowly. Make a pot of tea, get comfortable, start with a simple and satisfying opening exercise and imagine practice as a meditation. Be mindful to dismiss negative thoughts. Delight in the beauty of your sound. Feel the resonance of the wood against your body. Enjoy the sensuality of the experience. Let gravity do the work.
Recognize the importance of breathing and singing. When you sing you connect with the sensual roots in the lower part of your body, connect with your musical voice and activate the deep wisdom of your entire body. The simple act of singing a tune is a way of inviting the sensual into your musicianship – connecting the right and left brain and creating a feeling of not just “being in your body” but “being your body.” The greatest musicians we have ever known have integrated the sensual with the intellect and imagination. Whole-person integration is the state of being where creativity is born. Invite your wholeness into the music – body, mind and soul. Music is the art of FEELING; those feelings sing out from below your neck.
Two questions that I encourage all musicians to ask themselves:
1. What are your intentions as a musician? Why do you want to play music?
2. How do you want to feel in your body while you are playing music?
When you answer these questions and set your purpose and desired intensions, the tasks to help you reach goals start to become very clear and your musical work will start to feel lighter and more joyful.
Some goals for beginner bassists might be:
Hold the instrument in a relaxed way, feeling alignment and comfort in the body.
- Relax your pizzicato hand and arm, utilizing gravity to trigger sound production.
- Develop a flexible and strong left hand so that the open hand position becomes strong yet relaxed.
- Develop a strong, relaxed shoulder position - back and down. Often, in the modern screen driven culture, the shoulders are tensed in a forward position. Do daily stretches to open up the shoulders and chest.
Setting your intentions – the path to tasks and goals.
Perhaps your intention might be:
“I want to feel peaceful and open when I am playing, no matter what the circumstances.”
This may lead to the following question:
“What asks and/or goals will help me achieve peace in my body?”
1. Dialogue with yourself. Be your own best friend and cheerleader. Remember that this is a life-long process and that the path involves one step at a time; if you look too far up the mountain you may become discouraged. Focus on your small, daily victories. Never let your success go to your head or failure go to your heart.
2. Find a teacher/mentor who really sees you and encourages a feeling of peace while you are playing for them. Honour the intimacy and vulnerability of lesson time.
3. While practicing, always focus on your breathing.
4. Stretch your body often.
5. Focus on your body’s alignment so that it is working for you and not against you. Check in with your body often asking, “How am I feeling this moment?”
6. Make clean intonation your pathway to peace. There is nothing more satisfying to you play beautifully in tune.
- Work slowly and diligently on your major scales, working each interval, tuning with open strings when possible.
- Work on intervals while focusing on a solid hand position and intensely clear intonation.
What are three of your favorite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to check out?
1. Ray Brown on Night Train (Oscar Peterson Trio)
2. Scott La Faro on Portraits in Jazz (Bill Evans Trio)
3. Ron Carter on My Funny Valentine/Four and More (Miles Davis Quintet)
Can you share some practice ideas? On what should aspiring bassists focus? What worked for you?
I like to think bass playing has three main components:
1. sound (intonation, sound quality, articulation, gear),
2. time/feel (rhythmic concepts, tempos) and
3. harmony (what note you are on and why are you on it).
When I started to find exercises that addressed all three at the same time, I found that my practice time became more efficient and effective.
Do you have any advice for overcoming difficulties or obstacles?
Embrace your fear. After years of performances where I felt ill equipped, overwhelmed with the talent on stage around me and unworthy, I finally decided that music was a joyful experience and I was not going to let my ego-driven thoughts about my abilities or lack of abilities stop me from having a wonderful time painting with sound and connecting with others. No matter how famous or how beginner the musicians on the stage are – I choose joy and gratitude. This way, I have a better chance of both rising to the occasion and lifting others up.
Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?
I have been given great advice from people who know about these things. Gear talk is not my favorite topic of conversation but I’m pretty happy with my recent upright bass set up.
1. Pirastro Obligato bass strings
2. Fishman Full Circle pickup
3. Finale Carbon Fiber French bass bow
4. Fishman Pro EQ Platinum Preamp
5. Gallien Krueger Combo Amp
There is a great lesson in this question. If you don’t know about something, and are not all that interested in doing all the research yourself, ask for help. Phone a friend. Get an editor. Hire an orchestrator. Ask questions. Collaborations are the best.
What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?
I am working on a few new courses at KPU including a History of Popular Music course which is proving to be really interesting and exciting. Musically, I have a number of concerts with my quartet (Tilden Webb on piano, Jesse Cahill on drums and Steve Kaldestad on tenor sax) and Triology (Miles Black, piano and Bill Coon, guitar) coming up in the new year. I am also really excited about a concert with Laila Biali as our special guest. I have been composing songs with lyrics, which is proving to be an exciting and vulnerable adventure.
I also have a written a few children’s books/songs that I hope to release at some point in the future. My son has been a big creative inspiration since his arrival on the scene.
My website is www.jodiproznick.com. I am on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin if you want to get in touch or stay connected.
Any other thoughts to pass along?
Music is so much bigger than any one of us. Just serve the song in front of you and all will be well. I love the phrase, “when you are nervous, focus on service.”