Interview - Jon Maharaj
Jon is a bass player from Toronto. He has played / toured / recorded with The Tenors, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Dione Taylor, Kellylee Evans, Reg Schwager, Allison Au, Harley Card Amanda Tosoff, Eli Bennett and many others. He has appeared on dozens of albums in a wide range of musical styles, and has performed on many national radio (CBC metro morning, Canada Live, Jazz Fm) and television (Canada AM, Breakfast Television, PBS) programs.
What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?
As far as musical lessons go, time tone and tuning are the most important things for a bass player to master. It's far more important to be able to play a simple groove (in any musical style) with a great feel and sound than it is to be able to rip on a bunch of chord changes. Some of us can do both of course, but if you have to choose you'll go a lot further as a functional bass player than a bass soloist. Whether you like it or not we play a supportive instrument and what we play decides what the chord is and when it happens. It's our job to make everyone else in the band think they're having a great day - if we get a solo that's a bonus.
Non- musically, the only advice I can give is don't show up late and / or underprepared for anything ever. There are a ton of great players out there and the ones who get the most calls are the ones who respect everyone else's time.
What are three of your favourite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to check out?
An impossible question, but I'll do my best.
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
- this is the last big Motown record that Jamerson played on, and side two is Babbit. It's some amazing work by both of them.
Joe Henderson - Lush Life
- I have a real love for Christian McBride and he's amazing on this record (not to mention the fact that he's all of 19 years old). Both his sound and feel are so beautiful, and his forceful walking on Johnny Come Lately (never mind the ripping bowed solo) is unreal.
Peter Gabriel - So
- this record is all about Tony Levin for me. Whether it's his bass line on Sledgehammer (in which he has drum sticks taped to his index and middle fingers on his right hand) or his bass line on Don't Give up, everything he plays on this album is so unique yet completely defines every song. True story - I dressed up as Tony Levin for a concert with my high school band and nobody knew who I was supposed to be.
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 think it's crucial to be aware of your weaknesses when you practice so that you can prioritize what it is you're working on, and set goals that address specific things upon which you need to improve. What I lack in musical talent I more than make up for in self loathing and time management skills - this has served me well.
You may not remember this Mike but I first met you when I was 17 at a U of T rhythm section workshop. You ripped me apart over the course of the week (for which I'm grateful) and I made a point of writing down all the things you pointed out I was unable to do so that I could reorganize my practice time (I didn't know what rhythm changes were, couldn't really play bebop heads on the bass, had sloppy pitch, etc). I feel like it's more rare these days to actually have somebody call you out on your shit, and I'm glad I was young when that was still something that older musicians did regularly. I was schooled on the bandstand countless times in my late teens and early 20's, and those were some of the most valuable learning experiences I've ever had.
Do you have any advice for overcoming difficulties or obstacles?
As somebody who can get really down on myself, the best advice I can offer would be to try to stay positive and remember that the night is often darkest just before the dawn (not my words). Try to remember why you picked up the bass in the first place.
Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?
I think that the best sounding pickup is the Fishman Full Circle BUT it's a flimsy poorly built unit and I burned through three of them in about 15 months. Because of the nature of how they're installed (replace a bridge adjuster) when they die you basically have to take your bass into the shop to get them taken out, which is a total drag. For that reason I'm now using a David Gage lifeline which is the same concept as the full circle but it's easy to take off of the bass. The sound is almost as good so I'm living with it for now (I send a DPA 4099 mic to front of house anyway so hopefully the audience isn't hearing the pickup)
All upright basses respond to strings differently, so the whole string thing is a bit of a rabbit hole. My bass really seems to like Evah Pirazzi weichs on the bottom 3 strings with an Evah medium on the G. On my folding travel bass I use Spirocore mediums, because frankly they're the only strings that can handle the constant detuning.
I've been using Acoustic Image amps exclusively for my upright for the last 15 years or so, and they're my favourite. Super clear and untouched tone, and the Ten2 has more than enough headroom to drive a big band if need be.
I'm a Fender guy, and my precision and jazz basses are all fitted with Lindy Fralin pickups. They have a nice vintage tone which is kind of what I'm going for. My 5 string is a G&L which is a whole other animal.
D'addarios are cheap and have never broken on me so I like them. I put round wounds on all my basses.
I find Markbass to be my favourite amp a for electric bass, but I always go through a sans amp bass driver and send that to FOH.
What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?
I'm doing a bunch of touring with Emilie-Claire Barlow in the next couple of months (I just found out we're going to Japan which is cool) in support of her record Clear Day. I just did a bunch of radio and TV with Dione Taylor in support of her record Born Free. In the new year I'm excited that records I played on by Amanda Tosoff and Allison Au will be released, and a TV special I did with the Tenors is supposed to air on the xfinity channel ( I don't know what that is).
I don't have Facebook or a website, but my Twitter and Instagram accounts are good for a laugh.
Any other thoughts to pass along?
Just be cool and take care of business. The rest is out of your control.