Interview - Will Jarvis
Toronto-born Will Jarvis is a busy freelance bassist and educator. Over his career, Will has gained a reputation as a very versatile player and is equally comfortable playing jazz, R&B, funk, jazz-fusion along with Brazilian and Cuban music. Will has performed with Tito Puente, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Paquito D’Rivera, Hilton Ruiz, Hilario Duran, Luis Conte, Dave Valentin, Steve Gadd, David Clayton-Thomas and Sinal Aberto. Currently, Will plays regularly with Manteca, Paul DeLong’s “Bucket Of Fish Orchestra” and Trevor Dick Band. As an educator, Will is on the music faculty at both Humber College and Mohawk College.
What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?
I learned a very important lesson early on when I was on a gig with my dad’s country band. I was a bit nervous because it was my first gig and I didn’t know a lot of the band’s repertoire. I remember the guitar player saying to me, “just use your ears.” To this day, that’s the most important advice I’ve ever received. Listening closely to the guitar player for the chord changes helped me get through that gig and led me to listen closely to the other instruments in the band as well. Tuning in to all the instruments you’re playing with and being able to interact and react quickly to things that are happening in the group is an important skill to develop.
What are three of your favourite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to check out?
It’s difficult to pick just three but here are ones that are close to me.
Bill Evans & Eddie Gomez, “Intuition” – This is one that I listened to a lot when I first started playing jazz. I’ve always liked the duet setting for the freedom it gives the bass to move from timekeeper to soloist to interplay whenever the urge arises and/or the music allows. This recording exemplifies the great dialogue between Evans and Gomez.
Jaco Pastorious, “Jaco” – This landmark recording redefined the role of the electric bass and it still influences the bassists of today. It’s an amazing display of Jaco’s enormous technique, soulful grooves and compositional diversity. Jaco gave a distinctive voice to the electric bass that is also clearly evident on such recordings as Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” and Michel Colombier’s composition “Dreamland.”
Chaka Khan, “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me” – This recording features some great “in the pocket” playing from Anthony Jackson and Abe Laboriel. A. J. plays some wicked fills on “Heed The Warning” and the ending of “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me.” The groove on “Fate” is killing.
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.
Early on, my practice sessions were not always productive. They would usually start out fine but sometimes would deteriorate into jamming as I got frustrated with sight reading or whatever I was working on. Later on I learned how to set and accomplish goals, which made practicing an enjoyable experience.
1) Set goals for each practice session. Have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish (sight reading, scales, bass lines, etc..)
2) Complete your goals. This will give you a positive experience and build confidence for the next session.
3) Keep a progress journal containing the things you’ve worked on (specific pieces, tempos, scales, etc..)
I begin each practice session by playing a two-octave scale very slowly at 25-30 bpm and dividing each beat into divisions of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, first in the right hand and then the left hand. It’s a great warm up and a great exercise for strengthening your time. Then I’ll play through some other technique exercises before diving into the music for that particular session. Often I’ll choose a “key of the day” and play all practice material (scales, sight reading, tunes, etc..) in the chosen key. I’ll choose keys by going around the cycle of fourths, which gets me to those keys with lots of sharps and flats that I may not normally play in.
For aspiring players I suggest working on your time using various metronome exercises. Playing along with recordings is a great way to develop a feel for different genres of music. It’s all about time and groove.
Do you have any advice for overcoming difficulties or obstacles?
Be patient and persistent. Give yourself time to grow and develop as a musician. Try not to get too down on yourself if things don’t work out as planned. Dwell on the positives of your/the group’s performance rather than any negatives, which are usually a very small percentage of the overall performance.
Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?
It’s important to hear and develop a good tone and be able to consistently reproduce it. My main electric bass is a 1984 Fender Squier JV that I bought for $400.00. I added EMG pickups and a Badass bridge. I had a few basses before this one and many more after it but the JV always feels like home. My acoustic bass is an inexpensive 80 year-old Czech plywood bass. I’ve had some work done on it and like the JV, it plays, sounds and records great. The point is that you don’t have to have expensive gear to have a great sound. Tone comes from your fingers. Find a good instrument that feels good to play and work on developing good tone.
Strings - I played steel strings for a long time but have been using nickel strings for the last 10-12 years. I really like the tone and feel of D’Addario nickel round wound strings. Plus they’re relatively inexpensive. I use them on most of my electric basses. I use Thomastik flats on my Fender P-bass and Gibson EB0. I’ve always liked Thomastik Spirocores on my string bass and haven’t felt the need to change.
Amps - I use Genz-Benz and Euphonic Audio amps for electric bass only because I’ve been able to dial in a sound that I like with them. For string bass I use a GK 200MB amp and a Sadowsky preamp. I’m quite happy with the David Gage Realist pickup for string bass.
What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?
I’m excited about the release of my debut recording due out in late December. It’s an Afro-Cuban project: original music and a great band. Coming up, I have a couple of dates with Paul Delong’s group “Bucket of Fish Orchestra” playing jazz-fusion classics and a show with the Steely Dan tribute band “Pretzel Logic,” which is always fun. I’m in pre-production with Manteca for the next recording, which will be recorded in February 2016.
You can follow me on Facebook or check the Manteca, Paul DeLong and Trevor Dick Band websites for upcoming shows.
Any other thoughts to pass along?
If you play to the best of your abilities and have a positive attitude, everything will work out fine. Have fun playing and interacting with the musicians you work with. Be the best person you can be and the best player you can be. The rest will take care of itself.