ONE OF THE QUESTIONS THAT JAZZ FANS ALWAYS ASK IS “WHO IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT ARTIST THAT BRIDGES JAZZ AND POP WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE MUSIC?”. THE LAST COUPLE, DIANA KRALL AND JAMIE CULLUM, HAVE DONE COMMENDABLE WORK IN SATISFYING BOTH GROUPS OF FANS. HOWEVER, GENERATIONS AGE, AND NEW DEMOGRAPHS DESIRE NEW SOUNDS.
I SUBMIT THAT BASSIST AND VOCALIST MILES MOSLEY IS JAZZ’S NEXT AMBASSADOR TO THE POP WORLD. HIS LONG TIME BAND, WEST COAST GET DOWN, IS FEATURED ON HIS DEBUT ALBUM, AND IT HAS BOTH ACCESSIBILITY AND CHOPS. HIS VOICE AND MESSAGE IS THAT OF A STREETWISE PREACHER, WHILE THE MUSIC DEFIES YOU TO STAND STILL.
WITH A GROUP OF BANDMATES THAT INCLUDES KAMASI WASHINGTON, MOSLEY RECENTLY PERFORMED AT THE PLAYBOY JAZZ FESTIVAL. ALWAYS PLAYING UPRIGHT BASS, NO MATTER THE STYLE OR SUBSTANCE, MOSLEY IS AN EMISSARY FOR KEEPING TRUE TO ONE’S SOUND WHILE ALSO SHOWING THAT HE CAN ADAPT TO ANY FORM OF MUSICAL STYLE.
HOW WAS THE GIG AT THE PLAYBOY JAZZ FESTIVAL?
We had a wonderful show at the Hollywood Bowl, and the sun is shining brightly and according to the way that I feel.
It was really a special event for myself and all of the brothers at the West Coast Get Down, Obviously, being from Los Angeles and be able to step on stage that you have viewed so many times. Even though many of us have been on it as sidemen for other people, when they say your name out loud, they spin the stage and there’s 16,000 people out there, it’s a tremendous feeling. I think it helped to usher in a really powerful performance from us.
Because of the way that we make our music, everything we do is a one-time event; it’s never going to sound the same way again because we’re always trying to push for new sounds and new experiences. So that’s going to go into the history books for us as our first major show at the Hollywood Bowl.
DID YOU PLAY MUSIC FROM YOUR ALBUM, NEW MATERIAL OR SOMETHING ELSE?
We played 4-5 songs from the Uprising album. I brought in four background singers that joined me at (my concert at) the El Rey Theatre who sang on the album. We had three horns up there; I’m a big fan of large sounding music, and the crew that we put together really went for it.
THE ALBUM SOUNDS VERY “LIVE.” WAS THE MUSIC RECORDED AS A UNIT PLAYING TOGETHER?
Most of the credit goes to producer Tony Austin, who was also the engineer; he’s a genius. Not only is he a fantastic drummer, but he really understands the sound that we are going for as a unit.
When I made the decision to record this music, I was fresh off of listening to the Solomon Burke album Don’t Give Up on Me. That’s a real intimate-sounding record, and I thought that in order to portray the energy that we had “live”, it’s important that we have no gimmicks in the studio, and just really well-placed microphones with the band going for it.
So, for the purposes of separation, we recorded the trio together, and we then did the strings, the horns and the choir. But we were very careful not to use reverbs and delays; just have everything real close and visceral, so that the size of it could come across without faking the size of it. If you wanted a bigger sounding choir, just hire more singers (laughs).
MY WIFE HEARD THE ALBUM AND SAID, “THEY SOUND LIKE A BAND THAT YOU WANT TO SEE LIVE.”
That was something that I was aware of. It had been hard for us up until that point to portray the energy that we have live and make it stick to a record. There are a lot of great bands that are phenomenal in concert that have that same problem. Getting energy to stick onto tape is a challenge, and we thought that if you can make it feel like we’re playing in your living room it would start to feel more “live.” To be able to record and take chances and not think every note through, and allow it to be improvisational with free moments and to capture it and just expand on them.
WHEN DID IT FIRST MEAN SOMETHING TO YOU THAT YOU WERE NAMED AFTER MILES DAVIS?
I’ve always known that I was named after a legend, and I knew the importance of him in my parents’ musical appreciation. I’ve always been more grateful for the fact that I didn’t trumpet (laughs). I don’t think like I felt that I needed to compete against my name, or live up to it.
The discipline that my parents instilled in me has always that…no matter what I did, whether it was to be an upright bass player, a professor at a college or deliver the mail, that I was to be great at it, love doing it, and do it at the highest possible level. That has instilled a competitive spirit within me, and I’m not ok with being “ok.”
YOUR PARENTS RAISED YOU WELL.
A friend of mine has a daughter, and it was her first birthday. I went to the first birthday parties, which are usually celebrations for the parents. I was thinking “What can I give a one year old girl?”
“I’m going to write out a piece of music that I can play, but is extremely difficult to perform. I’m going to frame it, and give it to her. I’ll tell her parents, and tell them that if she ever dates a musician, (which is a bad idea-laughs) if he can’t play this piece of music, he’s no good.” (Laughs)
I wrote into it a secret that, if you’re a really good musician, you’ll look into the music and go “oh, there’s something missing” and if you would know, you’d be able to take that gift and do something with it that would reveal something valuable that is hidden inside of it.
YOU LEARNED BASS FROM SOME OF THE BEST, AL MCKIBBON, JOHN CLAYTON AND RAY BROWN. WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST THINGS EACH ONE TAUGHT YOU? DID THEY TEACH YOU CONCENTRIC CIRCLES OF THE SAME IDEAS?
I definitely learned something distinctive from each one of them. From Ray Brown, I learned that you had to understand the bass and the music that you play on it completely. It’s not enough to know a song in one key, but you should know it in all keys. You should drive yourself to understand music completely and not just on a surface level.
John Clayton is all about having command of the instrument, from the nut to the bridge. Every single note, know where it is and why it is. Know the difference between the same note played on different strings, and be a truly complete bass player from a technical standpoint. Obviously he stresses bow work and classical music, and that is something that provides a life long journey into the sea of excellence.
From Al McKibbon I learned that you’re not allowed to admonish or dismiss any style of music that you can’t play yourself. That was a huge lesson. You can’t go “I really don’t like Country Music.”
Do you really understand Country Music? Do you understand the difference between playing a country bass line and a jazz bass line? Or Death Metal. Have you taken the time to find out why it functions the way that it does? If you haven’t, you don’t get to open your mouth and say anything about it, because you don’t know what you’re talking about.
THAT EXPLAINS WHY YOU ARE SO AT EASE PLAYING WITH ARTISTS RANGING FROM JEFF BECK TO KORN
I really pride myself investigating all styles of music, finding out their societal purposes, finding out the details of makes the difference between playing styles of music that seem similar, especially from a bassist’s standpoint.
For example, compositionally and harmonically, you can dismiss Latin music as just “Latin music” but there are so many subtle differences, and it’s a joy to dive into them and not put blinders on.
The saddest thing to do as a musician is to quarantine yourself from all of the different styles that exist, and all of the passion and joy that has gone into making those styles of music what they are.
When I get a call from somebody to work with them, I do my homework and make sure that I am bringing to the table something that benefits the music and lifts the music up. Because I’ve been able to do all of that on upright bass and show the value of that instrument across a multitude of genres.
“Do you really understand Country Music? Do you understand the difference between playing a country bass line and a jazz bass line? Or Death Metal. Have you taken the time to find out why it functions the way that it does? If you haven’t, you don’t get to open your mouth and say anything about it, because you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
THE AMAZING THING ABOUT YOUR CAREER IS THAT YOU’RE ONE OF THE VERY FEW BASSISTS THAT HAS NOT DOUBLED ON ELECTRIC. HAVE YOU EVER HAD ANY TEMPTATIONS OR PRESSURES TO GO OVER TO THE ELECTRIC SIDE, ESPECIALLY IN THE FUNK SCENE?
I see a tremendous value in that instrument; the history of it is undeniable. Because I have such a large amount of respect for the players that have mastered it, Jaco Pastorius, Tony Levin, Victor Wooten and James Jamerson…because I’ve spent so much time listening to and transcribing those lines, I’ve never felt that I’ve had as much to offer to that instrument as those greats. I thought that there was a space for the upright bass to expand into a sonic spectrum that it had never been in before.
That investigation seemed that it would be more beneficial to myself, because my heart is truly with that instrument. It’s the first instrument I ever played and I’ve stuck with it my entire life. And, growing up in Los Angeles with the West Coast Get Down, Thundercat, Stephen Bruner, is right down the street. He’s doing all this amazing stuff on the electric bass, so that is covered, and is in good hands. He can take that part of it and I’ll take the upright bass and try to do something fresh and new.
I’ll take this 500 year old instrument that has been played a lot of different ways, but effectively has sounded the same its entire life. I thought that I could bring it into the modern era by not only making technically sure that I was not only technically proficient, but I could also expand its palate.
SO, WHEN THESE GUYS LIKE BECK OR KORN CALL YOU UP TO PLAY BASS, DO THEY GIVE A RAISED EYEBROW WHEN YOU WALK IN WITH AN UPRIGHT?
I have definitely had an artist call to play bass and specify that they want electric bass, and I’ll usually just ask them to give me a shot. “Let me have a crack at it on upright bass, and let me show you how many different sounds can come out of it, and how huge it can sound.”
The upright bass, with a distortion pedal, an octave down pedal and a wah placed at the bow sounds like a mood synthesizer.
THAT EXPLAINS WHY I WAS LOOKING FOR THE SYNTHESIZER CREDITS ON YOUR ALBUM BUT DIDN’T SEE ANY
You can get some amazing sounds out of that instrument. I’ve always tried to impress upon people be open minded for one song, and if you don’t like it, I’ll be happy to play the electric bass for you if nothing else will do.
Luckily I’ve been able to prove its worth and flexibility, and show how much of a benefit it can be to so many different genres of music, so everybody keeps letting me do my thing!
IT FITS IN WELL WITH KAMASI WASHINGTON’S ALBUM, AS HE’S SO WIDE RANGING AS WELL.
Well, we grew up together, so we’ve been playing since we were in high school.
IS THAT PART OF THE WEST COAST GET DOWN?
Yes, the West Coast Get Down is a group of musicians that all grew up together in Los Angeles, California and have known each other since at least high school, and some even before. Ronald Bruner Jr/dr, Steven “Thundercat” Bruner/eb, Kamasi Washington/ts, Ryan Porter/tb, Cameron Graves/p, Brandon Coleman/key, myself, Tony Austin/dr and Terence Martin/voc is a collective that benefited from an amazing education system that was implemented in the 90s because Clinton was president and he put a lot of money into 3rd party programs that were to supplement educational cutbacks.
We were able to study with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and I got to start with John Clayton and Ray Brown because of these programs that were being created. Many of them, like The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz on the west coast was founded by my now-managers Bob Brodhead and Barbara Sealy.
So there has been this group/collective that has been together for 25 years. It was time for us to invest in ourselves and take a breath from being sidemen for other people, and because everyone has a skills set outside of their instrument (Tony is an amazing engineer, Kamasi is excellent at getting us all in the same room, I’m hyper-organized so I’m a good project manager) we decided to record 137 songs in 30 days!
The first release from those sessions was Kamasi Washington’s The Epic.During those same sessions Uprising was recorded, and everyone started their own records. Cameron rolled out his record; each person is doing with his material what he sees fit, and I was fortunate enough to have Verve release Uprising. There’s a big massive story as to how we incubated in Los Angeles, and part of that was that we were playing each other’s music. When it came to Kamasi’s and my sound, I think he developed his at the same time I developed mine. It was a mentality that dangerous; it can be aggressive; it can be storytelling, or it can go back to a time when it was truly popular music.
I WOULD SEE KAMASI AT THE BLUE WHALE NOW AND THEN, BUT WHERE DID YOU GUYS AS A GROUP USUALLY PLAY?
The El Rey Theatre was where we did the debut for the Uprising album. Before the spotlight hit us, it was my feeling, shared by the rest of the band, that we had to find the easiest broad stroke way to solve what was “wrong” with the jazz community and what was stifling it; it was being held too high up on the pedestal. The common people couldn’t listen to the common music. Every time you wanted to see jazz there was a cover charge, a two drink minimum or a dinner, sit at a little table and be quiet and to clap appropriately at the right time. That wasn’t the kind of music that we wanted to make for ourselves.
We wanted to make music for people our age; to make people dance, drink and meet people, have fun and be young and exuberant ! The first rule was: if there are seats, we aren’t playing there. So we played at rock clubs, we’d play for goth clubs; we played anywhere but a jazz club.
After touring so much with other people, I felt like one of the main issues for us was that when we came home there was no steady place for us to play. I found this place called The Piano Bar in Hollywood; this dive bar that was run by a couple of great managers Jimmy and Ryan Keane. They were musicians and they let us do whatever we’d want. They didn’t charge anyone to get in; we did it every Wednesday and Friday for 5-6 years.
We’d have 500 people there on a Wednesday. The Fire Marshall would come in and say “Shut it down,” but because he liked the music so much he’d let us finish our set and then kick everybody out.
It turned into this amazing hang, to which I would start the night off by saying “Ladies and gentlemen…welcome the West Coast Get Down, your Friday night DJ alternative.” That turned into us being The West Coast Get Down.
WHERE CAN YOU PLAY IN LA AFTER PERFORMING AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL?
We’re actually playing there again, but with Kamasi Washington’s music. It’s one unit, depending on who’s standing in front of it; it’s just a revolving door.
For the Miles Mosley band, we’re heading out to Europe next; the North Sea Jazz Festival and Istanbul. We’re running hard and expanding our wing span.
WHAT WAS INTRIGUING ABOUT YOUR ALBUM IS THAT THE LYRICS HAD SOME DEEP SPIRITUAL MESSAGES, WHICH IS AN INTERESTING CONTRAST TO THE “GET UP AND DANCE” STYLE OF MUSIC YOU PLAY. DID YOU GROW UP IN A RELIGIOUS FAMILY?
My mother is Jewish, from San Francisco. My father is a black Baptist from Alabama. They are still together and have been since the time that they raised me. That meant growing up in Los Angeles during the school year I would go to synagogue and study the Torah and learn about my Jewish heritage. In the summer, my father and I would drive from Los Angeles to Alabama and I’d go to the black Baptist church with my grandmother every Sunday. Well, actually almost every day as she was very active in the church community.
Having both of those things from the beginning in parents that were effectively hippies made me believe that everyone was basically saying the same thing. It didn’t matter dogmatically which religion you picked, because at the start they are all saying “Don’t be a jerk.” (laughs)
The first book I ever read was The Tibetan Book of the Dead. My mom gave me that, so I’ve always had this spiritual journey that I’ve been conducting, and a comfortability with it. That bumps up against my passion for words, language and the power of words.
I’ve read all of the religious texts, from the Japanese Buddhist texts to the Koran, Torah and the Bible; all of them. The reason I took the time to take all of it in was not because of the fear of God, but because I wondered how it was possible that we, as humans, could write these words down on pages of paper that we’ve built the entire world upon…everything we know stands upon the power of words and phrases…and how are these words and phrases structured so that it could lead people to have so faith, but at the same time could spill blood in the honor of their gods.
It’s just words; but why are these words so powerful and not (for example) Dr. Seuss? What is it?
So, when I would write my music, I’m interested in phrases that hold weight, that resonate with people and land on them in a way that akes them feel something.
I feel that there is a lot of music where the lyrics aren’t necessary. If you’re going to write a “booty shakey” track, it’s more about the music. The groove is right, and it’s not about what you say.
I’m interested in making music that is about what I say, and that either makes people feel that they are connected to one another, or that they’re simply not alone in their mind full of scary thoughts and insecurities, because I have those, too.
Sometimes, just knowing that someone is out there will make you feel better. I know that when I listen to Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, Otis Redding or Leonard Cohen I’m listening to an artist that knows me.
WHEN YOU REALIZE THAT THERE IS A GOD, YOU ALSO REALIZE THAT YOU’RE NOT COSMICALLY ALONE
I’m fine with anything that someone can hold on to in order to get up in the morning. Whether you are worshipping the sun god, Jesus or Mohommed, it’s the idea that there’s a reason to get up and do “it” again, again and again.
I get it; it’s hard out there; it’s not so much that it’s hard in 2017 just because of the political climate or the social climate. It’s hard every day.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS?
I’m definitely looking forward to releasing more music on Verve. I think that the artists that have historically been assigned to that label are prolific, and I want to be held in that regard.
I want to continue to tour as well, because nothing energizes the soul more than live music. But, I also have a great passion for film, television, video games and things like that. I’m looking forward for some of those projects falling on my plate for 2018. I just want to keep contributing to this wonderful world of music that I’m so lucky to be a part of.
YOU’VE DONE A TON OF RECORDINGS, BUT IS IT PECULIAR TO BE A “ROOKIE” WITH YOUR FIRST ALBUM AT 37?
It is a kind of odd place to be. But, the spotlight moves at its own pace, and I think if anything, myself and the cats of the Get Down are examples of “stick-to-it-evness” and not modifying your sound because you think that something is not working, or because you see success in some other area. You make the music that you love, and you remind yourself that you get to make if for the rest of your life. No one can ever take that away from you.
Now that I’ve had my opportunity to swing the bat, I think people can see how far I can hit the ball. I hope they’ll continue to support me in my endeavors, and, rookie or not, a win is a win.
WE DON’T KNOW HOW LONG IT TOOK TO MAKE THE PYRAMIDS. WE ONLY KNOW THAT THEY’RE THERE.
That’s it. I like that catch phrase; I’ll use it in the future! (laughs)
IF YOU HAVEN’T HEARD HIS DEBUT ALBUM, DON’T WASTE ANOTHER MINUTE. LIKE ROY HOBBS IN ‘THE NATURAL’, MOSLEY IS SHOWING THE WORLD, THAT YOU CAN BE A VETERAN AND A ROOKIE AT THE SAME TIME.