Chapter 1 FB: Well good afternoon all you bass fans! Today we have on the hotseat for the Berklee Oral History Project none other than Mr. Whit Browne who's not only been a member of the Berklee faculty for, oh, a generation and a half, but is absolutely been one of the first-called Jazz bassists in the city of Boston for a long time, joining the ranks of illustrious forbears such as Larry Richardson, John Neves, and sharing it with John Repucci and nowadays a little more might be John Lockwood. These are the guys who always get the call when there's a bass player needed for a visiting Jazz artist of repute. Whit, nice to see you here. WB: Good to see you, Fred. FB: It's a pleasure. WB: Thank you. FB: Glad to see you looking fit as a fiddle. WB: Doing best I can. FB: Or a bass fiddle. WB: Yeah, yeah. FB: You've had a long and interesting career with interesting studies. Great gigs with all manner of amazing Jazz players and a long teaching career at Berklee. Where do we begin? Back in Wakefield? WB: Yeah, probably. I started playing bass young. I was ten or eleven or twelve years old, or something like that. And I grew up in a musical household. My father played bass and piano and there was always musicians coming by for sessions and all like that and there was recors on all the time. And I began playing the bass, had some other interests but music was the primary thing and one thing led to another and all of a sudden here we are. FB: Your dad was a bassist. WB: Yes. He's retired now, though. Bass and piano, yeah. FB: And the sessions would be jam sessions with different musicians? WB: Yeah. Well, you know Jimmy Mosher. FB: Sure. WB: Well my dad played with Jimmy Mosher's father, who was also Jimmy Mosher. A big band back in the fifties and there was a drummer named George Witham who played, and Jimmy Derber was in that group. So they'd come by and have sessions and whatnot and they'd, you know, ride together to the gig or something so they'd come early and hang out and get to talk with him. FB: A lot of these guys lived in the WB: North Shore. FB: North Shore, there. Yep. Did you study at all with your dad, before, when you were young? WB: Well in the beginning I studied with my dad but notformally. He'd show me some things on the bass, he taught me to use my ear and hear chord progressions. He'd sit down at the piano and he'd play like what Berklee would call the II - V pattern and he'd have me sing the resolution. And then, after I sang the right note, he'd say "find it on the bass" so I'd have to find what note it was on the bass, you know. But then he sent me to a gentleman by name of Kai Jewel, in my hometown, who was my first formal bass teacher. We went through the Semandle book as every bass player would know, you know Semandle and the Nanny books are standard type repertoire. They're classically based methods, you know, working with the bow, but it works for your technique, for your left hand technique and your shifting and your positions and intonation and also the right arm with bow control and all like that. So I studied with Kai for a number of years. He was also a great luthier who did repairs on string instruments and I would hang out in his basement and watch him repair basses and cellos and fiddles and that was something that always interested me. And he got to the point where he said "okay, I've had enough of you, it's time for you to go and study with Tiny Martin at the Boston at the Boston Symphony. He was friends with Tiny so he introduced me to Tiny and that was around, I was probably around sixteen at that time, seventeen years old, around there. And started with Tiny, studied with him, while I was in high school, and also through college, and then when I finished college that was kind of the end of my lessons with Tiny. Also studied with Charlie Binakis. Charlie was friends with Melsa Bulken (?) and Vick Dery, this trio that I was playing with in the early seventies. We were playing up in New Hampshire and he'd come to the gig, and listen to us play, and Mel and Vick would say, "you know, you should hook up with Charlie, you know, he could show you some stuff." And so, I got to study with Charlie for a bit, and you know, not studying the bass, but studying music. Concept, whether it was musical concept or soloing, support, stuff like that. FB: Your early lessons with Kai Jewel were more classically oriented? WB: Yes. FB: And, similarly with Tiny Martin? Even though he had the Jazz background of the big bands. WB: Yeah, he was an old big band bass player. As a matter of fact he played with Kruper's band with a short period of time, and I think the Dorsey brothers too. He was from Seattle area. But studies with him were all classically trained. FB: And that is eighty percent arco and maybe twenty percent pizz.? WB: No, it was all arco. Basically, really, if you think of orchestral music. You know, there are some pizzicato sections but usually mostly studied... FB: Tchaikovsky's fourth, but not a heck of a lot.. WB: Yeah, a few plicks and plunks here and there, you know. FB: When did the Jazz lessons start kicking in? WB: Well the Jazz was there first before any of the classical. FB: Oh, okay. WB: And it was kind of simultaneously. When I went to college I was studying classical but I put myself through college, paid my tuition room and board by playing Jazz every night. Jazz was my first love, that's something that, it just grabbed a hold of me when I heard the music, especially when I heard Ray Brown. He was like the first Jazz bass player that I listened to, that I knew what I was listening for. Prior to that, like I said, there was music in the house all the time. My earliest recollections were of Errol Garner. When I was a little kid, and rambunctious like three years old running around the house, the only way my mother could get me to quiet down, she'd put Errol Garner records on, the old hi-fi set. FB: Wow. WB: And I'd just be mesmerized. I'd stand in front of the speaker and just rock back and forth, in the time of Errol Garner. FB: Those amazing octaves, that huge sound, and a great buoyancy, he was amazing. WB: Yep. But all through school I played Jazz. You know I studied classical, and it was something that I wanted to do, because it was part of the instrument. Although, I didn't have my heart set on being a classical musician, like, I didn't want to have a symphony job, so to speak. My teacher thought I should. Tiny said "you should go for the symphony." I said "No that's not really where I feel it at," but you know I studied it and did symphonic playing while a student, college orchestras and stuff like that.