Very few people choose to play the bass. There are people in the audience who like to listen to the bass, because they like those low frequencies and the way they make their bodies feel-but the role of the bass player in the band is not usually the most exciting role, because he has to play repeated figures. Electric bassists are often failed guitar players, demoted to this duty after a band meeting in a garage when they were thirteen. – Frank Zappa
While Zappa’s musings on the anthropology of a rock and roll band are not purely scientific, this one is largely accurate and insightful. After all, he spent 30-plus years as a bandleader in various musical incarnations that included not only the rock band, but also chamber, symphonic, and orchestral permutations. Yet, as intuitive as Zappa was, this theory does not explain the musical virtuoso.
The virtuoso, a rare and special breed of player, does not get demoted to anything. He also does not choose the instrument, nor the instrument him.
Instead, the kinetic energy of these two forces, musician and instrument, generates so much radioactive magnetism that inevitably atoms collide, fission occurs, they unite with a cataclysmic boom that shakes the very foundation of the earth’s crust, and nothing is the same. The union flings the hinges off the creative Pandora’s box with such force that it refuses to shut, ever again.
Modern bass players have Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clark to thank. Before that, bassists hung out in the rhythm section, holding down the bottom while everybody else got the cool solos.
Along came Pastorius and Clark and knocked that notion out of everyone’s minds for good. They could slap and pop, they could get funky, they could play melodies. They could execute extremely complicated bass lines and solos that were jaw-dropping in their technical brilliance. After those two, bass performance was forever changed. As Jimi said, “You’ll never play surf music again.”
Adam Ben Ezra, an Israeli-born musician, has almost singlehandedly invented a new musical genre, “Solo Bass.” Ezra’s significance in the current crop of musical acts is significant yet subtle. Ezra has made the discovery that he doesn’t really need a band. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, he taps out the percussion on the top of his custom upright bass, while also laying down the bass line, and then just for fun, he puts the melody on top. He is able to do this live, without a safety net.
He also creates entire compositions by himself, onstage, live. Accomplishing this feat with a series of loops and synthetic audio patches and effects, he goes from the sonorous tones of his custom acoustic double bass to an electronic pastiche of overdriven, fuzzed, and modulated tones that complement the bottom in ways that weren’t available to the previous generation of performers.
As looping hardware becomes more popular, it frees the musician from relying on other band members to make their art. While the chemistry between players can be incendiary, the problems inherent in collaboration can be deal breakers for all involved.
Musicians have all the issues other people have, from personality quirks and reliability problems to, sometimes, a lack of social skills or even common decency. In the world of professional music, “playing well with others” is a highly sought-after skill, both literally and figuratively. Although Ezra can and does play with a band, he doesn’t need to. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is truly significant for a bass player.
Tell us about the exact moment at age 16 when you discovered the bass. Was it love at first sight?
Ezra: Up until the age of 16, I had switched instruments every few years. When I was at high school I played the electric bass and I learned music in the Jazz department. I fell in love with the style and after listening to great bass players like Eddie Gomez and Stanley Clark, I knew that if I really want to play that style I need to move to the real thing: the upright bass.
Luckily after a few months my school invested in a double bass for the music department and it was a wish come true.
Typically, what happens is the artist gets “obsessed” with the instrument and can’t put it down. There are stories that Jaco would put his bass on in the morning like a shirt, play it all day, only to take it off when he went to bed. Anything like that with you?
Ezra: Unlike Jaco, I can't wear my bass as a shirt all day 🙂 but I do practice a lot. When I started to play the Upright, before I had an instrument of my own, I stayed after school almost every day until the evening and practiced for hours. At some point I was even given a key to lock the school door after me.
When I practice I try to cover all kinds of techniques like bow playing, scale exercises, improvisation, and drumming, and can very easily spend all day focusing on that. The longest practice session I have had was 13 hours!
We love that you’ve essentially created a new musical genre, “Solo Bass, No Band Needed.” Did that notion evolve over time, or was there an “aha” moment where you realized, ”Hey, I can do this all by myself”?
Ezra: The thing that drew me most to play this kind of solo bass style is actually the other instruments I play. I used to play solo pieces both for the guitar and piano and really enjoyed all the harmonic and polyphonic options they have, so it was very natural for me to bring this to the bass.
One other thing that helped me was to play Bach's cello suites on the bass. Bach, in my opinion, is the best teacher for solo playing; he is a master of giving a full range of composition just with one melodic instrument. At the age of 22, I was asked by a singer with whom I played to play a solo piece before he introduced me on stage. It was the first time I had completed a solo piece for the bass and it just opened the way for more.
This piece is an arrangement for "Black Orpheus" and it's also my first YouTube video.
You are a naturally gifted multi-instrumentalist. What does formal training give you that “The Gift” doesn’t?
Ezra: I think that being a multi-instrumentalist is mostly a matter of practice and devotion. If you are talented to play one instrument there is no reason that you cannot play other instruments in addition. I do have a natural tendency to teach myself but it comes with lots and lots of practice and dedication!
I try to give time to every instrument that I play even if it's for a brief moment. For example, the flute is always on the piano in my living room, so any time I have a spare 10 minutes I use it for practicing, and every day I get a little better.
Your videos are these beautiful, lush, well-made pieces that perfectly match the musical content and complement your compositions. When you sit down with Guy and Sergey, what is the process and how long do they take to shoot, edit, and produce to the final product?
Ezra: Usually the process of making a video begins with Guy and then we're sitting together and brainstorming. We spend time discussing the general concept and then matching a location. If it's a cover of a theme song, for example, we think of all kinds of elements from that show and how we can bring them to the video.
After we've made a clearer outline, we meet with Sergey on the set and start working together. We are all pretty open-minded and everyone can freely share their thoughts. In fact, this is when our ideas bounce off each other. We arrive with a general plan but there is always room for improvisation. For example in the video of "Can't Stop Running," which was shot in the living room of a friend's home, we didn't intend to feature the dog in the frame. It was only when we suddenly noticed the dog that we wanted him in the frame and now he's the star of the video!
Following the shooting we begin the editing part, which is mostly the work of Guy. I join in the middle and final stages of this process to give my opinion. Usually it takes between a week to a month to complete a video. It depends of course on how complex the editing is.
Guy is a childhood friend and a key member of your team. How do you handle the division of labor? Do you collaborate on all ideas/concepts or does he mainly concentrate on the business side?
Ezra: Guy has been a very good friend of mine since we were 12 years old and has been my personal manager for the last 6 years. I feel very lucky. Everything is done with great joy and we manage to keep the natural dynamic of a good friendship.
We discuss all aspects together. Of course there are things that we each focus on more individually, each one with their own strengths. Even though I am mostly in charge of the music and Guy is in charge of the business aspect, when it comes to the final decisions, we always consult together. The upcoming album has in fact been produced by both of us. Guy gave very significant artistic input, and I too was very involved with producing the album business-wise.
How has growing up in Israel informed your musical sensibilities in ways that growing up elsewhere would not have?
Ezra: Israel is a very multicultural country, so I was lucky to be exposed to all kinds of music styles, customs, and other aspects of different cultures. I heard and played classical music, Arab and Turkish music, Jazz, Latin and many more styles so it has really shaped the way in which I play and compose, and I am sure this contributed to my desire to play more and more instruments.
How did you discover luthier Nick Lloyd in the US, and what sets his basses apart from others?
Ezra: For a long time I've been dreaming of having a 5-string bass so that with the high C I would be able to play high-range melodies and chords. One day I received an e-mail from Nick saying that he really appreciates my work and loves my music. He offered to build me a custom-made 5-string bass as part of an endorsement agreement … and I agreed!
I really love his work. The bass is really comfortable, has great sound definition, and the neck is removable! This helps me travel more easily around the world.
You seem to be as talented at getting your music heard via YouTube and social media as you are on the bass. How has that developed?
Ezra: I do dedicate a significant amount of my time to this as it is a really important addition. I not only try to respond to anyone who writes to me, but also I really enjoy the contact with the audience.
However, a lot of the credit goes to my manager Guy Dayan. He is mostly in charge of the social media and other aspects of the web. Guy suggested we shoot our first video; back then we were very amateur and had barely any experience at all. After completing a couple of videos we received a massive amount of views and in such a short period. From here we started to take it more seriously, reaching a higher professional level.
My YouTube channel has exposed my music to so many different kinds of people and I'm very grateful for that. Facebook and other social media have given me the tools to communicate with my audience and it's amazing to receive such direct feedback. Just recently we succeeded in raising the entire amount needed in order to fund my debut album, and it was just incredible to receive so much love and support from the listeners.
What are the musical differences when you play solo versus when you play with your trio?
Ezra: There's a huge difference between playing solo and when playing with other people. When I play solo, I need to be much more responsible and self-focused because I'm the only one who is in charge. Besides playing, I use all kinds of pedal effects and a loop station, so it's really challenging to synchronize all my body parts into the music. It's not easy, but great fun.
With the trio I am focusing less intensely on myself and more so on the sound we create as a group – reacting and responding to the vibe we make on stage together. I feel much more free and loose since I share the responsibility with the other musicians.
Your tone is massive. We can imagine the questions you get on your gear, so to settle the question once and for all, does it come from the fingers, the equipment, or a combination thereof?
Ezra: I guess that it's a combination of playing and good equipment, but if you don't know how to produce a good sound with your finger, no equipment or expensive instrument will help you. As a matter of fact I really recommend at the beginning not to play on such an expensive instrument. When you have learned how to create a good sound on a more simple, less expensive instrument, then it is already in your fingers and you will be able to play on any instrument and sound great. For all those who are interested in my gear, it can be found on my website www.adambenezra.com.
The tone from your drumming on the bass itself is also epic. Is there a Piezo in the bridge and do you use a separate EQ?
Ezra: I don't use a different system for my drumming. When I perform I am using a pickup and a microphone that is located under the bridge. The pickup gets the vibration and the attack of the drumming. The microphone gives an acoustic feel, and so together they complete a beautiful wide range of sound.
Are you playing all the instruments on the new album or do you have other players also?
Ezra: I recorded my upcoming debut album with my trio. The amazing Gilad Dobrecky (who has previously played with huge musicians like Al Di Meola, Brad Mehldau, and many more) plays an enormous variety of percussion from all over the world. He colors the music with so many different flavors and has an amazing groove.
Adam Ben Amitai plays the electric and classical guitar on the album. His rich and full sound, together with his effects, manage to create such a magical atmosphere. Chen Shenhar plays the violin and viola in two of the pieces (“The Busker” and “Openland”) and I play all the other instruments you can hear on the album, including double bass, piano, vocals, clarinet, and flamenco footwork.
Any plans to tour the United States?
Ezra: I have in fact already performed a few shows in the US and I would love to come back. At the moment I don't have any scheduled tours specifically in the US, but I really hope to book one soon. We are now looking for the right labels and promoters in order to expand my activity in this territory.
Adam Ben Ezra’s new album Can’t Stop Running, OUT NOW!