TRANSCRIBED BY DARLENE MARSHALL
We’re featuring an interview with, and music from, Anthony Stoops today, plus checking out some listener feedback, bass news, a Link of the Week, and more, all on this week’s Contrabass Conversations, number 67.
Hi, and welcome to another episode of Contrabass Conversations, your weekly show about life on the low end of the spectrum. I’m your host, Jason Heath, and as always you can contact us here. Just dial 206-666-6509; email us feedback at ContrabassConversations.com; check out the blog, doublebassblog.org; or the podcast page at ContrabassConversations.com; or visit our forums at talkbass.com/cbc, where you can interact with the largest community of bassists on the Internet.
We’d like to give a shout-out to listeners Zach Sawyer, Omar Akhbek, Jill Gerfetz and Samuel A. Philips. These are some of the people that have joined our Contrabass Conversations Facebook group, and you can visit this group for forums, photos, videos and more double bass goodness through the link in our show notes, or by searching for us on Facebook. We hope you enjoyed the continuation of our interview with Cincinnati Symphony principal bassist Owen Lee last week. And this week, we’re going to be featuring Anthony Stoops, who is Artist Teacher of Bass and String Area Chair at the University of Oklahoma School of Music. Now Anthony’s had quite a career on the double bass already; he won the first prize in the International Society of Bassists solo competition in 1995, he’s performed internationally as a chamber musician and soloist, masterclasses in Brazil, Poland and throughout the U.S. – all over. He’s the recipient of a Karr Foundation double bass and has had quite a career on the bass also in the orchestral realm. He’s performed many times with the Detroit Symphony; he’s performed under George Schulte, Neeme Jarvi, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez and Charles Dutois. Now Anthony is also a member of The Bad Boys of Bass, a bass quartet, which is a real blast, and we’re going to be featuring this quartet in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that. But this we’re going to be also, in addition to the first part of our interview, we’re going to be featuring Anthony playing the Pieces en Concert by Couperin. We’re going to hear those five pieces: the Prelude, Sicilienne, La Tromba , Plainte and the Air de Diable. And those will occur directly after the interview. After the interview, we’ll also feature some bass news, listener feedback, and a Link of the Week. So stay tuned for that after this segment from our interview with Anthony Stoops. Here we go.
JH: Well, I’d like to welcome Anthony Stoops to Contrabass Conversations. Thanks so much for agreeing to be on the program, Anthony!
AS: Thanks for having me.
JH: It’s great to have you on. My first question for you is, what was your first instrument? Was it the double bass?
AS: No, it wasn’t, actually. I started on the piano at five, and after a few years of lessons my piano teacher told my parents I had no musical talent. (Laughs) … so at that point I switched to the bass! There’s probably a good joke there. Yeah, so I started the bass when I was nine, in the public school system in Westerville, Ohio, and just kind of learned in string class, basically. I didn’t have lessons until I was sixteen.
JH: And who did you start studying with when you were sixteen?
AS: I started with Mark Morton.
JH: Oh wow!
AS: He was at that time assistant principal bass in the Columbus Symphony; now he’s principal. So I got really lucky to have a great first teacher; he was so organized about everything, he made me do scales, I had to play a certain way, and it was really great. I would have never gotten into music at all if I hadn’t studied with him. So I really feel lucky.
JH: Now is Mortonville close to Columbus? Is that a suburb of Columbus, or pretty close?
AS: Yeah, Westerville’s a suburb –
JH: Westerville, sorry.
AS: Yeah, it’s like 10 minutes from downtown Columbus, so it’s a suburb. Actually, there’s a famous string teacher – teacher of string teachers, Bob Culver, who until this year taught at the University of Michigan – but he actually started the string program that I came up in, in Westerville, Ohio. I found out much later that he did that, but that’s kind of cool.
JH: That’s cool. When did you decide that you were going to make a career out of music? Was it that early on when you were playing, or high school, or …?
AS: Yeah, it was high school; it was pretty much right around the time that I started lessons. I was playing in a youth orchestra and I really got into it. And I started studying with Mark, it started to take off, and he wanted me to go to Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina. He used to teach there, and he said, “There’s this really great bass teacher at Eastern Music Festival, and it would be great for you to study with her and figure out whether or not you’re interested in music”. And so I went, and I studied – that’s the first place that I met Diana Gannet, the summer I was sixteen, and I just loved being a student there. And I came back and told my parents “I gotta major in music; I gotta do this”, and they’re like “Okaaayy”, you know (laughs) … this is not good news! They were ok with it, and Mark got me prepared to audition everywhere under the sun and, you know, basically that was it. So probably, I guess when I was sixteen is when I knew.
JH: Now you ended up starting your college studies at Northwestern, isn’t that right?
AS: It is right.
JH: So how did you end up deciding on Northwestern and Jeff Branetich, who at that time was the teacher there?
AS: Right. Well, that’s kind of a funny story because, you know, I auditioned at all these conservatories, and I auditioned at the Hart School ‘cause Gary Karr was still teaching there and Diana Garrett was teaching there. I kind of wanted to study with Diana (which I later did, but I’ll get back to that), and I had basically – I had my audition list set. Then I got this phone call from Jeff Branetich, I guess it was because I made national finals for the younger division in American String Teachers Solo Competition. And he saw my name and called, and he said, “You know, you should really audition”. And I said, “Well, I’d love to audition, but you know, my grades are terrible”. (Laughs). He said, “Oh, don’t worry about that, we’ll figure that out”. And he must have pulled every string in the book to get me in academically, because my grades were just terrible in high school. But it worked out, and I decided to go and study with Jeff for a variety of reasons. One, he was – he still is, obviously, an incredible teacher. So I went up and I auditioned for him and I had a lesson, and I loved the lesson. Also, my favorite orchestra was the Chicago Symphony; it still is. I just thought, “Well, going to a school that’s this close to the Chicago Symphony can’t be bad at all.” And so I, you know, I just decided to go. I just wanted to be around that orchestra and learn from Jeff and it worked out pretty well, and I loved it. I tried to go to the symphony – pretty much I went every week in my freshman year.
JH: Oh wow.
AS: Just to get rush tickets – you know, I ate it up. Then I auditioned for Civic during my freshman year, and got in, and played during my sophomore year. So I got coachings with [????- couldn’t make this out. DM] as well, and played under – let’s see: that year Barenboim conducted, Schulte conducted, Boulez conducted, and Mehta conducted. Which is pretty –
JH: That’s a good lineup!
AS: Pretty amazing, at nineteen, to play under those kind of guys! But anyway, I really loved studying with Jeff. Playing in Civic was a great musical experience, but… I already mentioned that I was a bad student, and it was just kind of too much for me academically. And so, I just kind of — I didn’t do so well; it’s not like I really flunked out (laughs) – I shouldn’t admit it, but I came pretty close! A variety of events led to me being pretty unhappy at Northwestern. And then Jeff told us he had gotten this new job at the University of North Texas, and offered for me to come with him, and I said, “Well, I don’t know; you know, no offense, I just don’t want to go to Texas”. And here I am living in Oklahoma! (Laughs). But he said, “OK, I understand, maybe down the road”. And I remembered that Diana Gannett had moved to the University of Iowa, so I called her. And I thought, you know, if she takes me, I’ll go; and if not then I’ll go with Jeff. So I went out and I played for her and had another lesson, and she took me into her studio, so I transferred to the University of Iowa. Diana was really – she’s the guru of the double bass; you know, it’s not just bass teaching; she was my Aikido sensei as well, she has a black belt in Aikido. Really just a very holistic approach to bass and music and life; and I just really needed that. I needed kind of personal guidance – not like it was a therapy session or anything like that, it just really – a much different approach to everything. It was great for me; it was the perfect place for me, actually. And while I was at Iowa I won the ISB competition, solo competition.
JH: Oh, so that was when you were at Iowa! What that early on, when you got there? Because you won that in when, was it – 1995, or around there?
AS: Yeah, 1995, I was twenty. It was my first year at Iowa. You know, there was a lot of luck involved, and a lot of practicing! And Diana Garrett really – I credit her with me winning. Because she just would not allow any holes in the technique, no stone unturned in terms of interpreting music. She’s very much, as least for me, insistent – I think with all of her students, really – just insistent that you have complete control over the instrument. I say that – I used to play by a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to interpretation; if I didn’t know what to do musically, I just kind of flopped my hair around, (laughs), you know, made an intense face and used more vibrato.
JH: Right! (Laughs)
AS: Diana’s really insistent that you know what you’re doing and why, and that you have the control and technique to be able to pull it off. So, a year of that kind of went into that kind of training; it’s what got me to the point that I could win ISB. I shared the prize with Owen Lee, who’s been a guest on your show as well ..
JH: Right, right! Yeah, exactly.
AS: We shared first prize, so that was kind of fun. So that was while I was at Iowa. Then I went to Michigan for my master’s with Sankey, and stuck it out for my doctorate.
JH: And so you were there with Andy Anderson, right? Wasn’t he there at the same time?
AS: I sure was. Yeah, Michigan, yeah. What a great player. He came in from Oregon; he was this big, muscular dude wearing a ball cap, and we were all “Oh man, who’s this guy?” then I heard him play and we were like “Wow!” What a huge sound, and a great player. What I love about Andy – and I learned a lot from Andy – is his work ethic. It’s astounding. There were days when he’d be in the practice room before I got to school, and he was still in the practice room when I was leaving school, and you’re like, “Man, Andy, take a break!” And he’s in there with a thermos of chai, or whatever he drinks, (laughs), and he’s still practicing. And he’s a guy that deserves every bit of success that he has. It was great to be at school with him, and a lot of great players at Michigan.
JH: Correct me if I’m wrong, but Diana Garrett must have moved to Michigan partway through your studies there, then … which is sort of interesting!
AS: The other funny thing is that the president of the University of Iowa became president of the University of Michigan. So the person that signed my undergraduate degree signed my doctorate!
JH: That’s hilarious!
AS: And the teacher I finished my undergraduate degree with finished me on my doctorate. I was at Michigan for three years with Sankey, did the master’s then, loved studying with him and decided to stay for the doctorate. He didn’t want me to do the doctorate; he wanted me to get this degree that they called the “specialist”; it was their version of an artist’s diploma. And he said, Oh, that’s so much better, doctorates are stupid, and I was like, yeah I know, but specialist is kind of a dumb name; at least with a doctorate people, you know, could call me Dr. Stoops, and I was a bad student, like I said! So to feel like I could actually accomplish something academically was important to me as well. He’s like, OK, fine, do it! I made it through the whole first year and he died; he had lung cancer and passed away, and that was hard on all of us of course. Then we had a one-year replacement, Derek Weller, who is well-known; you might know of him as a teacher of young bassists. And he was great; he did a great job for us. With a lot of energy; he’s a very busy guy, and gave as much energy as he possibly could to the job. The good thing was that we had some great people come in for their interviews at Michigan. I mean, Don Palmer came in and played to our masterclass, people like that … Joe Carver, who’s at SUNY-Stonybrook. And so we all got to work with a lot of different people. Then Michigan also brought in Edgar Meyer, who had a residency that year, they called it. He’d come for two or three weeks at a time and teach, give classes and play; and that was a lot of fun. I think he did it for Sankey, plus I think they paid him very well (laughs). That’s always a plus! So that was good, and then Jeff Branetich was there too, and in the end they just kept, “Oh, yeah, you know, we like them all, we don’t know what to do, blah blah blah” , and I said “Why don’t you call Diana Gannett?” And they said, “Well we did, and she said she wasn’t interested”. I said, “Why don’t you call her again”? So they did, and Diana called me and said “Is this worth my time, should I come out and look, I’m so happy at Iowa”, and I said yeah, I think you should, and she did, and loved it and took the job. So … I’m not going to take any credit for it, but I did kind of help her think about interviewing (laughs).
JH: That’s got to be a fascinating process, getting to hear all those great players through an application process like that. I went to Northwestern too; I got there just as you were leaving, and so I had that. But I was eighteen, when we had people auditioning for Jeff Branetich’s job. It was sort of a bewildering thing to go through when you’re that young. But boy, talk about interesting, getting to hear some of those luminaries of the double bass come in and give these classes – it’s great; it’s like a festival you’d go to except it’s at your school!
AS: Yeah, it’s very cool, yeah. A big bass festival.
JH: I think it might be interesting to hear about – you had two really, what I imagine would be very different undergrad experiences. At Northwestern, with that playing in Civic, and going to a school with pretty rigorous academic standards, and in that kind of an urban area. And then going to Iowa – I think Iowa City’s really cool, I’ve spent some time there, but like –
AS: Big town.
JH: Yeah, but not having that intensive – I mean, doing the Civic Orchestra as an undergrad with that class load and trying to practice – what was it like, having those two experiences, and what would you recommend to somebody if they were looking? Because I think those kinds of experiences exist; those two very different –
AS: Yeah … I think it really depends on the person. That’s a great answer, isn’t it?
JH: Well, it’s true!
AS: A great non-answer. I would say that both experiences were what I needed at the time. Especially my freshman year at Northwestern was incredible. Because Columbus, Ohio is a big town but it’s not like Chicago; it’s not a huge city. And we had a great orchestra in Columbus, but it’s not one of the world’s great orchestras, with this long-standing tradition of excellence, with Strauss conducting there and all this stuff. And not to mention, I was also into jazz, and still am, and popular music, and just everything that you could experience in Chicago. As you know, as an eighteen year old with this glow in your eye, I’m going to see the world and all this stuff, it was great for me. And the concept of being able to ride a train downtown, you know, it just felt so cool. And the class load pretty much did tear me apart. It was way more than I ever imagined it would be in terms of effort and having to study so much, and I didn’t study enough. Really feeling the need to practice, because everybody around me, I felt like, they’re so much better than me. And so I wanted to practice to catch up, and try to keep up, actually! And I must have done something right, because I won the Civic audition, and I actually was totally shocked when I won that audition, because there were a lot of players that I had thought were better than me. And I should say they probably were better than me, but they just had a bad day. At that point, I didn’t even know enough – I didn’t even know what a bad day was! The concept of “Oh, I could get nervous and not play my best” hadn’t really even occurred to me yet. But then, playing in Civic was like – on one hand, I wouldn’t trade that musical experience for anything. But to do it as a sophomore was probably too much to handle in terms of academics and staying focused on my studies. It’s hard to say, if I had done anything different, if things would have changed or not. But Iowa, you’re right, is really the exact opposite of that. There’s so much going on in Chicago all the time; you can find anything in the arts to go to, probably any day of the week. You know, you can go to a jazz club, or go see an early music group, or contemporary music group, or a great opera, or great symphony and all that stuff. And Iowa doesn’t have that; there isn’t a full-time symphony in the whole state of Iowa. Not that that’s bad, because there are good orchestras there. And the one thing that the University of Iowa had that was very cool, was they had a concert series that brought orchestras to them. Like Dresden Phil came, and Australian Chamber Orchestra. And they would come and they would give classes at the school the next day or whatever. So we did get some experiences like that. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra comes every year to Iowa still. But that was a great experience for me because it’s just kind of … you’re in the middle of nowhere, in a sense, in a really, really hip college town, and I just got really focused there, I think is the biggest difference. And I needed that kind of calm surrounding. For me, to get focused, it’s kind of what I needed. And like I said, Diana Gannett was my aikido sensei as well, so I was doing all these wild things like aikido and I was walking everywhere, and you know – kind of an earthy type of dude, you know? Like, “There goes Stoops with his backpack and sandals”! (Laughs). And it’s just kind of what that town is like, and I loved it, and I’m kind of more that type of person, although I love cities and living in Chicago and New York would be awesome … I live kind of more in … Norman, Oklahoma is a lot more like Iowa City than it is like Chicago, I’ll tell you that! (Laughs). And I’m comfortable in a college town like that, so … I guess that’s the biggest difference, is I was able to focus a lot more at Iowa because there’s not so much to distract you. It’s hard, I think, for students to find what to do; you really have to be honest with yourself, because I think it’s easy to be seduced by the romance of the big city and all those things, and … I don’t know if that makes any sense –
JH: Oh, yeah! Totally.
AS: – and of course, I can’t say that it’s a bad thing. If you have an opportunity to live in a place where you can see an orchestra like the Chicago Symphony on a regular basis, you really have to think long and hard about whether you want to give that up. But that’s also not the only … Chicago’s not the only place you can hear a great orchestra, for instance, or New York or Philadelphia, whatever. And you can also be around – I guess what I’m trying to say is there were great musicians that taught at the University of Iowa that I had the opportunity to hear their faculty recitals and they would just blow you away sometimes! The Stradivari Quartet, which doesn’t exist anymore, but they were the string faculty at the University of Iowa, and this was the first American quartet to tour Russia, for example. They all played Strads (laughs). My wife’s cello teacher, Charlie Wendt, his second cello is like a Galliano or something, it’s just … an his first job was as assistant principal cellist under Reiner in Pittsburgh. So that’ the kind of faculty that was there, and you think, “Wow! In Iowa”? Sure enough! And you’d hear them play, and you’d hear just that world-class type of sound and so, I think good musicians are everywhere; you just have to know where to look for them.
JH: That’s definitely true; I think you’re right, it really depends on the type of person you are. Because there’s so much going on in a city like Chicago or New York or San Francisco, but then that can be a real distraction for somebody too, and it’s like overwhelming; we’re like … you know, I look at someplace like Indiana University as a good example, out in the country, but you have this outstanding pool of faculty, and a lot of people I think just get really focused and they just practice. But I think it depends on the person, because sometimes … I mean, people also succeed in New York City at Julliard, in the middle of everything! So it’s interesting, but I think that’s definitely a good observation.
JH: So you’re the chair of the string department also, at the University of Oklahoma, aren’t you?
AS: Yeah, I am …
JH: So what’s that like?
AS: It’s quite a learning experience; it’s actually my second year on the job. We have a whole new string faculty here and so I kind of became the area chair by default, ‘cause I’m the only one left! (Laughs) But we have a great new faculty that people can go to our website, strings.ou.edu, and check them out. Two great violinists, an outstanding violist, phenomenal cellist, and really, just … I’m not sure why it worked out that we hired everybody in one year, it just kind of happened that way I guess, but … Yeah, that’s certainly nothing I ever saw myself doing, is administrative work … And I’m not sure it’s something that I’m naturally good at! But, you know, going to extra meetings and signing extra papers – it is interesting to get a kind of behind-the-scenes look at how a school of music is run, and it’s a little frightening at times too. Yeah, it’s OK. It’s OK, it’s definitely extra work and of course all the string faculty always comes to me, “This student needs more scholarship money, and blah blah blah I need this, I need that, I need this”, and you know, sometimes I feel like all I do is take care of everybody else’s stuff instead of my students, but it’s just part of the job and I try to stay positive and just do it (laughs).
END OF INTERVIEW; PERFORMANCE TAKES PLACE
Well thanks again, Anthony, for the great interview and for these Couperin concert pieces. We’ll be wrapping up this interview in the near future. In the meantime, please visit AnthonyStoops.com for more information on this great double bassist.
We’re concluding our interview with Anthony Stoops today, plus featuring some listener feedback and bass news, all on today’s Contrabass Conversations, number 82.
Hi folks, and welcome to another episode of Contrabass Conversations, your weekly show about life on the low end of the spectrum. Thanks for tuning in; however you found this show please tell lots of friends. As always you can contact us here by dialing 206-666-6509; emailing feedback at ContrabassConversations.com; checking out our website at ContrabassConversations.com; or my blog at doublebassblog.org. You can get your hats, T-shirts and more Contrabass Conversations gear at cafepress.com/doublebass, and check out the largest community of bassists on the Internet at talkbass.com, where you can find our forums at talkbass.com/cbc.
Wasn’t it fun to hear the perspectives of those young bassists that we had on last week’s podcast episode? I sure think so; it was really great to get a chance to chat with them. Several of them are my students; they’re all involved in the Midwest Young Artists program and it’s great to hear what they’re thinking about doing career-wise, where they’re going to end up and just their perspectives. So if you missed that episode, check it out; it’s episode 81 of the podcast.
Well, today we’re wrapping up our interview with double bassist Anthony Stoops. We began this interview with episode 67 of the podcast, and we featured some of Anthony’s solo bass playing as well as the interview. And then, in episode 71 of the podcast we featured Anthony along with The Bad Boyz of Bass, an interview with them – very entertaining – and some recordings from them. So if you’d like to learn a little bit more about The Bad Boyz of Bass, and maybe why they’re called that, be sure to check out episode 71, and be sure to check out the first segment of this interview with Anthony as well; it was really excellent.
Now Anthony’s performed throughout the United States and internationally as a soloist and as a chamber musician. He’s presented masterclasses in Poland, Brazil, and throughout the United States, in places like the Cleveland Institute, University of Michigan, University of Iowa, Interlochen Arts Academy and Penn State University. He was the past recipient of a Karr Foundation double bass, and he’s regarded as one of the top bass soloists in the world today; really an outstanding player, and he’s also had a lot of experiences as an orchestral musician. He’s performed in the Detroit Symphony, Columbus Symphony and Toledo Symphony, as well as Michigan Opera Theater. So some great perspective from the solo and orchestral spheres; and just a great, energetic guy; really fun to get a chance to chat with Anthony. Now in the first segment of this interview, back in episode 67 we discussed Anthony’s early experiences on the bass: his studies with Diana Gannett and Stuart Sankey, and his International Society of Bassists solo competition prize. We pick up today’s interview with a discussion of the challenges of balancing university teaching with performing on the instrument. After the interview we’re featuring a rock melody arranged by Anthony, and featuring The Bad Boyz of Bass. Plus some listener news and feedback, and a Link of the Week. So stay tuned for this after the interview. Here we go.
JH: I think that’s something that people might not be aware of, is how often, even if you’re a performer and you decide to go into university teaching, a lot of time you end up becoming some sort of administrator, or having some sort of administrative role.
JH: And that’s sort of interesting. Getting the doctorate, having the experiences you’ve had at universities, how did you decide that academia was going to be the place for you? Or maybe you didn’t consciously decide that. But what made you decide to pursue a university job instead of maybe looking for an orchestra job … just what was your process for finding that?
AS: Well, you know, that’s a good question, because I’m not really sure! I always knew that I liked teaching; I mean, I started teaching in undergraduate school at the University of Iowa. I taught at the Preucil School in Iowa City, which is … the Preucils; Bill Jr. grew up in Iowa City and his father was the violist in the Stradivari Quartet. His mother, Doris Preucil, started a pre-college school in Iowa City that’s very famous for – I guess it’s Suzuki, basically, but they had violinists coming out of that – prodigy violinists coming out of that school right and left for a long time. And they had me teaching bass there, so you know, that was kind of fun…
JH: Oh, I’ll bet!
AS: … and you know, to ask Doris Preucil about lesson plans and the structure of a lesson [laughs] is pretty lucky! I got pretty lucky to be able to do that. But so, I always liked teaching, ever since undergrad, ever since I started it, and you know, my favorite players were always my teachers. I kind of grew to idolize Jeff Bradetich, and Diana Gannett and … you know, I think most people do idolize their teachers, and that’s a good thing, but you know, I thought, “Wow, I really think that’s such a cool life!” and, “I really want to do that!” And then I’m sitting in my first faculty meeting thinking, “Well, I thought this was cool!” [laughs]. But that’s not the part you see; you don’t see the faculty like, bored out of their minds in a meeting! [Laughs]. But I started teaching … I think my first college teaching was at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. All through my master’s I took a lot of auditions; Sankey was just insistent on it; he didn’t want to hear, “Oh, I want to be a teacher”, you know; he said, “I don’t care, you’ve got to take this audition.” And so he was absolutely insistent that I get out and take orchestra auditions. It’s not something that I did or didn’t enjoy, and in fact I loved playing in orchestra and I ended up subbing a bunch in the Detroit Symphony when I lived in Ann Arbor. Which was a great experience, but I think deep down, ever since … from the time, I think, that I transferred to the University of Iowa, I think Gannett kind of planted in my head that teaching is something that I should be pursuing. And I didn’t really question that at all, because I started at Northwestern with the idea that I’m going to be in a top five orchestra by the time I’m twenty-two! And, I’m going to do this or I’m just a total loser; you know, that kind of drive and focus. And I didn’t … you know, I was playing in Civic and it just … I kind of lost that drive. It’s not that I didn’t like orchestra playing, but I realized, well, ok, there’s got to be more to music for me. And I think, I guess that could be interpreted the wrong way. But if you look at a lot of the great orchestra players, they also teach. And I’m just kind of taking — I’m coming at it from the other side. I teach mostly and perform solos, and I also play in an orchestra, rather than I play in an orchestra, and I also teach and play solos. So it’s really … I’m not sure if it’s just a different side of the coin, or going around the block a different way, so to speak. So I finished my doctorate in 2002, and I applied for a couple of jobs that were open … and I’m trying to remember what they were. Anyway, Bowling Green was one of them, and they offered the job to somebody who ended up taking a better offer. They ran out of time, and kind of pulled me out of their finalist list and said, “Well, you live close, how about if you teach as a one-year appointment because it’s too late to hire tenure-track”. And I should explain that NASM, National Association of Schools of Music, has a rule that if you don’t make a tenure-track offer by May 1st, then you can’t make a tenure-track offer that school year, or something like that. You actually can – and this is very complex; it kind of doesn’t matter – but basically that’s the rule. And so they offered me a one-year job, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it”, and they said, “Well, we’re going to do a search during your first year”. And I kept asking and they didn’t. So they offered me another one-year position, and I said ok, sure, and they said, “You know, we think we’re going to have a search”, and I kept asking, and they didn’t, and they said for the third year, “Well, would you do one more year?” and I said ok, fine, and I said, “Don’t tell me you’re going to have a search”, and they said, “No, we’re not going to have a search, we’re not going to fill it with a tenure-track position for the time being, so sorry”. They had a lot of budget cuts in the state of Ohio over the last several years, so I guess they’ve done away with their full-time bass position. At least for the time being at Bowling Green, which is too bad. Then, the University of Oklahoma came open during my third year at Bowling Green and I got the job. I feel very lucky to have it; it’s a good school and it’s, you know, a funky college town, which I like, I think you could tell! And it’s a beautiful day; it’s 68 degrees right now and it’s the end of February [laughs].
JH: Yeah, everybody up north is probably green with envy at that!
AS: Yeah, you can probably hear … I hope the wind’s not bothering you; I’m actually out on my patio right now.
JH: That’s great! You know, in addition to doing all the playing and the teaching, you’ve also done a fair amount of composing for the bass, and maybe for some other instruments I’m not aware of, but you have done some bass composition, haven’t you?
AS: Yes, that’s a hobby really; I wouldn’t dare call myself a composer. I’ve got the poser part down! [Laughs]. It’s the composition part that’s kind of a challenge. That’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time, and that’s another thing I did at the University of Iowa. I took composition lessons there, and that’s not something I think I would have done at Northwestern, because there’s, you know, SERIOUS composer there! Whereas in Iowa, you know, the guy I ended up taking composition lessons with, his office was right next to Diane Gannett’s and he heard me playing something in a lesson one day and came and knocked on the door and said, “What is that, that sounds really neat” and Diane said “Well, he wrote it!” And he said, “You need to take composition lessons with me, young man,” and blah blah blah, and so I did; I started taking lessons! D. Martin Jenny was his name, and he died last year, unfortunately, but … it was great, because his whole approach to composing … he just kept quoting Stravinsky to me: “Good composers borrow; great composers steal.” And the other thing he would say every lesson is to “get a maximum amount of music out of a minimum of material.” So I guess that’s kind of my approach when I write, is to use the least amount of material and get the most out of it. So it’s more of an improvisational approach to writing. But it’s something I enjoy; it’s kind of a game to me, I guess. Like a little creative game, you know? And I’ve gotten into —mostly I write for the bass because that’s what I know. I’ve written stuff for – let’s see, I’ve got a duo on my website that I just put on there, and people can download it for free, for violin and bass, called “Nessie’s Dream”. I also like – titles are kind of a challenge for me. I work– in pretty much everything, like practice – I shouldn’t admit this, but practice and writing and everything is kind of this game of inspiration. It’s like, I’ll practice, but I really have to be inspired to get serious work done. And I try to inspire myself, and it’s more important in practicing than in composing, because I actually get paid to play, and it’s important to sound good when you play! So I try to make myself inspired, but every now and then I have, just these moments of inspiration that hit me and I’m able to catch – those are my higher periods of creative output, it the best way to say it. And so this duo, “Nessie’s Dream”, that’s on m y website, is actually about a dream I had about the Loch Ness monster. So [laughs] it just kind of came to me and I started writing it. And I play little games with myself when I’m composing; like, that piece I decided I was going to compose without touching the bass, because – it’s so easy when you know the instrument well, to kind of fall into little tricks and patterns. Like ok, this fits and this doesn’t. So kind of my new thing is that I’m trying to write without the bass. The unfortunate result is that it’s much harder. The music is much harder to play [laughs]. It’s probably better music, but it’s harder to play, and that’s ok. It’ll give me something else to practice I guess. Back to the inspiration thing! But composing is something that – and Nico Bongalo – do you know Nico at all? – Nico told me once, “You know if you want to be a solo bassist, you’re going to have to learn to write music for yourself, because there’s just not that much music to play”. I was kind of toying with the idea, should I even waste my time composing, and he was saying, “Yes you should, because we need more original music”. And in the grand scheme, compared to violin and cello we don’t really have much at all that’s original. So I guess that’s why I try to keep it up. It’s fun, it’s a creative outlet and it adds original music to the bass rep. And I guess that’s something else I was thinking about, when I was thinking about, “What on earth am I going to say for this interview, you know, what do I have to offer?” [Laughs]. And my conclusion is, not much! One thing I have been thinking about is the idea of transcription versus original music for bass; this is a hot topic at all the conventions; “Oh, we’ve got to play more original music.” And I think that we do, as bass players, whether you’re “soloist” or not, whenever you perform, I think we’ve got this responsibility to educate the audience that it’s a viable musical instrument, number one. And I think we also have the responsibility to try to play as much original music as we can find. And this is coming from a guy who’s played just about every transcription available, you know? [Laughs]. I love transcriptions, and I’ll continue to play those, but I also think it’s important to try to find some original music – That’s my little soap-box moment! So to speak. But there, actually, especially once you get into the twentieth century and now the twenty-first century, there are a lot of great original pieces out there for the bass. You just have to kind of learn to interpret modern music a little bit, but it’s definitely – a lot of it’s just worth-while.
JH: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it’s great. I think it good points to consider. It’s always a challenge, with the transcription thing versus rep, but I think it’s fantastic that you’ve done as much composing as you have. I even think I remember – I used to work at the listening center at Northwestern, and I swear you must have done a recital at Northwestern at some point –
AS: I did.
JH: Yeah, because I remember looking at the program and saying “Hey! Wow, look at this!” And I think you must have played something original on that; this is a hazy memory of mine, but –
AS: yes, I did actually; I think that was my first piece.
JH: Wow, hey that’s cool.
AS: I think it was my first piece, but – it was pretty lame I think, but –
JH: Well it’s in the archives somewhere at NU, deep in the vaults –
AS: Oh no! I’ll have to break in and steal it! [Laughs].
JH: I’ve got one more question for you Anthony; I was wondering about The Bad Boyz of Bass, this bass quartet you’ve got. Whose idea was that, to set up?
AS: Oh man, it’s a great group. I’m so lucky to get to play with these guys. Volkan Orhon is at the University of Iowa, David Murray from Butler University, and Paul Sharpe who’s now at North Carolina School for the Arts, and myself. And how it happened – it was just kind of this magical moment, I guess, super-special. It was an ah-ha! moment, how about that. Not the band from the 80’s; like, “Ah Ha!”. Gary Karr came to the University of Michigan to give a masterclass. They have this, their “Distinguished Artist” masterclass for the Sally Fleming Masterclass series; you know, every year it’s like Perlman or somebody like that. And Diana Garrett brought Gary Karr because she was a Gary Karr student – protégé – and of course, Gary has officially retired from solo playing, so he didn’t want to play a recital or anything, but he said, “Well, I will play a piece, and maybe we can have some ensembles”. So Diana had been talking to a lot of former students, which was myself and Paul Sharpe and Volkan, and of course she’s known David for years, and she said, “Why don’t – are any of you guys planning to come”? And Volkan had been planning and David had been planning on coming, and I was, because I lived in Ann Arbor, and Paul said,” You know what? I might just come to that, you know? Why not? I’ve got a frequent flier ticket on Southwest, so I’m just going to come on up”. And she said, “Well, you guys are going to play together. You four need to play a quarter for Gary”. And so, we were like “OK, we’ll play something, you know, in his honor”. And we played Alst, Bernard Alst Suite [I’m sorry, I have no idea how to spell this –DM]; that must have been it. Yeah, I’ll go with that one. And we were rehearsing and just having a blast; I mean, jokes all around; I mean, playing with those guys, they can play anything, and I think we had rehearsed for a couple of hours and we just kind of stopped and looked at each other, and we were like, “We need to have just a regular quartet”. And we were all like, “Yeah! Yeah! Let’s do it”! And like, well, what do we call ourselves? And we’re like “OK, we’ll think about it”. I think it came about because Diana Gannett came into rehearsal and we were just screaming with laughter, and she was like, “You boys are so bad”! And I was like “That’s it! Bad Boyz of Double Bass”! And so that’s pretty much how we came up with it. We’ve now recorded our first CD and we’ve played at the World Bass Festival in Poland last summer – that was two summers ago; sorry – and ISB last year, and we played at ISB in 2005; that was our first kind of big gig. And now we’ve got – I’m going to say we have a cult following, just because I like to think that way [laughs].
JH: Oh I think you do! I’ve got students that still talk about that, from 2005.
AS: Oh, really? OK, cool! That’s good. No, we just have a lot of fun. And I think the funniest thing we do is when Paul Sharpe raps, because he’s so strait-laced, or so you would think; you see him, a very clean-cut guy, and all of a sudden he just starts rapping. “I like big bouts”, and – so yeah, we have a lot of fun and try to have a few funny arrangements and of course try to show off all our playing … it’s just great to be on the same stage with those guys.
JH: That’s awesome.
AS: We just have a good time. And I should warn you; when you interview us – we did a radio interview in Iowa City last year, and I think it went OK, but we almost had some moments, you know? “David, don’t say this”! And of course that’s exactly what he said.
JH: That’s OK! We have the “explicit” tag we can always put on things!
AS: There we go! That’s right. Because we’re very bad. [laughs]. The funny thing about it is, when we were in Poland, the Polish bass players didn’t get it; they didn’t understand “Bad Boyz”. They said, “We don’t understand; you are not bad, you are good; you are happy all time; you don’t look so mean”! and “That’s why it’s funny”, we’re trying to explain it, and “No, we will call you Smiley Boys”. Yeah, so – anyway. [laughs].
JH: That’s fantastic! I look forward to doing that. And for the listeners out there, we’re going to try to do an interview will all four of the Bad Boyz coming up here, so stay tuned for that. That’s going to be cool. Well, hey, Anthony, thanks for agreeing to be on the program! This has really been great.
AS: Thanks for having me!
JH: Oh absolutely! And I’ll make sure – we’ll have links to your website and to the University’s website, and show notes for this too.
AS: Great, thank you!
JH: Yeah, absolutely.
AS: I’m a big fan of the podcasts, so I really appreciate everything you do for the bass and it’s a real honor for me to be on the show.
JH: Well, thank you! It’s been great.