Bassist Joel Quarrington and Friends: The Music Of Don Thompson
The first time I heard Joel play was in my basement studio in January 1981. My friend, Coenraad Bloemendal had asked me if I would record some music with himself and Joel (Duos for Cello and Bass) for an album he was doing for Crystal records. I’d been doing a lot of jazz recordings but very little classical music, so this was going to be something new and I was really looking forward to doing it.
I’d heard about Joel from Dave Young, a great jazz bass player well known for his work with Oscar Peterson. I’d heard Dave and a couple of other jazz guys play their solos with the bow so I thought I had an idea about what to expect but when Joel came in that day and started to play, I couldn’t believe the power and the feeling in his playing. I thought to myself that this guy would be the greatest jazz bass player of all time, if he ever decided to do it.
We did the recording and it turned out very well, and I didn’t see Joel again until the summer of the following year (1982) when we both wound up teaching at the Banff Center for the Arts. Joel was teaching in the classical program and I was part of the jazz faculty along with Dave Holland and Kenny Wheeler. We were both really busy so we didn’t spend much time together, but I heard him play (the Bottesini Elegy and the Grand Duo with Jim Campbell), and he came to one of our concerts and I think he really enjoyed the music. It was a trio concert with Kenny on trumpet, Dave on bass and me on piano. Dave Holland is one of the world’s greatest jazz bass players and Kenny Wheeler was . . . . . . . Kenny Wheeler. Our music was very open and free.
I didn’t see Joel or hear from him for quite a while after Banff. He went his way and I went mine, but then I got a call from him asking if I’d like to write a bass quartet for us to play on a concert at the conservatory. The quartet would be Joel, Wolfgang Goetller, Roberto Occhipinti and me on pizzicato bass. I knew I couldn’t write a real “classical” piece, so I just tried to come up with something we could play that might be fun. I wrote a big part for myself with a solo intro, a solo in the middle plus a cadenza, and left it up to the rest of them to decide who played lead etc. It was pretty wild, but it was fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
Joel had been telling people about this piece for years, and there were a few of them that had asked about getting the score so they might play it, so I was really pleased when Joel contacted me recently about getting it together and recording it for this project. I spent a bit of time re-writing some of it (most of it actually) and I think the recording came off amazingly well. It’s not an easy piece, but there are some parts that are really tricky. I couldn’t believe the dedication to the music and attention to detail that every player showed in the sessions.
I’d like to thank Travis Harrison for matching Joel’s sound and phrasing so beautifully on the second part, and Joe Phillips not only for his great playing, but for tuning his bass in fourths for the third part. I know that he normally tunes in fifths, and I can’t imagine being able to go from one tuning to another like that. Roberto Occhipinti had the bad luck to be stuck with the part I’d written for myself back in 1989. Along with the written part, which includes playing the melody at the beginning and again at the end, he gets to play a solo and a couple of cadenzas. The piece begins and ends with him and his solo introduction sets the mood for everything that follows. He also provided the rock-solid rhythmic foundation throughout the entire piece that was a huge factor in the success of the music. It was a great honor for me, hearing these four fantastic musicians playing my piece so beautifully, and I thank them a million times.
A few years ago, Joel called me again and this time, he was asking me to write a piece for him to play at a concert in Rochester, New York.
He told me how, on a break from a rehearsal, he’d gone to sleep under the piano and was awakened by me playing it. I was playing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, and as he was listening he was thinking that he’d like to play that song with me someday with those chords. I’d been playing with George Shearing and Mel Torme for a few years, and Nightingale was one of their show-stoppers, so I knew it really well.
The challenge for me, was to find a way to write it so it would be special for Joel. I thought that going into a Brazilian feel after the melody would work nicely with the chords, and I remembered that cadenza that John Coltrane played at the end of “I Want to Talk about You”, so I guess my arrangement was inspired by Mel Torme, John Coltrane and Tom Jobim.
I remember well, the first rehearsal we had for the piece. Joel drove down from Ottawa (I think) and came into my studio, took the cover off of his bass, put the music on a stand and we just played it straight through, cadenza and all, without stopping. Then he asked me “Just what exactly, did you have in mind for this?” and I said “I wanted it to sound like a combination of Phil Dwyer and John Coltrane”, (Phil is one of the greatest musicians in Canada, and a fantastic saxophone player) and Joel said, “Oh, I know exactly what you want. I won’t waste any more of your time now, I’ll take it home and learn it” and he did. A couple of weeks later he came back, and I think he’d memorized most of it. It was amazing. We played it in Rochester and it was a huge success.
I wrote “Egberto” as a dedication to the great Brazilian musician, Egberto Gismonti. I had the honor of getting to know him and playing one tune on a concert with him a few years back. It’s impossible to describe Egberto and his music. He’s one musician that’s totally beyond category. He doesn’t just compose and play music, Egberto IS music. There’s simply nobody else in the world like him. He is truly a one-of-a-kind miracle.
Another Time, Another Place was written as a dedication to Keith Jarrett, whom I got to know briefly back in 1966. We stayed in the same house for a few weeks in San Francisco and had a couple of really nice visits. All we talked about was music. It was like he was obsessed with music. I think we both were, and I felt like we were friends even though I only ever saw him a few times in the following years. I was twenty-six then, and I think he was twenty-one. It was another time and another place, a happier time, and San Francisco was a very happy place in those days.
A Quiet Place was written for a concert in Toronto with my jazz quintet and a small string orchestra. I wrote it for my bass player, Jim Vivian to play with the bow and Phil Dwyer doubling the melody on soprano sax. I didn’t have any special place in mind. Any place that’s quiet is special to me.
One more thing though about Joel. I’ve played bass for over sixty years and the problem for any bass player, any musician actually, is to make the music more important than the instrument. Bass is, for most of us a difficult instrument that can be very hard to get along with. My own bass (and I have a great bass) will only let me play when it feels like it and even then, my playing is a compromise between what I want to play, and what it will allow to play. Joel is one of the very few bass players I’ve ever heard, jazz or classical, that has the technique and the total understanding of the music he needs, to be able to put the music before himself. Very few musicians can or will do it, and it’s this, more than anything else that makes Joel special to me. When I listen to him play, I’m not hearing his amazing technique or his beautiful Italian bass, I’m only hearing music, wonderful, beautiful music. - Don Thompson
The first time I heard Don Thompson play Bass was on a 1970’s Jim Hall Live recording that my brother Tom ( a guitarist ) and I were listening to , over and over. Don’s Bass playing was incredible and so complete. I was very inspired by his feel, sound, compositional thinking and lyrical solos. I heard from other musicians that Don also played great piano and vibes . I marveled at all of this then and I still do now. So , it was no surprise when I heard his gorgeous compositions, especially the ones on this recording . Don’s piano playing , compositions , orchestrations (including the beautiful Bass Quartet ) are all extraordinary . The Beauty, lyricism and harmonic depth of these pieces is stellar.
Joel Quarrington is an incredible bassist whose sound, virtuosity and emotional depth are striking.His unique commandand flexibility make playing Bass on this extremely high level sound so effortless and easy . Indeed, it makes me want to throw my bow in the fireplace !!!!!
The colors Joel gets and the way he interprets the beautiful melodies that Don writes make this project a perfect partnership.
Finally , Kudosto the other bassists in the Quartet, Travis Harrison , Joe Phillipsand my dear friend Roberto Occhipinti who always sounds great ! -John Patitucci 5/11/22
Joel Quarrington-Double Bass
Don Thompson-Piano and all arrangements
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square- composed by Manning Sherwin
Another Time, Another Place-composed by Don Thompson
Egberto-composed by Don Thompson
A Quiet Place-composed by Don Thompson
Quartet 89 -composed by Don Thompson
Joel Quarrington-Double Bass 1*
Travis Harrison-Double Bass 2 *
Joseph Phillips-Double Bass 3 *
Roberto Occhipinti-Double Bass 4 *
Produced by Roberto Occhipinti
Recorded at Modica Music Studio
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Jeff Wolpert
Gratefully assisted by FACTOR