Publisher’s note: Gregg August is jazz/classical bassist who also composes and arranges. He has two critically acclaimed albums, one of which, One Peace (Iacuessa Records, 2007), was selected as a Top Ten recordings of 2007by Paul Blair of Hot House magazine. August is a member of the JD Allen Trio and Assistant Principal bass with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
Laurence Borden: Gregg, welcome to Dagogo. Please begin by telling us about your early exposure to music, in particular jazz, and how this fostered your interest in pursuing music as a career.
Gregg August: Ever since I can remember music has always been around. My father plays the piano and played in a band when I was a young kid; I remember them often rehearsing at our home. My dad’s sister is also a pianist and is married to a bassist. She was my first music teacher in fact. They were all listening to a lot of different music, from jazz to fusion to R&B. I remember hearing Cannonball and Nancy Wilson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and lots of Stevie Wonder. My aunt would even have me transcribe Stevie songs. And there were frequent jam sessions at family functions. I developed a healthy relationship with music very early for which I know I’m very fortunate.
LB: Which musicians had the strongest influence on you?
GA: The list is long, and growing. Ornette, Sonny, Mingus, Cachao, Duke, Bartok, Bird, Bach, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Jordi Savall, Edgar Meyer, Ligeti, just to name a few, and in no particular order. I look and listen to them constantly for inspiration.
LB: I know that you began as a percussionist, before moving to the bass. How did the transition come about, and how has your background in percussion influenced your skills as a bassist?
GA: From the minute I first saw and heard the drums as a small child I knew that I wanted to play them. I had drum lessons in elementary school and played in local R&B and funk bands. I also had piano lessons (at my father’s insistence) with my aunt Peg, who gave me harmony and theory instruction as well. My brother was studying electric bass so I too would play it a bit and figure things out. When I was in 11th grade my high school jazz ensemble needed a bass player, so I stepped in. By the time I got to thinking about college I thought I’d like to study double bass. My first attraction to music was rhythm, and it’s the single component of music that I’d say continues to inspire me the most. And obviously bass is essentially a drum, at least in the context of jazz and Latin music.
LB: Where and with whom did you study?
GA: I began studying at SUNY Albany, entering as a percussion major with Richard Albagli. My bass teacher there was Paul Erhard. I transferred to Eastman to complete my Bachelor’s degree, studying bass with James Vandermark and jazz studies with Bill Dobbins and Ray Wright. I got my Master’s from Juilliard where my teacher was Homer Mensch. I also spent a summer with Rufus Reid which was great.
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