International Society of Bassists Convention 2017

With nearly 1500 participants, this 50th anniversary convention was the largest ever for the organization. It started off with a bang with Gary Karr’s marvelous keynote and performance. From sunrise until way after sundown, the whole week was packed with clinics, performances, exhibits, and conversations.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

These conventions are a “choose your own adventure” experience.

Every single person at the event had their own unique path through this event. What follows are my own experiences for the week. If you asked another person, you’d get a totally different tale.

The common thread between all these shared experiences is the palpable “bass love” throughout the whole event. I’ve been to countless conventions for all sorts of organizations, and there’s simply nothing like the united positive energy of all of us bassists uniting in a shared experience.

What follows are my experiences.  I’d love to hear yours as well!

Monday, June 5

Getting to Ithaca from San Francisco is not easy! I scheduled a red-eye flight to Newark, followed by a puddle jumper propeller flight to Ithaca.

United Airlines was running several hours late, and we didn’t get off the ground until 2:30 am. This seems to be happening every time I fly with them these days. I need to remember that the next time I’m booking a ticket!

The delay caused me to miss my Ithaca flight, and I spent the rest of the rest of the day wandering he Newark airport. I alternated between coffee, beer, blogging, and sleeping until my flight finally left.

For me, the convention began on the propellor plane to Ithaca. I bumped into Houston-based jazz bassist David Craig.

David was performing originals and standards that he arranged during his session the convention. We endured the quasi-terrifying ride into the Ithaca airport as best as we could.

David and I caught a cab ride to the Ithaca College campus. Our cab driver was a charming local who filled us in on the history and geography of Ithaca. Talk about a beautiful place!

Monday Evening

Dumping our stuff off at the dorms, we arrived just in time to hear Gary Karr’s lovely keynote and performance. What a way to kick off the convention!

I was feeling light-headed from all the travel and hadn’t eaten in hours, so I slipped out for a quick bite with Ira Gold and Nina DeCesare. Though I’d never met Nina in person before, I had interviewed her for the podcast, and we dropped into conversation is if we’d known each other for years.

The 2015 Competition Winners

Though I missed Mike Forfia’s jazz recital (sorry, Mike!), I got back just in time to hear Sam Suggs start his Daft Punk Chaconne.

Here’s a video of the Daft Punk tune that Sam put out a while back.

Sam and I spoke about the construction of this Chaconne in our interview last year, and meeting him in person was a special experience for sure.

Sam truly brought the house down with his recital. As we exited the performance, I caught several strains of conversation like “this guy is the future of the bass.” With people like Sam coming into prominence, the future of the bass is in good hands!

The night wrapped up for me with a hang with Geoff Neuman and Ryan Dudder. Geoff and Ryan both play bass in the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and I’m looking forward to being a part of their Las Vegas Bass Workshop this coming January.

Tuesday, June 6

First thing in the morning, I showed up at Ithaca College’s Whalen Center to collect my badge and get the lay of the land. I quickly realized that my podcasting activities had turned me into a minor celebrity of sorts in the bass community.

As a guy who spends much of his time along in front of the computer in his San Francisco pad, it was a shock to see real-world evidence of how the podcast is connecting the bass community together. I’m humbled by the response, and I’m so glad that it’s having a piste impact on so many people!

I had a great time catching up with Barry Green and hearing how his Anna’s Promise project has evolved since we spoke about it last year.

Here’s a trailer for Anna’s Promise in case you’re not familiar with the project:

I quickly realized that my time at #isb2017 would be more about connecting with people than attending clinics. I left the convention with a laptop full of interviews and a list of dozens of people to connect with for interviews.

I spent the first few hours of Tuesday taking in all the exhibits. My head was spinning as I checked out basses, brews, and gear from all the great luthiers that were exhibiting. I had a great time catching up with my friends from D’Addario and Eastman, and it was fun to meet so many makers in person for the first time as well.

A favorite moment of mine was running into Gary Karr in Arnold Schnitzer’s exhibit space. I managed to catch a few moments of Gary playing one of Arnold’s basses.

Arnold and I had a great conversation for the podcast back in 2016, and meeting him is person was a lot of fun.

The Magic of Gary Karr

Having Gary Karr in attendance for the entire week was a special experience for all of us at the convention.

Gary attended recitals.

He played basses from different luthiers.

He sat in on clinics.

Most of all, he was there for us with a smile on his face and positive words of encouragement.

I can’t tell you how much simply seeing Gary in the audience meant to people. As the founder of this whole organization, seeing Gary there not just as a figurehead but as a participant was magical.

For all of us that had a chance to take a photo with him, shake his hand, or (in my case) sit down with him for a lengthly conversation, we will treasure that time with him forever.

Doing Interviews

My convention interviews kicked off with a conversation with David Gage. David has been an integral part of the ISB for decades. He served on the board for two stints, and he has been a major supporter of the organization since the beginning.

David and I served on the ISB board together in the mid-2000’s, but I had never sat down with him for an interview until this past week. We had a great conversation about what it was like starting a shop in New York City in the 1970’s (think Taxi Driver!), getting into making products for the bass, and how the shop has evolved over time.

I also happened to bump into Gahlord Dewald, a fascinating bassist who experiments with modular synthesis and bass in his music making. I had been meaning to interview him for years, so we flipped on the recorder and got in a great conversation.

Tuesday Afternoon

Claus Freudenstein graciously invited me to perform on his recital that Tuesday. I was traveling without a bass, and I borrowed a wonderful instrument and bow from Eastman Strings for the event.

I had a great time checking out Claus’ rock arrangements for piano and bass, and playing his Bass Hymn with folks like Andrés Martín and Lisa De Boos was a real treat.

The rest of the afternoon was spent socializing with new and old friends as well as popping in on clinics and performances from the Bassinova Bass Quartet and Talking Hands (John Clayton, Rufus Reid, Lynn Seaton, and Martin Wind).

If you’ve never seen the Bassinova Quartet in action, you’re missing out! They play music written for the traditional (two violins, viola, and cello) string quartet. Here’s a recent clip of them in action:

Tuesday Evening

The evening performances featured British bassist Alexandra Scott and jazz bassist Larry Grenadier. Both were fabulous performances that complemented each other quite nicely.

The thoughtfulness and care that convention host and ISB president Nicholas Walker put into these evening performances was evident throughout. I was surprised and delighted each and every evening by these performances, and they were a great capper to days filled with bass-related activities.

Wednesday, June 7

This was my “busy day” for the convention.

I started the day interviewing Rick Jones of Acoustic Image. Rick combined his engineering skills with his musical abilities and created the innovative line of bass amplifiers that so many of us use. Rick has a new prototype out and was getting feedback on it at the convention. We talk about this and much more!

I ran into countless friends and colleagues in the halls of the convention, from Lloyd Goldstein and Danny Ziemann to Max Dimoff and Scott Pingel. It was great to connect with so many folks as we all pursued our unique convention paths.

Wednesday Afternoon

That afternoon, I narrated Peter and the Wolf with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Bass Quartet. I had joined these guys for ¡Viva el Bajo! in May, and it was a ton of fun to narrate this arrangement by UTRGV faculty member Justin Writer.

I then had the opportunity to host “The Making of the ISB.” This opportunity was graciously offered to me by former University of Texas at Austin double bass professor David Neubert, and I happily accepted.

The panel was a who’s-who in the ISB world, including Gary Karr, Paul Ellison, Jeff Bradetich, Madeleine Crouch, David Neubert, Barry Green, John Clayton, Tom Knific, David Murray, Kristin Korb, and Douglas Mapp. We also had videos from Lawrence Hurst and Barre Phillips.

Hosting something like this was a dream come true for me.

If 18-year-old Jason had ever known that he’d be fielding questions to this list of “heavies,” his mind would have been blown.

I prepped as much as possible for this talk:

At the end, Madeleine Crouch announced that I had gotten the “Friend of the Bass” award. Talk about unexpected! This was a real honor for me.

I also found out that it was Nick Lloyd who had nominated me for this award. You rock, Nick—thank you so much!

After the panel discussion, David Neubert and I had a great conversation on his growing up in Monterey, the early years of the ISB, and how he got into flying planes!

Competition Results

The winners of the Solo Competition and Makers Competition for 2017 were also announced on Wednesday. Here were the results:

Solo Competition

  • The Gary Karr Prize, Aaron Olguin (playing a Rumano Solano bass)
  • 2nd Prize: William Langlie-Miletich
  • 3rd Prize: Philip Nelson
  • Best performance of a work by Bottesini: William Langlie-Miletich and Aaron Olguin
  • Best performance of the required piece: William Langlie-Miletich

Jazz Competition

  • The Scott LaFaro Prize: Luca Alemanno
  • 2nd Prize: Daniel Ziemann
  • 3rd Prize: Daniel Montgomery
  • Honorable Mention: Joey Pearlman

Age 15-18 Competition

  • The Joel Quarrington Prize: Junbin Hwang
  • 2nd Prize: Xuanchi Li
  • 3rd Prize: Ya-Hsuan Chen

Age 14 and Under Competition

  • 1st Prize: Thea Borstell
  • 2nd Prize: Jamie Park
  • 3rd Prize (Evan Tsay)
  • Honorable Mention: Atakan Altun and Jacob Fisher

ISB 2017 Bass Makers Competition

  • Trevor Davis – Honorable Mention Convention Favorite
  • Gregory Smith – Silver Medal for Tone
  • Evan Davenport – Certificate for Workmanship
  • Paul Hart and Chris Pedersen – Silver Medal for Workmanship
  • Guy Cole – Certificate for Workmanship
  • Christopher Savino – Silver Medal for Tone
  • Arnold Schnitzer – Convention Favorite
  • Seth Kimmel – Honorable Mention Convention Favorite
  • Robert Macintosh – Honorable Mention Convention Favorite
  • Frederick Boissonnault – Certificate for Tone
  • Ed Fedewa – Certificate for Tone
  • Marlo Lamar – Silver Medal for Workmanship

Wednesday Evening

The evening concluded with performances from stellar performances from Rick Stotijn and François Rabbath.

Did you know that Francois and Gary had never met in person until this convention?

It finally happened, and this meaningful moment was captured by countless cameraphones.

Thursday, June 8

Build-a-Bass was taking place throughout the convention. Three basses were built throughout the course of the convention.

Here’s a clip of folks in action:

I started the day off assisting Dr. Randy Kertz in his session on injury prevention.

I spent the late morning chatting with bassist and public speaker Pierre Battah. Pierre has done tons of interviews on CBC Radio Canada, and it was a lot of fun to talk shop with a professional broadcaster.

Thursday Afternoon

Later that day, I had the opportunity to sit down with Gary Karr for an in-depth podcast interview. This will kick off the podcast coverage of the 2017 ISB Convention, and I know you’ll love it!

I met up with a bunch of bassists the night, including Kate Jones. While we were walking back to the car, we ran into Curtis Burris and Virginia Dixon. Kate had worked with Curtis at the Chautauqua Festival, and before we knew it, we had set up a time for me to interview Curtis the next day.

Thursday Evening

I missed Rex Surany’s recital, but I got back in time for Christian McBride’s face-meltingly good recital. Christian gave a great shout-out to Australian bass luthier Benedict Puglisi, who had made Christian’s bass. Ben and I are set up for an interview soon, so look for that in the near future!

Friday, June 9

My Friday started with an interview with SUNY-Fredonia bass professor Kieran Hanlon. Kieran has taken an unconventional path through his adult life.  We explored this and much more.

I then sat down with Curtis Burris for a fun-filled chat. We started talking abut how Eugene Ormandy demanded that Curtis cut his hair to get tenure in the Philadelphia Orchestra. You’ll love this conversation!

Jon Liebman of For Bass Players Only had been talking with me about doing an interview for the past six months, and we finally got a chance to do so Friday morning. We chatted about how Jon got into writing books for Hal Leonard, stories of getting to know Jaco while in Florida, and much more.

Friday Afternoon

I then met up with John Davis and chatted about his experiences being a jack-of-all trades in Salina, Kansas. John was a reporter during Vietnam, and he brings a valuable perspective from the business world.

I rounded out the day doing a follow-up conversation with Young Bassists Program Coordinator Gaelen McCormick. We chatted about her third volume of her Mastering the Bow series. We even had time to get in a hike the next day after the Young Bassists concert!

Friday Evening

The evening concluded with performances from Joel Quarrington and Sebastian Dubé. Joel is a phenomenal performer and a larger-than-life personality (as you can hear in my interview with him). Listening to him play was inspiring for sure.

Sebastian Dubé was the big surprise of the convention for me. I had no idea to expect when he started performing, and by the end of his performance I was convinced that I’d heard the next Edgar Meyer.

Talk about an original voice! Here’s a video of him in action:

Saturday, June 10

The morning began with Gabriele Ragghianti and Alberto Bocini presenting their plans for Bass Europe 2018 in Lucca, Italy. This presentation was also recorded as a podcast episode and will be released on Contrabass Conversations soon!

I caught up with Jeff Bradetich and planned the coverage of the 2nd International Bradetich International Competition.

Saturday Afternoon

Saturday afternoon featured the Young Bassists concert. It was wonderful to hear all these young players in various ensemble configurations. Kudos to Gaelen and all involved!

Gary Karr in the Audience

It was also great to see Gary Karr in the audience for this whole concert. What a meaningful thing for all these young bassists and their parents. Seeing the person who started this whole International Society of Bassists thing out there taking in this performance for the next generation of bassists brought a tear to my eye (and not just me, I’m sure!).

Barrie Kolstein’s Wonderful Gift

Another tear-filled moment was when Barrie Kolstein got onstage to give away a bass to a deserving student.

Check out the standing ovation for Barrie:

I also got the chance to catch a burnin’ Craig Butterfield performance.  My good friend Jerry Fuller and I watched Craig tear it up.  He makes it looks so easy!

Saturday Evening

The evening concluded with outstanding performances from Matthew McDonald and Mark Dresser. Anyone who has seen these artists perform knows what a treat it is to take in a concert with them, and it was a great finale to a marvelous week of bass love.

Saturday Evening into Sunday Morning

The After Hours jam ended about 1 am, but nobody was in the mood to shut down the party. Before I knew it, I was at a college party with a bunch of the performers, and we danced until dawn. After way too many drinks, I staggered back to the dorm, making several wrong turns along the way. I fancily collapsed into bed around 7 am.

I woke up just before noon, covered in sweat from the un-air conditioned dorms. I de-greased myself as best as I could in the shower and hailed a cab into downtown Ithaca.

Sunday Afternoon

I met up with Lloyd Goldstein, and we spent the afternoon catching up. It was amazing to me that, though our interests are quite similar, Lloyd and I barely saw each other the whole week. That’s a testament to just how much activity there was at this event.

Lloyd dropped me off at the airport, and I settled down to begin writing this blog post. I was so zonked, however, that I couldn’t even put two words together. I fiddled listlessly with Instagram as I waited for my plane.

My flight was delayed yet again on the way back (go United!), and I got on the phone to re-arrange my connections. I found myself with a long layover in Newark again.

Sunday Evening into Monday Morning

Not wishing to be trapped at the Newark airport all night, I caught an Uber into Manhattan and walked the streets of New York until about 3 am.

Thanks for reading this mammoth post, and I know that we’re all looking forward to the next ISB convention in 2019!

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