Jim Wilke, who produces and hosts the splendid Jazz After Hours program carried by radio stations across the land, is also an accomplished performance and recording engineer. He frequently combines his specialties in Jazz Northwest, a broadcast he does once a week on KPLU-FM, the Seattle-Tacoma jazz station. Sunday, June 18, Wilke will air a concert by the Jeff Johnson Trio, recorded at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Also in the trio are Mark Taylor, alto & soprano saxes, and Byron Vannoy, drums & percussion. From a Wilke communique, here’s what he wrote about the special bass that Jeff Johnson played.
The instrument Jeff brought to the Garden Court of the Museum was one I hadn’t seen or heard before. When I asked him about this beautiful instrument, he said “Ahhh, the CONTESSA! I dubbed her that because she is old royalty. She is definitely female because she will only dance in certain settings at her preference!”
When he first encountered her among several other basses he was trying out, he said he kept going back to the “old Bohemian lady.” She was discovered in a church in Budapest. Her ancestry is not known, possibly Italian, but very old for sure, possibly mid 1700’s. A sample of the varnish used gives evidence that oxblood was one of the materials (a la “The Red Violin”).
“I have never played a bass with such a dry and dark sound before,” Jeff said. “I can only use it in the studio and very special environments where I don’t have to play too hard. It has really become my ‘Sunday’ sort of bass. I LOVE it. Thanks for recording the CONTESSA … amazing recording you got in that space!”
My admiration for Johnson’s bass playing is no secret. I’ll be listening to KPLU at 1 pm Pacific Daylight Time next Sunday. If you would like to hear the concert, you will find Jazz Northwest on your computer by way of KPLU’s audio stream.