HARALD WEINKUM -„ÜberThree“ Interview



“You can take a bassist out of Vienna, but you cannot take Vienna out of a bassist!” Austrian bass player HARALD WEINKUM has released his third record „ÜberThree“, featuring musicians such as MIKE STERN, PEE WEE ELLIS or GERALD GRADWOHL. We love Harald's ¾ meter adaptions of CHICK COREA’s “Got a Match?”, PEE WEE ELLIS's “The Chicken”, and are totally blown away by his Salsa interpretation of Johann Strauss’s “An der schönen blauen Donau”. GuitarMania wanted to find out more about his new record, what it is like living and working in the US and Austria, and his 12 tone concept inspired by Austrian composer ARNOLD SCHÖNBERG.



Harald, congratulations on your new record „ÜberThree“. Can you please tell us about the title?

Thanks! Well … to my knowledge this is only the third album in Jazz history on which every song is in ¾ time – and one of the other 2 is my first CD “A Bass Bolero”. So I had to emphasize “Three” in the title.

Where did you record and how long did it take you to finalize the recordings?

I started 8 (!!) years ago when Mike Stern recorded three songs for this CD. Shortly after, I became proud father of twins, and it took a LONG time to get around to complete the album, but I am extremely happy that I did not rush the process and compromise the outcome.

 



We understand you are living and working both in the US and in Europe. Can you please talk about how the music scenes differ, and your life and work in the States and in Austria?

I would say American musicians seem to be more open, positive, and welcoming, regardless of how accomplished they are. That doesn’t always seem to be the case in Austria. And in general, live music is a bigger part of every-day culture in North America, there are way more live music clubs and festivals, and the general public can get very excited over a live performance, whereas it is pretty hard to book live shows in Europe.

What was the most rewarding experience working as a musician in the United States?

I think my most rewarding US experience was playing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival a few years ago. I played on the “Heritage” stage with a formation of all New Orleans-born musicians, some of them members of such elite bands as the “Dirty Dozen Brass Band”. Even the days around the festival were extremely exciting and I learned more about the tradition of Jazz in those few days than in years of study.

 



MIKE STERN plays an important role on the record (I had the opportunity to interview Mike three times and he is one of the most inspiring and wonderful people I have ever met). He plays on three tracks on your record. How did your cooperation with Mike come about?

Just like many fellow musicians, I ended up having a few idols in Jazz that to me represented the ultimate craft, musicianship, and talent. For me, Mike is one of those players, and I thought, if I have to hire musicians for my CD, why not start asking at the very top of my “dream list”. And a fellow instructor at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA, had been working with Mike before and got me in touch with him.

By the way, when I picked Mike up at the morning of our recording session, he had forgotten his distortion pedal, so we walked into the North Hollywood Guitar Center to buy one, and we definitely got a lot of attention!

 

Photo: Lucio Zogno

 


Please tell us about your recording of “The Chicken”. We understand that Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley learned your ¾ arrangement for the record?

First off, not everyone knows that Pee Wee Ellis actually composed “The Chicken”, so having the original composer learn and record my ¾ arrangement seems like the ultimate honor! I first had contacted Fred Wesley about contributing a trombone solo, and he liked the arrangement so much that he called Pee Wee and played it to him over the phone. So out of the blue, I receive and email from Pee Wee, saying how funky he finds my version, and so I couldn’t resist asking him to play on it as well. They recorded their parts while on tour in Vienna, but needless to say none of them has ever had to play a solo on that song in ¾ time, but they put all their talent and energy into it and I think you can hear that.

Two of the strongest tracks on the CD are “Herrgott” and “Danubio Azul”. Why have you chosen these tracks? Please tell us about your cooperation with Austrian guitarist Gerald Gradwohl?

As they say, you can take a bassist out of Vienna, but you cannot take Vienna out of a bassist! I feel very strongly about my musical heritage and love listening to Viennese Music, both classical and folk, old and contemporary.  I have been playing a similar arrangement of “Herrgott” with GERALD GRADWOHL (who in my opinion is one of the world’s very best guitar players!) for several years now, and since it is in ¾ time, there was no way to NOT include it! Also, Kirk Covington contributes on drums, who also happens to be one of my absolute favorite drummers.

 

Photo: Luca Valenta



Where did you get the inspiration from to turn the famous Johann Strauss tune “An der schönen blauen Donau” into a “Salsa”?

I know that people have rearranged all kinds of songs as “Salsa” tracks, but they always change the meter to 4/4 time. So I wanted to prove that you can take a song from the sixties (the 1860s, that is), stay true to the meter, form and harmonies, and STILL completely change the genre. And I am lucky that there is no shortage of exile Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians in the USA, and having played with some of them in Salsa bands, I enlisted them to record my arrangement.

We understand that on “Teresa” we actually hear an original Jaco Pastorius rehearsal recording at the beginning of the track. What would you say is Jaco’s legacy and what influence he have on your own style?

There is hardly a jazz bassist who has not been influenced and inspired by Jaco. I fell in love with this simple waltz tune he wrote kind of late in his life, and never had a chance to record it properly. But there is a double CD of rehearsal tapes that German producer and bassist Jan Jankeje released, and I got his permission to start off my version with a recording of Jaco singing the melody to his fellow musicians.

We would be most interested in your approach to composition. Can you please elaborate on your 12-tone melodies on “Morgenstern” and “12 Stern”?

This may sound weird, but I also think that another Viennese composer, Arnold Schönberg”, was really on to something when he came up with the concept of “12 tone music”, and the concept has fascinated me ever since I studied Music (in Vienna, by the way). So I figured, if I can write a song in the style of a typical Mike Stern funk tune, but keep it in ¾ time AND use only 12-tone themes AND still have it sound like decent music, then I might have really created something that hasn’t been done before, and so I first wrote a 12-tone bass ostinato, and then several 12-tone melodies which are played against the ostinato. Mike (Stern) had to really practice this one, but he did and I am very honored of how much effort he put into it to make it sound great. And even though the solo parts center around “E”, the soloists are constantly using all 12 notes to create their lines.

In “12 Stern” I ‘only’ made the melody follow the 12-tone technique and added somewhat conventional harmonies to end up with a kind of Jazz Waltz, not unlike pianist Bill Evans would have done, and it is very exciting to have one of Evans’s drummers, Joe LaBarbera play on that song.

You have also selected the jazz standards “Amazing Grace”, and “Got a Match?” for your recording. Why?

Hearing CHICK COREA’s ELECTRIC BAND when I was 18 years old was almost like an epiphany to me, so after rearranging “Got a Match?” into ¾ time and using both up tempo Swing and Latin flavors, I thought, why not ask members of that very band to record it, and to my surprise, both Dave Weckl and Frank Gambale agreed, and Weckl’s keyboard player Steve Weingart completed the exciting lineup.

I also couldn’t help myself using another “Elektric Band” classic, a ¾ tune named “Sidewalk” as an intro, with Dave playing his famous intro fills while the song speeds up and modulates at the same time.

As for “Amazing Grace”, which to me is one of the most beautiful melodies ever written in ¾ time (aside from Brahms “Lullaby”, which I also recorded), I had initially made an arrangement for solo bass (using a lot of harmonics), but also re-harmonized the melody for piano. And on top of it all, I am now frequently playing a Celtic Rock Version of the tune in the Band CELTICA PIPES ROCK, so I decided to combine all three flavors into this unique arrangement (and had to modulate in every chorus to fit the unique melody instrument), featuring a Greek Pianist and a Scottish Bagpiper.

 

Photo: Luca Valenta



What instruments, amplifiers and effects do you use?

My fretted basses are one Hotwire and one Carvin 5-string, and a ’77 Fender Jazz Bass 4 string (exact model and year of MARCUS MILLER’s instrument). My fretless bass is the Ibanez GARY WILLIS model (I have one that I bought from Gary himself, and another one that he helped me convert to fretless).

Let us turn to your beginnings. Who inspired you and made you want to play the bass guitar in first place?

I think PAUL McCARTNEY was my first ‘bass hero’, and he still stands out as a very influential pop bassist. When I got more into Jazz, I discovered JACO PASTORIUS and STANLEY CLARKE, and got curious about their unique techniques. Then I studied in Austria with WILLI LANGER and HARRY PUTZ, and finally in the USA with GARY WILLIS, STEVE BAILEY and I even took one lesson each from ROCCO PRESTIA and JAMES GENUS.

Did you also have an academic education in the traditional sense?

I graduated from The Vienna University of Music (formerly known as the ‘Musikhochschule’) in Music Education and have a Jazz Bass degree from the Vienna Conservatory. I can only recommend getting formal training, and I have been briefly teaching Music in a Vienna High School and Music Theory in a college in Arizona, aside from various bass classes at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.

How would you say has the role of the bass guitar changed over the years? 

That really depends on the style of music. In Rock Music, it really has not changed that much, but if you listen to Jazz Fusion players like RICHARD BONA or GARZ WILLIS, then you can see how bass has become way more than an accompanying instrument. Other examples would be MARCUS MILLER and VICTOR WOOTEN, who have made bass the main focus of their style of music.

Has it become easier or more difficult to work as a professional musician over the years?

Maybe a bit more difficult – there seems to be less work, and people want to pay you less for it. So you really need to decide what career you want to pursue – playing musicals, in a rock band, teaching, specializing in acoustic Jazz or Salsa – but sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring usually doesn’t work anymore.

If you were to give one piece of advice to young aspiring musician, what advice would that be?

In my case, I had to become 26 years old until I REALLY started committing most of my time to practicing for several years. If you can do that already when you’re 18 or even younger, there’s no limit as to what you can achieve!

Please tell us about your future plans and when will we be able to see you play live in Austria again?

I am fortunate that my Celtic Rock band “Celtica” is being booked on most weekends throughout the year, and so I enjoy traveling, playing festivals, selling and signing CDs, and being appreciated as an artist – it’s every musicians dream. Aside from that, I am grateful for every opportunity I get to play with jazz fusion greats like GERALD GRADWOHL and KIRK COVINGTON and recording the occasional CD for fellow musicians. I usually post all bass-related news on my artist page at
https://www.facebook.com/weinkum

Thank you so much for the interview. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

Thank YOU so much. A big honor and I truly appreciate it!

 

http://hweinkum.wix.com/hweinkum