Andrew Cleyndert - Bass

“I’ve got my younger brother to thank for being a bass player,” says Andrew Cleyndert. “I happened to be away from primary school the day the opportunity arose to join a new initiative to start younger children on bass using half size instruments. He signed me up in my absence.”

Cleyndert remembers his earlier musical experiences as one of six children. “We were all made to learn an instrument by our highly musical, enthusiastic mother at an early age”, he says. “I was sent to the local church choir and put on the violin using the Suzuki method. That didn’t last, and piano followed; but I didn’t really like that either. However, I did come second or third in a piano competition at the Much Hadham Festival [in Hertfordshire] with my legs swaying back and forth because I couldn’t reach the pedals.”

It wasn’t until Cleyndert reached his teens that things really started to take off for him musically. “I went to a sport-biased school, but one with a very keen music master who did the best he could with the resources and talent he had to hand. The discovery of a bass player landing in the school was a prize asset and I was roped into any musical project going. Eventually I came to the attention of John Petters, a trad drummer, who kindly gave me loads of gigs around London and was probably responsible for developing my ear, since I was dropped in at the deep end and had to busk the huge repertoire of New Orleans, Dixieland and trad. Quite often it would be a quartet with one of the early pioneers of the trad school. Cy Laurie once advised me ‘you sound great son. Whatever you do, don’t practise!’ It might have worked for him, but eventually I realised it wasn’t going to work for me. Later I met Julian Stringle and joined his Dixieland band, and finally towards the end of my school career I was disappearing to London every weekend to gig with Alan Barnes.”

Cleyndert’s first bass he bought was he says “a German swell back” which he has only just finally let go of and was set up for him by fellow bassist, and luthier, Len Skeat.

“I played a lesser Mittenwald German flat back for a time, but that was bland acoustically, although it responded well with a pick-up and was very comfortable to play. Then after a long search for something ‘ideal’, I bought a bass by Anton Jaudt. But this was recently superseded by a Hawkes which I bought a couple of years ago. It’s a special bass, since it was the late Paul Bridge’s instrument and came to me via Ken Baldock. I lent it to one of my heroes, Buster Williams, when he did a stint at Ronnie’s recently. It’s a fantastic sounding bass and despite Hawkes’ reputation for being big beasts to get around, it’s a beauty to play.”

Cleyndert talks about his influences beginning by saying “I was hooked on classical music from a very young age continually listening to Radio 3 on a little transistor radio, replaced by a grand old valve radio I inherited. My father always liked swing music, but it was two school friends who really started the ball rolling. One was a gifted stride pianist who loved Fats Waller and got me playing. With the other I became an avid record collector and by the time we were 16 we could identify all of the legends from the 1940s to Miles’ and Mingus’ bands in the 60s. The Oscar Peterson Trio was probably my first major influence. Not only did I discover Ray Brown, Niels-Henning [Ørsted Pedersen] and Sam Jones, but also all those other jazz greats that Oscar had worked with. It was easy to find avenues into the fantastic world of jazz… one record led to the next. Later influences included some of the great players that I’ve accompanied, such as Bobby Wellins, Don Weller, Bryan Spring, Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracey. I should also mention [the late] Martin Drew, who I worked with on so many gigs over the years – he will be really missed.”

Strings are a critical part of a bass player’s set up. Was Cleyndert I wondered a fan of the gut string sound? “I was brought up on steel strings, Thomastik Spirocores, and it is those I keep going back to. Having said that, the Jaudt bass is strung with Pirastro Evah Pirazzis after I mixed a recording with a great sounding Chris Hill on bass. They have more of a ‘gut’ sound and are great for arco. I’ve also just acquired a box of old La Bella strings which I loved when I was younger. If I’m not mistaken, they were responsible for Ron Carter and Buster’s long sustaining sound in the 1970s, but they’re not so fashionable now. I’m really looking forward to having a go on them again. They’re made of nylon and you had to sandpaper them to get enough friction to play arco.”

Amplification? “I favour the original piezo pick-ups, the Wilson particularly, which are often criticised for being electric-sounding. However, mixed with a Neumann KM185 they can give a far richer acoustic sound than the more recent ‘acoustic sounding’ pick-up solutions. Also the ability to vary the mix gives a wide flexibility for different performance environments. “We never ‘own’ an instrument,” Cleyndert says finally on whether he feels a bond with his basses, allowing himself a wry smile. “We’re just looking after it for a while.”

- David Gallant

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