Jasper Høiby - Bass

“I got into bass when I started to pick music apart,” says Høiby. “I remember hearing the Chick Corea album Now He Sings – Now He Sobs with Miroslav Vitous playing bass. He just blew me away he was so individual. It was like… wow, who is this? He doesn’t sound human, he sounds like an animal or something. It was as though he had his own language. Totally inspiring.”

Høiby started on the electric bass. “My first bass was a shiny red thing with a triangular head. It was really cheap, about £25. So you can imagine the state of it. I bought it when I was at boarding school and kept it for about a year. My second bass was a Fender Precision – an old American one. A friend of mine said: ‘My parents have a bass in the attic.’ So I went to see it and thought oh my God. It had the serial number on the back of the head and everything.” I ask if he still has this instrument. “Sadly, no I don’t. Unfortunately I have always been in the position where I have had to sell one thing to get another because I’ve never had the money. So it had to go because I wanted to get a Fender Jazz.” The Fender Jazz never materialised, but instead Høiby bought an ESP. “Then I got two Celinder Jazz basses,” he enthuses. “A fretted four string and a fretless five string. These are fantastic handmade Danish basses – you should check them out on the web!”

Høiby realised that all he really wanted to do was to play music: “my goal was to go to a conservatoire. I spent a year at a Danish ‘Foundation’ school, before auditioning for the Royal Academy. It was during that year that I took up the double bass. But when I auditioned for the Royal Academy, I actually played the electric bass. When I got given a place, I said right, now I’m going to play the double bass.”

So what does Høiby look for in a double bass and what was his first instrument? “I’ll reverse that question if I may. My first double bass was a solid wood Czech bass from the 50s – it was a really nice instrument.” Hoiby pauses for thought. “It’s got to be something that sings really naturally and that has a certain clarity to it. I try to make my sound quite clear as a bass. I’m also looking for volume. I’m not playing with a massive action so I need to have a lot of volume to start with.”

After the Czech bass Høiby went on to an American ‘Upton’ bass. “I bought this on a blindfold as you might say. I had heard really good things about the bass from a friend of mine who owns one and I just thought, I want that bass. So I ordered it online – and I got it. I’ve had the ‘Upton’ for about a year now and made six records with it. I’ve given it time to settle… for the sounds to come through, but I don’t think that this is the one for me.” He continues. “It’s not that I don’t think that it’s a really good sounding instrument – it is. It’s just that I don’t think that it has the fundamentals that I need. I’m looking for something that is a bit louder and more smooth.”

When it comes to strings, Høiby’s a Thomastik player. “I play the Spirocore ‘thick red’ medium tension Thomastiks. I always had Thomastiks on my Czech bass, so I’ve got used to the feel, the response and the sound – they’ve also got great character and depth. I like the fact that they are quite elastic and you don’t have a really high tension and that suits me.”

How does Høiby go about amplifying his instrument? “ I play a Realist pickup. It’s not that I like the Realist you understand – there’s always a compromise with amplification. It’s just that I don’t hate it as much as I hate all the other pickups!”

And amplifiers? “I previously played a David Eden cabinet that sounded really good but weighed a massive 27 Kg. But now I play through a Mark bass speaker cabinet with two 10-inch speakers and a little tweeter which weighs in at just 15 Kg. I couple that with an Italian LMK 600 watt head that conveniently comes in a small rucksack type carrier bag. With that sort of power I can play pretty much anywhere – I don’t need anything else.”

We return to the question of a replacement for the Upton bass. “I’m going to Budapest, to see if I can find one there. I met this Hungarian guitarist at a gig at the Pizza Express and he said that he knows lots of people in Budapest and there are some great basses available over there for very little money – and I have only a limited budget. So the Upton’s going to have to go and I’m hoping to get lucky in Budapest! I’m looking for an old bass, but I’m open to anything. I’ll use my ears and let them guide me. I don’t care if it looks really rough, or it looks great, or if it’s got rounded corners – I just really want to try and find something that sounds right – or at least that has the potential to sound right.”

Interview - David Gallant

Ginger Baker - Drums

Ginger Baker recently dropped into the UK to promote his aptly titled autobiography Hellraiser and to play a one-off gig at London’s Jazz Cafe. “Stevie (Winwood) came by to play a couple of numbers which was great,” he says in a gravelly morning-after voice. “Now you want to talk about drums… Let me tell ’ya , I’m an American drum man – I don’t care for any of the others!”

That said, Baker didn’t start out with an American kit. “The first kit I had was an ‘all bits combined kit’ that I bought from Vic O’Brien’s in London in 1956. It was all different colours, one tom-tom, a snare drum, a bass drum and a cymbal. When I got the Terry Lightfoot gig, I got Vic to make up a matching kit which was all white.” This clearly wasn’t hip enough, neither was it giving Baker that unique sound that he was looking for, so he decided to change all the shells to perspex. Why perspex? “It was a great thing for sound – smooth on both sides, rather than being painted like normal drums – it didn’t sound like anything else,” Baker elaborates.

“I made the perspex shells myself and decided to change the sizes of the drums to an 11-inch thick bass drum shell, a 7-inch tom-tom and a big tom-tom that was about 14-inches. So I went and bought some strips of perspex and measured round the drum to see how long each strip needed to be. I bevelled the two edges then heated the strips up over a gas ring before carefully bending them round, bolting the bevelled bits together and putting the hoops on the top. As it turned out, they weren’t perfectly round, but of course it didn’t matter too much, as in those days I was using calf heads.” Baker used that kit for about seven years. “But the problem we found with perspex kits is that with time, the perspex used to crack around the fittings which is why they stopped making them. They might have worked very well but they just weren’t very practical. I remember, Ludwig made me a perspex kit and that sounded beautiful.”

Baker used that original self built perspex kit right through his heady days with the Graham Bond Organisation and Alexis Korner (“Graham was crazy – Alexis was a gentleman”) and right up until the beginning of Cream.

So how did the double bass setup come about? “Every drummer that ever played for Duke Ellington played a double bass drum kit. I went to a Duke Ellington concert in 1966 and Sam Woodyard was playing with Duke and he played some incredible tom tom and two bass drum things, some of which I still use today and I just knew I had to get a two bass drum kit. Keith Moon was with me at that concert and we were discussing it and he went straight round to Premier and bought two kits which he stuck together. I had to wait for Ludwig to make a kit up for me, which they did – to my own specifications. So Moonie had the two bass drum kit some months before I did.”

Baker’s association with Ludwig lasted for about 30 years. “I had three or four kits,” he starts. “You see, I knew the Ludwig family very well and they were really good drums. The original Ludwig shells were superb – the ones that were made in Chicago. They’re not made there any more. The company fell apart when they sold out to Selmer and the whole thing changed somewhat, it wasn’t a good move on their part.” Baker continues: “That situation became very apparent when I was at a gig in New York and Ludwig didn’t come up with a kit for me. Drum Workshop were contacted and they immediately supplied a kit. I was so impressed with it I’ve been with them ever since.”

“All my cymbals are Zildjian,” he says. “I first went to the factory in 1966 and chose a load of cymbals – all of which I didn’t pay for – they gave them to me. I’m still playing the Hi-Hats and the 22inch riveted ride cymbal today. The youngest cymbal in my kit was made in 1975. When I play a gig, they just ask me what sizes I need and they’re there. They’re a wonderful company.” Baker also uses his signature 7A Zildjian sticks. “I feel very good with them.” As for brushes he ‘doesn’t know’. “They’re standard wire ones – I don’t like the plastic ones … and anyway, I don’t play brushes very often.” Drum heads are always Remo.

Having spent sometime in West Africa, I wondered whether he’d taken to traditional African drums. “The only African drums I have were given to me by Guy Warren, the Ghanaian master drummer – he gave me a set of Ghanaian drums. The only other African drum I ever had was a batakota which is a real Yoruba drum and was given to me in Nigeria – but my daughter’s got that one.”

So looking back, what does Baker consider to be his favourite kit. “The one that I’m using now,” he says, without a moment’s thought. “My DW kit is a one off – there’s not another one like it. There are four tom-toms: a 10inch, a 12-inch, a 13-inch and a 14-inch. Then I have a 13-inch snare and two bass drums with 11-inch shells – one’s a 22-inch and the other’s a 20inch. The great thing about DW is that they make all their shells to be in tune with one another – to a G. It’s an amazing kit.” I ask whether he has any other kits. “Why would I need more than one?” he retorts. “I just have mine at home.” So what happened to all those other kits? “I really don’t remember.”

Jay Phelps - Trumpet

“One of my lady friends sat on my horn the other day,” says Jay Phelps a tad suggestively. “She bent back the end of the lead pipe and the bracket between that and the bell sort of snapped. But when you’re caught up in the emotion of things, such small matters seem really unimportant. Since it’s been mended though, it seems to play so much better than before.”

Phelps started playing trumpet when he was 11, having entered an arts school in his home city of Vancouver a year before most of the kids of his age. “I remember having a great teacher and this also helped me get into the high school band a year before everyone else in my year – it was a great experience.”

Phelps had begun his musical journey on the piano. “I was about nine,” he says, “and got bored with it very quickly and soon quit. When I moved over to the trumpet, my mother took it more seriously for me, putting me into lessons straight away and not letting me play with my friends unless I practised first.

His first trumpet was a Kanstul. “It was a very basic horn and I’m always reminded of it by an incident that happened one really hot summer’s day when I was round at my father’s house practising. My trumpet was sounding really weird and I got really angry and hit it on the floor and the whole bell came up like a soda can and I thought oh my god my mom’s going to kill me. Needless to say I got it in the neck when she noticed what had happened.”

Phelps then progressed on to “a shiny silver Jupiter” which he kept for a couple of years, before his teacher Ray Kirkham, principal trumpet in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra told him that he had to play on a better trumpet. “So I went on to a Bach Stradivarius 37. That was kind of my introduction into professional trumpet playing.” Phelps had gained early inspiration from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (“I just thought Miles’s horn sounded like a singing bird), Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. “Then I got into Clifford Brown – man, his sound just blew me away.”

Fast forward to just five years ago when Phelps went to a gig at London’s Jazz Café where one of his other trumpet heroes Wynton Marsalis was playing. “There was a whole bunch of trumpet players hanging around back stage and there was this trumpet player called Alex Bonney who said, ‘Jay let me see your trumpet.’ Then he showed me this beautiful Eclipse and said, ‘this should be your horn.’ I played two notes – and I thought oh my goodness! The next week

Alex took me up to the factory in Luton to meet the guys who made the horn and we did a deal. So now I’ve got my great Eclipse horn. But it’s changed quite a lot over these last five years. I’ve put different bits and pieces on and taken various bits and pieces off.

“The first thing I did was to take the bell off and put on a much bigger, wider bell. Then I put on a new, much wider lead pipe. This opens up the sound and gives me a much brassier edge when I need it. Since I’ve done that I’ve been able to really find my own voice within it, because I can play with the many different tones that the horn has to offer now. I can play really quiet, or loud and brassy when I need it and it produces a really big sound when it’s played properly. It’s been a journey over this last year since I changed it – it’s made me a better player. I have to practise in a different way. I’ve been able to get more breath and depth into the sound.

On Phelps’ beautiful matt gold instrument there are a couple of extra features. “You’re right,” says Phelps. “I’ve added a lot of little trinkets around it, and not just for show! The trinkets are essentially there for counterbalance, although I do have my name engraved on it. Leigh at First Class Brass, who leads the team that makes the Eclipse trumpets made the third finger ring and first slide saddle extra thick so I have a better grip on the horn, and I reckon it also looks good.”

As for mouthpieces Phelps started with a 7C before moving on to a 101/2 C and a 5. “After that I moved on to a 3, which was where I stayed before moving over from the Bach to a Monette.” He then acquired a Monette Pirana mouthpiece, “big, with a really deep cup – the equivalent of a 1. The weight distribution in the mouthpiece is just great. When the horn is played right, it offers you great all round flexibility. When you want to sustain a note properly it works wonders.”

Does Phelps use mutes? “Yeah,” he responds. “I like cup mutes, and sometimes Harmon ones but it’s got to be in the right kind of setting. I’m trying to get back to that good old swing sound in my music, rather than going on that totally contemporary, classically-influenced trip. I want to recreate that good feeling in my music again.” Jay Phelps is the host of the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Ronnie Scott’s

Orphy Robinson - Vibes

“I started out in a marching band which doubled as a carnival band,” says Orphy Robinson. “We played the tuned percussion – marimbas and xylophones on the side. It was the kind of band you might see at American football matches with all the razzamatazz but without the nice girls cheerleading which was a shame. We practised at least three times a week and went to competitions on the weekends.”

Robinson stood out, sometimes coming away with the top soloist prize. The sheer size of the xylophone attracted him. “They looked quite interesting and I’d always wanted to play piano and drums and it was a marrying of the two really.” But he could easily have embarked on a different career as he was looking to study law and had already completed his foundation studies but just one phone call changed the way he saw his life unfolding.

“I got a call from Courtney Pine who asked me whether I’d like to perform with the Jazz Warriors. I must have done something right, because immediately after the performance he said: ‘I want you to join my band and make it up to a sextet’. Then I was off gigging and working and from there on it’s been music all the way. Sometimes I look back and think that it might have been great to go off to one of the music schools but I was learning on the job, so it just seemed to make more sense to take the route that I was going. I was also getting quite a lot of session work.”

Although Robinson had played Viscount and Premier percussion in the marching band “neither had the right feel,” he says. “There was something that wasn’t happening for me there.” His first set of personal vibes were Trixon which he says he still has. “They were set up at the foot of my bed so I used to get up every morning and play. I’d use teaspoons which were great for speed and I would jam along doing solos over the BBC test card. Those vibes had a wonderful sound, lovely notes but the frame was absolutely crap. I remember constantly having to repair this thing but I learned heaps on it.”

Later in his career Robinson approached Premier about getting a set of vibes. “They said no, because I wasn’t being seen on Top of the Pops. That really confirmed my earlier suspicions. So I got in touch with Sonor, who immediately flew me over to Germany and made a set for me and gave me a full endorsement.” Sonor subsequently gave Robinson a second set. “They go down to low E. Then at the top I have two extra notes – a C sharp and a D. It’s probably the only one of its kind in the world. It has a good sound and it’s a real workhorse, they called it a VB500.”

Robinson says he’s looking for a “body of sound” in his vibes. “Some sound really tinny and very clunky and they just don’t work. You need a set of vibes that are warm and that you can play with. We use so many different kinds of mallets and these contribute greatly to the sound that I’m looking for. A good set of mallets combined with a good set of vibes allows you to bring character to the overall sound. On some of the other vibes I’ve found that you just sound like everybody else and I’m not into that at all.”

Robinson also plays the marimba. “I love playing marimba,” he enthuses, “and I was very fortunate to start on a concert grand Musser, a beautiful instrument that I still have at home. I also have a small half size Viscount. But my baby is my Sonor Marimba. The Sonor is more geared to improv and the contemporary classical area – it’s more gentle. The Musser is more bebop and jazz-orientated. They both have rosewood keys, but they have different bodies and therefore different sounds. I also have a marimbula, which you sit down to play. It’s like a giant kalimba, a tuneable bass marimba which you play with your fingers and you can get some really deep sounds.”

Aside from the marimbula, mallets are clearly a key to the sound palette. “Mallets are covered with either hard, medium or soft yarns depending on the sounds that you wish to create,” he says.

“I only use rattan handles because they are so flexible and the Vic Firth M186s are perfect. They are quite heavy on the hand, but give a lovely warm sound. I also use the Terry Gibbs M34s and M32s depending on what sound is required. And sometimes I’ll use Vic Firth M25s which is a lovely stick and also the Victor Mendoza mallets – M23s – which are really nice as well. I’ve tried others, but I don’t really get on with them. I used to use a Premier 589 stick which was very cheap and absolutely fantastic – in fact Evelyn Glennie used to use them but they would last about five minutes with me. I’d end up super glueing the heads and they’d just come off after a couple of plays so I’ve stuck with Vic Firth.

“You know I almost forgot to mention the steel pans”, says Robinson. “I have a regular one that is tuned in fourths and fifths and a ‘one-off’ Aubrey Pan, tuned in semi-tones with some extra notes which was made especially for me. I put it through effects pedals and a Looperlative loop machine, which creates some amazing sounds and patterns – you’ll have to come and catch one of my solo shows.”

Interview - David Gallant

Mike Walker - Guitar

“Nine years ago I was knocked over by a hit and run”, says Walker. “It broke all my right hand side – my right arm was really smashed up – I was in a wheelchair for a while. This last year I’ve been getting back into playing again and I’m very excited by that, I can feel it coming back and I truly never thought I would.”

Walker was born into a musical family. “Father was a piano player and my mother used to sing. Dad used to play in pubs and it made a living for him.” For his part, the young Walker was a late starter.

“I was never interested in music at school, I had always wanted to be an English teacher. But my brother was a rock singer who accompanied himself on guitar and it was he who encouraged me to play the instrument. I got my first guitar pretty soon after, when I was about 16 or 17.”

Completely self-taught, Walker’s major influences in the early days he says were Tal Farlow and Wes Montgomery along with Coltrane and Clifford Brown. “But I was also influenced greatly by Stan Getz’s playing.” His first guitar was a black Les Paul copy made by a company who went by the name of Avon. “Actually,” says Walker, “it was absolutely brilliant – the neck was lovely but I didn’t have it for long though. I guess it must have been traded in after about six months, because when I turned 17 I got a Gibson 335 which is the guitar that I still use for most of my work today.” But like many guitarists, Walker owns and has owned a number of instruments. “Back in the mid-1980s I bought a handmade jazz guitar made by Roger Borys – a blond, with a Kent Armstrong pickup. I saw it in a shop in Rochdale called Guitar Player. It was going for a song. I tried it and thought I’ve got to have this. It cost me £900 and it’s probably worth about £5,000 now as it’s a very sought after instrument. Then in the mid-90s when times got tough, sadly I had to let it go.”

Walker, however, sold it to a guitar-playing friend who said to him when times get better, maybe he’d have it back. “That window has just appeared,” says Walker, “so maybe I’ll be getting it back because I’ve always loved that guitar.” I ask whether his friend is likely to give it back. “He also loves that guitar and thinks that it is very pretty,” responds Walker. “But he’s not really playing that much now. He’s got an Ibanez Joe Pass guitar as well – again a very pretty guitar – so he’s not really playing my guitar. We’re both agreed that my guitar has got to go out and be seen to be being played so I’m going to get the money together and get that guitar back – a happy ending and reunion after 14 years apart.”

Walker also has a Takamine classical guitar, “the one with the built-in pickup in it. That’s lovely. Then I have a Martin HD28VS vintage reissue

acoustic guitar which is based on the old body shape and that’s a beautiful instrument too.” I’m beginning to sense that Walker’s eye is as finely tuned as his ear. “A couple of years ago I did a session for this guy and both produced and played on the album and he paid me with a guitar. It’s a Lush based on a Telecaster, but with a slightly bigger body and as I’m 6’ 4”, it’s perfect, as a standard Tele just isn’t comfortable for me to play. But I don’t play it live that much.”

So what’s Walker’s string choice? “I use Thomastik strings although I used to use D’Addario flat wounds on the Borys. I love Thomastiks because they’re very responsive and I really like the feel of them. They don’t feel brittle and malleable and they are extremely supple. They’re also long lasting and keep their tone and tuning for a very long time. At the moment I’m using round wound Thomastik Mediums, but if I’m doing a certain kind of gig that requires more rhythm, I’ll use Thomastik Techno Brite 10s. They’re light, but if somebody wants me to take a solo they’ve still got guts in them, they’ve still got resistance and combined with that suppleness it works a treat.”

Walker started his playing career with a 60w Roland Jazz Chorus, which was very quickly traded in for a Fender combo Concert amp with a 1x12. “That was a great amp,” remembers Walker. “Soon after I bought the Fender I bought a Polytone and used to run that in a stereo-like way with the Fender. Then I endorsed a Pearce solid state amp for a few years, which consequently lead me onto a Mesa Boogie Mk4 100w combo with a 1x12.” Walker’s been playing Mesa Boogie Mk4s for about 14 years now. He says his current one has a wooden case and a lattice grill.

“They’re perfect for my style. I regularly go from one kind of music to another. I’m asked to play a lot of different kinds of music – straightahead jazz, a lot of rocky/funky stuff and a combination of that with some soul stuff and crossovers of all those things – and of course blues stuff. I find it gives me a really great sound for each and every one of those genres. It’s like the jazz sound isn’t an absolute banging jazz sound with a 175 and a typical jazz amp. The Boogie covers everything in a great way and it gives me an identifiable sound with my 335.” Walker also has a hand made Swedish “boutique” amp – an ODS Mystic Blue Star. “It’s like a clone of the Dumble. It’s all valve and has an incredible sound. It’s just an amp head and I have a 2X12 Two Rock cabinet fitted with two Eminence speakers. The set-up for the amp has no reverb, so I use a TCM1 reverb unit with a TC Nova Delay pedal with it. I don’t know the setup well enough yet to take it out, but I’ve used it in the studio and it sounds fantastic. That along with my 335 is a brilliant piece of kit.”

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