Name: Steve Rodby
Occupation: Bassist, producer, video editor
Current release: Steve Rodby is one of the musicians performing the late Lyle Mays's "Eberhard", a stunning thirteen-minute tribute to bassist and composer Eberhard Weber. Incorporating a wide range of timbres – from synthesizers and electric bass via marimba, vibraphone, orchestral bells, flute, clarinet and saxophone to drums, vocals and acoustic bass – the music has the same feeling of magical reality as many of Weber's legendary albums on ECM. The composition closes a circle. As it happens, Weber's music was also an influence on Pat Metheny, in whose group both Rodby and Mays played and where they became friends. The band, over the many years of its existence, not only earned a reputation as one of the planet's leading jazz formations and their spellbinding improvisations. They also recorded a string of classic, fascinating albums like the style-bending Offramp and the 68-minute composition The Way Up. In 2015, Metheny himself already commissioned a quite beautiful suite as a tribute to the great German artist. In a way, "Eberhard" takes off where Metheny's big band vision ended: If the piece sounds cinematic, intimate, captivating and fairytale-like all at once, then that's because it was always supposed to feel big. Lyle, writes Rodby in the liner notes, tried "to find every bit of what the material suggested, every note and harmony and sound it evoked for him. He added parts, expanded orchestration, imagining it all on an even grander scale." Mays passed away in February of 2020, but in a way, "Eberhard" transcended its original purpose and has turned into a tribute in a much wider sense: To life and the will to live, to the creative spirit and those who carry its torch until the very end.
If these thoughts by Steve Rodby piqued your interest, visit Lyle Mays's store for CD- and vinyl copies of "Eberhard". If you're looking for more information about Steve Rodby's work with the Pat Metheny Group, head over to Metheny's homepage.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
My instrument, my tools are the bass and the computer. I use them to contribute to musicmaking. (I suppose my real instruments are my ears and my sensibility, for better or worse.)
I would say that at this stage in my life, working on music, whether it's playing bass, producing in the studio, or editing music on a computer ... it all feels like the same thing to me. I was never a "bass jock" and I don't know but a small percentage of what most players know about instruments and gear and bass history. It has always seemed like we use our imaginations to dream up a sound that moves us, a sound that we are searching for, and then we try to find tools to make that sound externally manifest, sharable. But it's truly a two way relationship, and I can clearly see how the tools that have crossed my path have changed the way I think and play. Hmm ...
As much as technology fascinates me, I never really wanted to be an expert at that side of things. So I just sought out a lot of experts to help me, as needed. People often ask me about how I choose the right microphone, and I answer that I start by choosing a great engineer.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
I can imagine this varies so much from artist to artist. I think that for me, it's always been stimulating to try to combine ideas from different sources, to take things and mix them, frame them, season them with something unusual.
When improvising, the most helpful thing for me has been to try to quiet my mind enough to actually "hear" my imagination. Creating seems to be all about listening, with some mysterious part of our beings doing the heavy lifting if we give it a chance.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
Yes, well, see the above regarding listening. Yes. I'm not a solo artist, and as a bassist I'm not a soloist ... my whole career has been trying to hear the big picture and not only fit in, but enable and help to make things happen, make things better. I think that's why many producers are bassists ... we've been thinking about the whole package from the beginning.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind for your improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Again, see above. To add to that, I always remember one time when I was backstage before a concert, and for whatever reasons (perhaps it was in NYC and I knew many of my heroes would be in the audience) I was visibly nervous. Pat Metheny could tell I was struggling a bit and needed to calm down, and he said the absolute simplest thing to me -- "keep your eye on the music" -- and that has helped me more times than I can count. Not trying to stop a distraction, but replacing it with attention.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
On a good day (or a good night, or a good set, or even just a good tune), I can simultaneously feel many different "scales" of perspective. It's crazy when I think about all these layers being all stacked up on top of each other, all in play at the same time. The nature of the band, the venue and audience, this set, this line-up, this tune in this place in this set, how it's going, WHERE WE ARE HEADED, what I can do about it, this beat, this measure, this chorus, this weather.
Playing improvised music is like taking a bath in the past, present and future. The decisions come from some mysterious place, but it seems that these decisions are a bit better when I'm fully submerged.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
There can be a lot of different approaches to that question. Here's a practical one: for me, it's been helpful to try to have fairly "bulletproof" gear, and gear that's flexible. I've played a lot of very loud music on an instrument (acoustic bass) that is famously difficult to amplify well, and without feedback. A lot of preparation goes into bringing flexible tools to the gig, so that I can make it work in different spaces.
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
Though they have a lot of differences, I have always striven to blend their vibe together -- to try to play accurately (enough) live, and play loosely in the studio.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I believe that music, instrumental music, speaks in MUSIC. To paraphrase the great Lyle Mays, music is about music. One of its great strengths is that it has all the features of life and breath, without the specificity of words and literal thought. On this journey we make, it's the wind at our back, the map in our pocket, the water in our backpack, the warming sun overhead, the feeling of the passage of time and miles, and the transcendent gift of timelessness.