Cole Davis & The Propulsion Of Upright Jazz Bass Into The Modern Jazz Era

All images courtesy of Cole Davis

All images courtesy of Cole Davis

Born in New York City, into a family of musicians, Cole Davis dedicated himself to the upright bass at the age of fourteen. What’s so special about this old Jazz soul? Keep on reading and you’ll find out.

After his audition for LaGuardia High School, he didn’t get in. But for Cole, “failure” is never a word to be spoken aloud nor to be thought to oneself. The next year, Cole applied again, and he was accepted. Later, Cole enrolled at Berklee College of Music, where Cole studied for two years thereafter.

After Cole cut his teeth at Berkley, he had transferred to the Manhattan School of Music, and then the Julliard Graduate School. Quite a curriculum, indeed! When one comes to think about a person with this acquired world of knowledge, one thinks only of leadership.

But in this care…nothing could be further from the truth.

Cole Davis’ humble soul’s main goal is to get a gig as a bass player, not to be a bandleader. In Cole’s own words, “My goal, ultimately, is [to] join a band, to be someone’s bass player.” It’s funny, though, because a bass player gets to mandatorily lead the band. To this, Cole quips, “A lot of the time, musicians don’t know that we [bassists] are in charge. It takes a very special musician to know that the bass player is actually the one leading the situation.”

As we dug in with Cole, he shared with us what he truly wants to obtain a steady touring gig, “That’s
always been the goal for me. I can always do projects, I can always make music I’m proud of, I can always practice; always have gigs.”
The latter, due to the scarcity in upright bass, which is not the most common instrument in the modern Jazz game, means it’s actually a bit easier for a session player to find work, ironically. To this end, Cole elaborated, “Going on tour with a band and contributing in a way that’s more meaningful than just playing gig to gig in New York,” that is the difference he seeks.

And the thing is, as Cole puts it, “You can always be a leader. Anyone can make a record. That part of the business is always accessible, but you can’t choose to go on tour with a band, you have to be called to do that.” Cole further dug in on the subject saying, “I think there’s something special about it. You have to be chosen. You have to be selected within the field of bass players.”

There’s always a light, right? “I never really felt like there was anything in my way necessarily stopping me from doing what I want to do,” Cole mentioned when we asked him what were the obstacles he
had to overcome, to be the musician he is today.

Not even one obstacle? “Well, there is me and whatever I put on myself,” Cole confesses. Concerning external obstacles, he does not think that there were or are any, but, “It is all just a matter of figuring
the thing out, whatever that thing is.”

All images courtesy of Cole Davis

And although Cole’s playing is not even a bit far from a virtuoso, he, “Doesn’t feel comfortable with [where he is],” practicing six to seven hours a day, “Because I feel like I need to get better,” Cole shares with us. But it does not mean he dislikes his own playing. It just never felt like, “This is it! I’m where I want to be. I don’t think any of my heroes felt that way.” Spending lots of his time, “Studying the instrument in a technical way, studying a lot of different approaches to playing the instrument,” Cole shares with us, adding that
it’s not about studying a genre, but the instrument per se; transcribing, and how could he, “Express certain things on the instrument.”

The solo work, although Cole could not say it didn’t come naturally, because it was time he had dedicated to it, it wasn’t intentional; never felt in need of having his own voice, or to record, “An album that sounds like me.” But then, Cole confesses that his biggest influence is Jaco Pastorius (a homage to Portrait
of Tracy) — who introduced himself as, “The best player in the world”; an influence that can be found, “All over the place, in terms of chords and harmonics.

Ultimately, Cole’s goal is, “To express certain this on the instrument.” Nonetheless, regarding conveying a specific message, “I don’t intend to convey anything,” which, don’t get him wrong, this does not mean Cole ignores the listener, “Nor am I being neglectful towards the listener.” Not at all! Cole just never thought that his work had any, “Intention to convey certain emotion or mood.” The ideas come to Cole, and he develops them at the best of his ability, “If you have a certain reaction to it, then that’s great. If you don’t care about it, I guess that’s fine, also,” Cole shares with us.

When playing, Cole never thought about a piece, for instance, “This is a sad song. I want the
listener to feel sad when listening to it.”
It’s not up to Cole to decide what emotion the listener feels, the listener only needs to feel what there is to feel as it pertains to them

When thinking about something, “Extra-musical, something that occurs after the music has been made, is almost entirely pointless,” Cole tells us, adding that thinking about what the listener will think is thinking about something that happens after the music has been created. Cole further shared with us the analogy of how an athlete, “Does not think of what happens after a game. They’re not thinking about it. They’re not gonna think, ‘how is the audience going to receive my performance when this game is over?'” But actually, “Thinking, ‘How can we win this game? How can we have the best possible outcome?’” As Cole finishes sharing the latter, he says, “The best musicians are often in that mindset, thinking, ‘How can we just produce the best music possible?’ Rather than 2000 Spotify listeners.”

Concerning recordings, Cole shares with us his view on what it feels like to record, “When you’re making an album, it’s almost like you’re looking at it under a microscope. Your attention to detail increases so much, because, for whatever reason, everything has to be perfect.” Something, as Cole says, “You don’t think that way about a live performance.”

When Cole listens to live recordings, although he would change something here and there, he’s always cool with it, but, “When making a record, if it’s not perfect, it’s like death.” Indeed, musicians become so critical about their work that they end up killing the artist in themselves. Cole’s album, Contrabass, is out. An album Cole spent more time editing than recording, so you should check it out!

All images courtesy of Cole Davis

Having never had any passion outside music, Cole has never felt the need to step away from it, as he shares with us, “I don’t have anything to go to that would, sort of, take me away from music.” Knowing people who do and seeing how it helps them, Cole confesses that he, “Should have more interests outside music.” And Cole has, indeed, for he finds some interest in running — although he, “Wouldn’t call it something I do to relax.” Speaking of which, running — and sports in general — come as something of great value, for being in shape, especially as a bass player, because the instrument demands great
endurance, and playing while standing up for hours, “Is really important,” Cole tells us. He further elaborated, “I do a lot of gigs that last three, four hours. Straight playing. And if you’re out of shape, it’s very hard to play through the whole gig.”

Does Cole believe in inspiration?

“No, I think inspiration is one of the most overrated things, not only in music but in anything,” Cole shares with us, adding, “If you have to feel inspired in order to do something, then you’re doing it wrong,” Cole tells us that we get inspiration from something, “Most of the time, I listen to Bach, for example, there’s always something that I can take from it that’s inspiring, but if you’re feeding off inspiration in order to do your work, then you’re doing it wrong.”

When it comes to talent, on the other hand, Cole believes, “It’s an existing thing,” but to the extent that it
enables someone to play an instrument, or affects one’s music, “Is not really important, because at the end of the day, what we’re doing is physical,” Cole shares with us, adding that, “If you’re the most talented person in the world, you still have to master your instrument, you still have to get to a virtuosity level on your instrument, and talent doesn’t really affect that.” As Cole continues on this train of thought, he states, “Someone who isn’t talented will have equal access to being great at an instrument as someone who is.”

Cole, too, is an educator in music. Many a musician had never taken a guitar lesson — or so they say –because they wouldn’t want to, “Lose their natural musicality,” and become a machine.

What does Cole have to say about this?

If someone told him something of the sort, “I would encourage them to find an educator who makes them realize that that’s not the case, to find a teacher that doesn’t make them into a machine.” As an educator, Cole understands why someone would think that way because Cole can see, “The structure within music education could turn someone into a machine — and it often does — But there are some good educators out there.”

All images courtesy of Cole Davis

When it comes to composition, Cole tells us that he does not believe that composition has to occur in a certain environment, “I think that the best compositions come out as ideas, whether it is a lyric idea, a bass line, a drum part, or some other thing, it always comes about in spontaneous sort of way.” As a composer and a creator, “It’s your responsibility to go to the piano or the guitar, or whatever your instrument is, and flush it out.” Composition, then, has no, “Environments in which it’s most fruitful.”

These ideas, though, make Cole think about how they are organized. To this Cole quips, “It’s your responsibility to take these ideas that come to you, and make songs out of them because if you don’t do it, you’re wasting a really good idea.” Cole amuses himself in putting together the pieces of the puzzle, “And if these ideas occur to you, there’s a reason why. Like if you’re in the grocery store, and you have a great idea for a tune, there’s probably a reason why that idea occurred to you. It’s because that tune should be written. You should go whole in writing that tune.” In Cole’s words, “It doesn’t mean that it’ll be a hit and make you millions of dollars, but it could be a great tune. Why waste a great tune?”

What about back in the day, when there were no smartphones?

Cole believes musicians would carry a piece of manuscript, to avoid losing a great idea for a tune. A sheet of paper, “The precursor to the voice memo,” as Cole puts it. Nowadays, it feels almost unbelievable to picture a scene in which someone is hanging around with friends, realizing they had forgotten their notebook, and all of a sudden, an idea occurs to that someone, and they go, “Please, hold your thought! I’m just going home for a minute, and I’ll be right back — be right back, meaning, be back in half an hour — just have to write down this idea.”

Here’s another tip for our dear readers: keep on adding ideas to your digital inventory, and start working on your repertoire.

Is Cole’s life all about that bass?

Indeed, it is. As one of his top priorities in life, he shared with us that being able to support himself and, “To have sustainable income that leads to life in music. To make all my money and all of my resources from music.” Having had day jobs in the past, such as working as a security guard, for instance, to be able to support his passion, he seeks a career and a life for himself off the music. Fortunately for Cole, at the moment, music is Cole’s only occupation. Dreaming of a job one loves and being able to work it full-time — Cole lives the dream — not entirely, but he’s getting there.

As a musician, Cole Davis comes also as an inspiration to those who see their lives as out of the standard, maybe being criticized about their way of life, Cole just graduated from college, is in his mid-twenties, and he had accomplished more than just a few first steps of what he wants for his future. There’s nothing wrong with living your life in a different way from what’s expected. People should not live for a system but instead, live for themselves.

For Cole, it’s unthinkable to give up on music, even if there was a job offer for the best conditions one could think of. If someone would want to trade music for such an offer, that person wouldn’t have even become a musician, to begin with; and having started a freelancing project in music says it all.

To this end, Cole leaves us by saying, “It’s possible, no matter when you start, or what happens to you at the beginning of your life, or the beginning of your career. No matter what, it is possible — it’s a generic statement, but amazing. And this is important. A lot of the musicians that I went into the Manhattan Music School with are no longer doing something in music, and that was two years ago. A lot of musicians quit because they feel like it hasn’t happened to them yet, it never will. So, they might as well just stop, now. It’s amazing because it sounds like the most negative, and most defeatist way of thinking, but most musicians end up thinking that way, and it’s not true.”

All images courtesy of Cole Davis

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