20 questions for Calgary bassist John Hyde
by Karin Plato

September 2005

I didn't know who John Hyde was until I met him this past summer at a jazz camp. I found him to be a humble and thoughtful man, quietly staying in the background, ever the observer of a situation, not one to steal the limelight as it were. He is a beautiful bass player whose style is introspective and soulful. I loved his sound and the wonderful melodic lines he created.

John is artistic director of Jazz Studies at Mount Royal College in Calgary. He has performed with Rosemary Clooney, David Wilkie, Karl Roth, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Christian Escoudier, and the Calgary Philharmonic, and more. Here are some questions I asked him recently:

John, I know that you reside in Calgary, Alberta. Is that where you grew up?

I was born in Edmonton. Our family then lived in Toronto for 5 years where I had some classes in the Orff method. I spent the next 15 years back in Edmonton when music education was scarce in the early years but picked up with Grant MacEwan college and the creation of a full time orchestra. I spent three years in Montreal at McGill university, two more in Edmonton and have been in Calgary ever since.

How old were you when you decided to learn to play the bass?

I was 13 when I played the electric bass after failing to get in my local garage band as a guitar player, and 15 when I started playing the double bass.

What was it about the acoustic bass that attracted you to the instrument?

I was attracted to the singing qualities of the double bass. I was playing a lot of electric bass and found the acoustic nature of the double bass really intriguing.

Are there any other instruments that you do play?

Not well at all. I like to explore any instrument but I have no proficiency on any of them. The computer is my best second instrument.

Besides jazz what other kinds of music do you enjoy listening to and playing?

I like almost all naturally produced music, if it is played really well by actual human beings.

6. Describe some of your early music education. Did you have private teachers or are you a self-taught musician?

I have had teachers through all the early stages of my life. When I was a young child in Toronto I was in an Orff method class. When I started electric bass I studied with several teachers. John Toulsen (now in Vancouver) was my main influence in my early years of playing. I went study classical bass to Peter Marck, now principle bass in the Jerusalem Philharmonic. I was lucky enough to get a lesson with Dave Holland when I was 18, which really influenced my concept of sound and bass playing in general.
I went to Montreal to study classical double bass at McGill but spent a lot of time playing jazz in those three years. I was lucky enough to be exposed to many genres of music, jazz, classical, new music, early music, opera. I think I was able to work in every imaginable area in that time.

7. Who would be some of your main musical influences, whether they be bassists or other instrumentalists?

Louis Armstrong for the strong connection he brings to the roots of jazz. Duke Ellington for his incredible grace and ability to sell really innovative music to the public. Bela Bartok for his contribution to the harmonic language. Jimmy Blanton, Ray Brown , Ron Carter and Scot LaFaro for expanding limits of bassists. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Gil Evans, , Bob Brookmeyer, Muhal Richard Abrams and Maria Schneider for pushing the boundaries of the art form.

8. Do you remember the first jazz recording that you ever purchased?

Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. I had taken many recordings from the public library before that and my father had a good collection. I wanted to buy something which was new which I hadn't heard before and wasn't likely to be able to hear on the radio or borrow at the library. I had a subscription to "Downbeat" and the review created a lot of curiosity for me.

9. Could you name some of your favorite jazz recordings?

Jimmy Blanton with Duke Ellington because it is one of the first collections of recordings to feature a bassist performing melody.

Peterson's We Get Requests because Ray Brown's bass is so well recorded that you can even hear him set his bow down.
Dave Holland Conference of the Birds because for it's evocative sounds.

Miles Davis' Seven Steps to Heaven because (for me) it introduced mixed meter improvisation into jazz in a really masterful way.

Charlie Mingus Mingus AH UM because it is such great writing and swings so hard.

Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage for the new harmonic ideas it introduced at the time.

Drew Gress' 7 Black Butterflies, Ronan Guilfoyle's Lingua Franca exit as really great cutting edge jazz albums.

10. What is the most positive thing about being a jazz musician living in Calgary?

There are lots of opportunities to engage in many different projects with a very wide scope. We have a very enthusiastic community who is willing to come out for our various projects.

11. Is it detrimental at all for your career to be living in a small prairie city or is that a choice you made long ago? Had you ever thought about going the "New York" route?

A career is what you make of it. I really enjoy the chance to do a wide variety of things and to avoid being typecast into one role.

12. When did you know you wanted to become a professional musician?

I was fifteen years old. I knew I was getting into it very late and had a lot of work to do. At the same time there were a lot of live music gigs in the area and a shortage of musicians. I was very lucky to be at that place at that time.

13. Did you grow up listening to jazz? If not, when did you discover the music?

There was jazz in my house all throughout my childhood. My father had a large collection and it was a passion for him. When he was a teenager he would go to listen to Woody Herman, Art Tatum and many others. My Grandmother would take him and insist on him shaking hands with them.

14. Is teaching music something that you enjoy doing?

Yes, I really enjoy teaching people who are really engaged in learning about the bass. I feel you get back more than you put into it, it is extremely rewarding.

15. Who might you select for your "dream band" if you were able to choose anyone you want to and why might those people be your choices?

I've been able to play with people I never dreamed I could have. So I'll limit my answer to players who I can't possibly play with: Elvin Jones was an amazingly energetic drummer who would keep you engaged at all times. Bill Evans for his amazing ability with harmony and interplay. Miles Davis for his ability to get performances out of players which were astounding. Betty Carter for her depth of emotion and tempo control, as well as for her incredible compassion and education of young musicians. Gil Evans for his amazing writing. John Coltrane for his incredible intensity. Cannonball Adderly, JJ Johnson, Joe Pass just because of the mastery they had with their horns. I'll bet this band would not work well unless Betty Carter was leading them. So maybe I'd just have liked to play duets with them all.

16. Do you lead your own group at this time in Calgary?

I'm part of many creative collectives, as of yet I do not lead any groups.

17. Are there some groups that you are able to play with on a regular basis?

I am playing and writing a lot with the guitarist Ralf Buschmeyer and with drummer Andy Ericson in a trio we call "Manic Thematic". I also play and write with a quartet, which goes by the name "Verismo". We are the first Calgary band to ever be recorded by CBC's "Jazzbeat". I also write and play with a jazz/bluegrass fusion band.

18. What would be some advice that you would give to budding jazz musicians relating to education and other decisions that need to be made?

Keep open to all possibilities and to as many options as you can at all times.

19. What makes you happy about having chosen music as your career?

I don't think I had a choice. I am happy when I am busy playing and teaching.

20. Any current projects/recordings that you are working on at this time that you can tell me about?

The Manic Trio will have a new release named Say Yes. We'll be releasing it in October (2005) with a tour to Brooks, Fort McLeod, Whitehorse and Calgary.

Karin Plato web site

John Hyde web site