Jodi Proznick
interview by Cory Weeds

Since returning to Vancouver in 1999, after studies at McGill University's jazz program, Jodi Proznick has become one of our most in-demand bassists, has performed with many visiting musicians like Charles McPherson, Fathead Newman, Ed Thigpen, Jane Fair and others as well as with many of our finest resident players. She also leads her own group, the Jodi Proznick Quartet.

Cory Weeds is owner of the Cellar Restaurant and Jazz Club, plays alto sax in several bands, and is a sometimes jazz journalist.

Cory Weeds: The Proznick family is like the Marsalis family - you just keep popping up: your brother's a great drummer, your sister is a trombonist and educator, you're a great bass player and your dad, who recently retired, is a great trumpet player and an award winning music educator. Talk about growing up with a music educator in your family.

Jodi Proznick: I wouldn't go that far ... ie. the Marsalis family ... but music was and is a very important part of our life as a family. We always had musicians around, always had music on in the car, house, always had instruments nearby. I think that so much had to do with our parents singing and dancing with us as young children. Not just my dad but my mom, too!

CW: Did your dad push you towards jazz or did you come to it more on your own?

JP: There was never a push. My parents are all about giving us the choice.

CW: So what, or who, did it? What made you like this crazy music we call jazz?

JP: There were the jam session parties that my parents took us to as kids. Then when I was 13 I went to the Lionel Hampton High School jazz festival and heard the Ray Brown trio with Gene Harris and Jeff Hamilton. I wanted to make people feel as good as that trio made me feel. I started jamming with friends and listening to more jazz like Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughn etc., and going out to hear local guys on occasion. Guys like Olly (Gannon), Torben (Oxbol), Ron Johnston, Skywalk, Linton Garner.

CW: What made you want to play bass and did you start with electric or upright?

JP: I started on electric. I had years of piano so I could read music. I had a year of oboe but it was way to hard. Fiber cane reed, bad instrument, I could hardly make a sound. Bass was much easier and my dad couldn't play it.

CW: Well its not like it's easy to make a good sound on the bass, electric or upright.

JP: You can make an immediate sound on the bass. Oboe was soooo hard.

CW: When did you switch to upright.

JP: I was around 16, end of grade 10

CW: Your dad must have been so excited!! School bands are always lacking bass players, period, let alone upright bass players.

JP: Well...I wanted to go on band trips and play in an older band so he needed bass players and I thought that bass was a really cool, non-girly instrument. Upright was good! My dad loved anything that played good time!

CW: Well, thankfully for all of us you didn't stick to the oboe and played the bass because you're such a wonderful player.

JP: Thanks Cory...

CW: Lets talk briefly about your time in Montreal where you attended McGill and where your career as a professional musician started. How was it breaking into the scene there? Did it happen while you were going to school or after you finished?

JP: I never have ever really worried about breaking into the scene. I studied music because I love to play it and I couldn't imagine giving it up. The gigs started to come during my last year or two of school. I think that they started happening as I started having more fun with the bass.

CW: At what point did you realize that all of sudden you were a professional and were actually becoming a really good musician?

JP: I think I felt professional when I invested a lot of money on a good instrument. That was a huge commitment and it meant that I was serious.

CW: You referred earlier to "having fun with the bass." You really do have fun with the bass and it's a big instrument and you seem to make it seem so small. You're not exactly the biggest person in the world - how do you negotiate the size of that thing?

JP: I don't look in the mirror and think small and I don't watch myself often so it really doesn't feel big to me. Upright bass is a whole body experience.

CW: I think people have a preconceived idea of what an upright bass player would look like. You don't exact fit that look. However, when you play you don't look at all out of place. When I see you pick the bass up its like "of course she's a bass player".

JP: It's a misconception that you need to be big to play it. You just need the instrument that is the right size for your body type. My bass is a little big for me but I have ways to make it work.

CW: Now I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask this question.....women in jazz.....it's now becoming a much more common thing, thankfully, but have you ever in your time felt like you weren't taken seriously because of your sex?

JP: No, if anything I'm taken more seriously. People think that I have had to "battle" to get respect which isn't the case. Musicians want to play with good musicians. If you can play it doesn't matter. I don't care about anything other than musicianship and having a great attitude about music and life. Most musicians I know, male or female, feel the same way.

CW: You are originally from here then went to Montreal and then moved back. I already kind of asked you about 'breaking in,' in Montreal so I'm sorry to harp on this but, even though you had some roots here, was it hard to work your way into this scene when you moved back?

JP: Maybe things in the past were not as welcoming but I wouldn't know about that. Everyone in Vancouver was so welcoming. It was absolutely incredible. It was a great move. Vancouver musicians are a special group of people. We really are all in this together!!

CW: You bring such a wonderful vibe to the stage, you're very encouraging and positive and the joy you have for playing music is so refreshing. It really comes across on stage. Perhaps you learned some of that from good ol' Ray Brown. Would you say he is one of your biggest influences?

JP: Initially. Sure...but later I really got into Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Scott Lafaro etc. Ray's playing is full of joy. Life can be very joyful. I try to make people happy through the quarter note. I try to make them feel something because that's what music is all about - communication.

CW: You do Jodi. You make me happy as hell when you start swinging, girl. I want to mention a few names of people that you have played with and get you to comment on the experience.

JP: Oh boy ... like?

CW: Ed Thigpen

JP: That was a dream come true and I got to share that experience with my wonderful musical and life partner Tilden [Webb] and one of the great Canadian Jazz musicians, Olly Gannon. Ed was an absolute gentleman, an incredible listener...that was the thing that hit me the most...he was REALLY listening to us and at the end he made a comment to Tilden and I about how we started to sound like a band. It is interesting how Tilden, Olly, Ed and myself have made careers first and foremost as sidemen. We all want the other people in the band to sound as good as they possibly can. It really is a team game, eh?

CW: Absolutely. What about Charles McPherson?

JP: Charles is so much fun....the intensity and enthusiasm that he brings to the stage is amazing. He really can play the sax and has been so encouraging and supportive. I'll never forget you and Charles Mac trading on a blues!! Fantastic!

CW: He loves you. Comments every time about how great you are.

JP: I love all the stories he loves to tell about all the great jazz legends he has played with too! Killer band...I'm so lucky! (Ross Taggart - piano, Brad Turner - trumpet, Dave Robins - drums)

CW: His stories are hilarious. You're not lucky Jodi, you deserve it.

JP: Well Cory, every gig is a privilege.

CW: Must have been kind of weird seeing as it was Mingus where Charles got his name. Has that ever crept into your head when you've played with him?

JP: Before the gig for sure, but on the bandstand we are just four people making music together. The music is the moment. You can't let yourself get distracted. You have to focus on the music.
I'm not Mingus, there is only one Mingus. You have to just play the way you play in the moment and not worry about sounding a certain way. If you play with commitment, integrity and a reverence for the tradition your own voice will come through and it will be honest.

CW: Fathead Newman.

JP: (very quickly) Love him! SWING! That gig felt sooo good. I shared the stage with Tilden and Jesse [Cahill] ... we have been playing together for years so David was playing with a ready made piano trio which I think made him happy. Tilden, Jesse and I have a lot of fun playing together. He pulled out some great tunes. Not too difficult, so we could just relax and play. He really was an inspiration. Such a quiet man and then he put the sax to his mouth! Man oh man...what a sound. He owns the blues!

CW: Congrats on your Galaxie Rising Star Award Nomination, although I was a little perplexed at your inclusion. If we're speaking of the Vancouver jazz scene I don't think you're 'rising" at all - I think you are a star.

JP: (Laughter) I was shocked and surprised....

CW: Seriously though, it seemed kind of funny, I mean I suppose its always nice to be recognized but with all due respect to some of the other nominees your name didn't really belong there given all your accomplishments.

JP: I don't really know anything about the award and what it's about. Maybe it's because I've just started doing my own thing? Leading my own band....thanks to you.

CW: I just have the space Jodi, the musicians start it all up I just provide the room. Your own quartet is fabulous. You won't listen to me and record an album but we'll talk about that later. Mike Rud on guitar, Tilden Webb on piano and Jesse Cahill or Dave Robbins on drums. You guys really smoke! The trio of you, Tilden and Jesse really play well together. Dave, as well, but you can tell that with Jesse there is a lot of history.

JP: Oh Cory...you are way too kind. You can't fake a long musical and personal relationship. That's what made the great bands in history sound so good. Lots of playing and lots of hanging.

CW: I hear a lot of music but I have to honestly say that the last gig with your quartet that I recorded was one of my favorites. You guys were really burning, and the Thigpen gig....forget about it. There isn't anything that has swung more than that night.

JP: Thanks Cory!

CW: Well Jodi, I hope you have a great festival and we will look forward to hearing you at the Cellar June 27th and 28th with Charles McPherson, June 30th with your own quartet, and July 3rd and 4th with Fathead Newman.

JP: Thanks again Cory !

Photo of Jodi Proznick by Brian Nation