Friday, June 01, 2007

R.I.P. Gerard Lock

We lost another member of the Portland jazz community last month. Gerard "Gerry" Lock, a very talented young bassist, was found dead in his apartment. This was totally unexpected and a shock to all who knew and made music with him.

Gerry played with a local group called the Groove Collective, and was a frequent performer at local jams. Last night, a number of his friends and colleagues raised a glass and played some music in his memory at the regular Thursday night jazz jam at Proper Eats in St. Johns. It was a very sweet evening. I got to sit in and play Gerry's 6-string bass for a few numbers, and I spent some time talking to Gerry's uncle, who had flown in.

I first heard Gerry at one of the jam sessions sponsored by Portland Jazz Jams at the Fireside Coffee Lodge a couple of years ago. I was impressed by his pocket playing and his soloing when he sat in. Many bassists fall back on clich├ęd licks and phrases when soloing, and I sometimes play a little game of humming their solos along with them. Not so with Gerry. His solos were always fresh and inventive. One of the imperatives for any jazz musician is to develop a distinctive personal "voice," and to my ears, Gerry was well on his way to achieving that.

Bassists are an interesting lot. Who chooses this instrument as the vessel for their creative urge? Certainly the upright bass is an unlikely choice for a youngster selecting an instrument -- it's big and unwieldy, with thick strings that will raise blisters on your hands should you try to coax more than a few notes out of it. There's no place to put it in the house where it's not an obstacle to navigation or -- for those with pets -- a magnet for urination. At least you can tuck a bass guitar into a closet.

While I'm not big on sports metaphors, I have heard it said that the bass player is like the third-baseman of jazz. Nobody pays a heck of a lot of attention to you -- unless you're not there. One advantage of playing the bass is that every band needs a bassist (I don't want any emails from B3 players, OK? I know you can do without us), but the disadvantage is that most bands don't need more than one. This means that we dig each other's work from a distance. At a jam session, we sit in one at a time. We never get the experience that horn players and guitarists get -- of jamming with someone else who plays your same instrument. When we tell non-musicians that we play the bass, often they have no clue what that means. Most of us have had the experience of playing a recording and explaining to our spouse or lover, "Now that part there -- doom, da-doom-doom, doom -- that's the bass. That's what I do." I think there is a kind of a bond, perhaps a brotherhood, that bassists feel for each other. We'll never be in a band together or even play music together, but we just kind understand.

We lost Gerry too early; he was in his 30s, I think. Like so many bassists, he left before the third set. I think of Scott LaFaro, Jimmie Blanton, Jaco, Mingus. Gerry joins them now, but he'll just have to wait for his turn to sit in.