Q&A with Ben Waples – 2008 NJA Finalists

Ben Waples of New South Wales

When did you start playing bass and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?

I started playing bass due to my very enthusiastic and generous parents and good old fashioned guilt- My Dad being a music teacher brought home a bass for me from school and I must of liked it- a few weeks later he bought me a new a bass guitar. The guitar lived in the hallway in its box and every time I walked past it I saw its price and felt guilty that I was not playing it and that I was wasting my parents’ money. It was then that I started to get serious about playing the bass.

My reasons for playing double bass were even more pathetic! I’m sure this reason is very similar to many other bassists but I was told to come to orchestra rehearsal by the head of music when I started high school and upon arrival had a bass shoved in my face and was told to work out how to play it! In hindsight I was extremely lucky to be thrown in the deep end and I didn’t receive any lessons until very late high school.

My “moment” or “calling” really came when I started high school. Joining all the school ensembles and forming bands was pretty fun and I soon realised that I wanted to play music all the time. My family are all musicians going back to my grandfather and both parents are music teachers so I guess it was always going to happen.

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?

There are so many musicians that have influenced me in many different levels. Watching my dad do gigs when I was very young was pretty inspiring as well as the musicians I did my first gigs with- one musician in particular taught me the invaluable lesson of using your ears and “lugging” tunes- one of my first jazz gigs started with the bandleader informing me that we would be “flying blind” and not using any music at all.

The first jazz bassist I saw was on a Jazz at the Basement TV special. I found out that the bassist was Rufus Reid and for years as a high school student I tried to replicate his sound. I really hope to study from him when I go to NY (hopefully very soon!).

Jaco was definitely and influence although I was really into Paul Jackson. Later on I discovered Steve Swallow and that has really changed things for me.

As far as double bass is concerned I was immediately taken by Eddie Gomez. When I moved to Sydney and started at the Con I really started to check out jazz. Honestly at the time I didn’t really care much for the double bass but upon hearing Eddie Gomez with Bill Evans I was sold. I appreciated his feel, melodic approach, chops and in some periods his sound. Of course I was blown away by Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Ron Carter but Eddie’s playing got me in a different way until…

I borrowed a CD with Charlie Haden. I told Craig Scott who was my teacher at the time “who is this Charlie Haden guy? He plays out of time and tune and basically he sucks! “Craig smiled and didn’t say much. One year later I was raving to Craig about Charlie Haden. His sound and approach is so unique and I have to try and resist every temptation to try and sound like him!!

As far as Australian musicians are concerned I have been really lucky to play with so many great musicians. Spending time learning from them or playing in there bands have been invaluable and has really been my school.

Most of all I think my teacher Craig Scott has been a massive source of inspiration. I had one lesson from Craig before my Con audition in 1999 and I learnt more in that hour than I had ever imagined. Craig is really a fantastic player as well as a teacher and I learnt so much from him and continue to find him a source of information and inspiration.

When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration? For example, do you ever find that other art forms (painting, writing etc.) feed into your own creative process?

I can’t really arrange and I compose very sporadically. Over the years tunes have just written themselves but for the last few years I have been composing by basically recording improvisations or “concept” pieces. Being in Triosk taught me so much about the thin line between improvisation and composition and for me it is my favourite way to compose.

I get very inspired by the fact that I can record music whenever I want- I have Pro Tools on my laptop, lots of effects, basses, a Rhodes and recently I got a Moog synthesiser. Just even looking at my little “studio” gets me very inspired and there are periods where I will record for hours every night. I tend to get inspired by movie soundtracks mainly and will go through phases of writing styles.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

My favourite place to play is to an appreciative audience.

My favourite place to practice is in front of the cricket with the volume muted.

What does the Wangaratta festival of jazz represent for you?

A great hang, loads of great music and country town coffee (unless I bring my own machine!)

What are you listening to now?

Brian Eno, John Hassell, Vangelis and whatever is on the pile of vinyl that has taken over my coffee table.

In the car the Elvin Jones album “Elvin is on the Mountain” seems to have a permanent residency.

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These annual Q&As with National Jazz Awards finalists are coordinated by Miriam Zolin