Summit Notes: Brandon Robertson
"Stay safe, keep shedding, and remember, we may be practicing 'social-distancing', but the music keeps us 'socially-close' together!"
We caught up with Brandon Robertson, EMMY® Award Nominee, Bassist, Composer and Music Educator at Brubeck Jazz Summit and Director of Jazz Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Tell us about your music education background and how it evolved.
Brandon Robertson: My mother was a gospel singer growing up and I was always surrounded by music. When I was in 5th grade, my mother enrolled me in a creative arts after school program in my neighborhood and I learned how to draw, took singing lessons, and then eventually joined a music club to learn the piano.
My music teacher began to introduce us to several different instruments and one of them just so happened to be the upright bass. At the time, I was the tallest student in the group so my music teacher put me on bass. Within two weeks I could already play 5 scales! My teacher then asked if I wanted to audition for the All-County Orchestra, and so I did, and I ended up getting first chair! I knew then I wanted to become a bass player and I’ve been playing ever since 🙂
Brubeck Jazz Summit: What was your introduction to jazz bass?
Brandon Robertson: I begin playing jazz bass during my freshman year in high school when I was asked to join the school’s jazz band by the band teacher. He knew I was coming in on bass to play with the orchestra, and he figured I should try jazz. Up until that point, I had only studied classical so I had NO jazz training from the beginning.
My band teacher, the first day of class, walks over and hands me a burned CD with the title “Miles Davis: Kind of Blue”. He asked me to listen to this entire album for two weeks and then pick a song I liked from the album and try and figure out the basslines.
I picked “SO WHAT” since it features the bass in the melody and the rest is history.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Ah! The joy and magic of a burned CD. What about your style as a music educator, where do you start?
Brandon Robertson: I teach by the level of the student. My initial first approach is to see how much of the bass do YOU know. For example, I would have you play a simple C major scale. I will asset your left-hand technique, HOW you are holding the bow or Pizzicato, your TONE, your SOUND, and how much fundamentals you are familiar with on the bass. All this can be done in 5 minutes. Once I assess those areas, I begin to show the things you can fix IMMEDIATELY and then spend more time on the areas of struggle. This method has worked for ALL my current bass students and usually I start to see results fairly quickly because I don’t cramp a bunch of methods to the student. I guide the student into feeling confident about what they can do already and improve those areas while introducing new techniques to challenge the student.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Where does this interview find you and what does a typical day look like for you now?
Brandon Robertson: Well, haha, I am currently working from home. I’ve been teaching remotely online now since March 16th. It is quite challenging to teach from home with two very small toddlers, so the typical day could be me teaching my classes while playing with my kids and trying to keep them from getting bored.
I have come up with a learning system with my kids to keep them engaged in things they were doing at school, but also still having to teach 7 classes online- it has been an interesting transition.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Do you have practice recommendations for Brubeck Jazz Summit students and practicing, at-home musicians now?
Brandon Robertson: Yes, PRACTICE FUNDAMENTALS. So for bass, practicing scales horizontal and vertical with a metronome. Playing open strings with the bow to work on TONE AND SOUND. One book I absolutely love working out of is the Rufus Reid book “The Evolving Bassist”. It’s my go-to book for all various styles of playing jazz bass. LISTEN to a bunch of records to get the “jazz sound” in your ear. Also the IREAL pro app is great for bassists to play along with to work on their walking bass lines, soloing, and working on melodies.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: What are you listening to and what is keeping you entertained at home?
Brandon Robertson: I’ve been watching a bunch of live concerts on Youtube….particularly concerts by Thelonious Monk, Christian McBride, Brad Mehldau, Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, and several others. Also, a lot of shows on Netflix since I now have the time to watch TV. [Laughs] I wasn’t doing much of that before all this happened due to gigging.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: In general, how do you like to experience jazz?
Brandon Robertson: For me, jazz is all about the personal experience you have on the bandstand with the music. The music can tell you a lot about what’s going to happen during that performance. The unexpected is what I REALLY enjoy. Not knowing how the music is going to start or end, especially performing with new musicians I’ve never played with before. I also enjoy watching new audiences really get into the performance of the artists. I always dig seeing people who never really was into jazz, now gain a much deeper appreciation for the music. Some of my favorite memories were touring overseas meeting other musicians who couldn’t speak my language, but we let the music do all the talking for us. That experience was surreal for me and taught me that music has no language restrictions, its all universally the same.
Brubeck Jazz Summit: Thank you, Brandon! How can students and jazz listeners stay in touch and listen to your music now?
Brandon Robertson: Check out my latest album “Bass’d on a True Story” available on all digital media platforms. (Brubeck Jazz Summit Note: Check out the Jazz Weekly Review of Brandon Robertson: B.O.A.T.S here.)
Brandon Roberston: Finally, Stay safe, keep shedding, and remember, we may be practicing “social-distancing”, but the music keeps us “socially-close” together!