Jazz, as a genre, creates songs that are not only free form improvisational sessions, but they also employ the simplest ways of improvising some of the most advanced techniques. The bassist plays the role akin to the backbone in humans, for the band. Not only is the bassist a ‘rhythm keeper’, he also keeps the song in progression. The role of a bassist is very much like that of the electric guitarist in any other genre. While this also means that you are a bit more restricted than, say, the drummer or the guitarist and can’t improvise as much.
One of the ‘backbone’ of the jazz space in India is the legendary Karl Peters. He is still widely hailed as the number one bassist in India. His mastery on the bass guitar, his wizardry in Jazz harmony and melodies and rhythmic influences and his understanding of R+B, Funk, Blues, Jazz Fusion Styles, makes him an essential part of any musical outfit he works with.
The Peters family consisted of a bunch of musicians. Karl’s father played country music on his guitar while his cousins would play the then contemporary music of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and also jazz.
“I started playing the guitar after being inspired by my cousins. I would perform a few Beatles, Rolling Stones songs but I could never identify it as blues. It came later on when a friend educated me that it has 12 bars in it and not 16 like other music genres,” recalled Karl.
This led him to the jazz greats such as B.B King, Eric Clapton, C.R.E.A.M and the rest. It was the collective of Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton called ‘The Yardbirds’ that captivated the young Karl’s mind.
“I would first assimilate then imitate and finally when I started sounding like the bands, I began to innovate,” said Karl.
“Jazz basically comes from the Blues, intense harmony, simple techniques and a combination of all these. If you want to be a jazz musician you better have your chops together,” quipped Karl.
This element of jazz is something that lured him towards the genre.
Karl began his music career by performing in clubs across the country. It was until Louis Banks called him for an audition to Mumbai, he never thought he would be a part of the greatest jazz ensemble that the country has produced to date. An ensemble of Louis Banks, Ranjit Barot, Shankar Mahadevan, Sivamani, Sridhar Parthsarthy and himself called SILK. The bands names anagrams to Shankar + Sivamani + Sridhar, Louis, Karl.
“Ranjit and I were auditioning together, we started in the afternoon and Louis didn’t let us stop till the evening. End of the day Louis told me that I was ‘on’. That was the happiest moment in my life,” recollected Karl fondly.
At the time Karl started out, the musical instruments were very minimal. With time the keyboard sounds developed more range and the bass guitar started sounding thinner than it should. This led the innovator in Karl to introduce the fifth string to his guitar to increase the depth in the bass. He is one of the few in the world who play the five string bass guitar that normally has four strings. This aided him during the studio sessions which he played at to keep the money churning. Although the inflow of cash was a necessity, Karl never thought about making it a full time job. He would skip the studio sessions but would never compromise with his rehearsals for his live shows.
The bassists were at a time the forgotten one in the band. It was in the 1970s that bassists like Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, among a few others, brought the four stringed guitar in the limelight. These fabulous guitarists could match any of the world’s lead/rhythm players. Jaco is Karl’s idol. He still aspires to match the legend someday. Just like him, Karl is not the one who has stage antics. He would be holding up the line standing quietly aside.
“A good bass player would know that he is not the star in the band. He is backing up the star of the band. I enjoyed playing this role,” added Karl.
A bass player has to be focused on his art. He should know every note on the fret board.
“Not only the notes but a good bass player should know the rhythm, melody and should be able to match the notes of the vocalists. He should know the nuances of the drums. A complete bassist is the one who can accomplish all this,” opined Karl.