Charnett Moffett: Improvisational Artistry
"Music is like oxygen, in a lot of ways. It provides life. It's a life force. I think the world would be a pretty dim place without the sound of music," he says. "I don't have any one particular format how composition happens. There have been times where I know there is a record date coming up and I have to prepare for an album. But even within that, you kind of let it happen and not have anything be contrived, so that when you're playing a concert or people are buying your music and hearing it, they know that they're feeling with you or, at that moment in space and time, are as close as possible to the original creation of the idea."
Charnett Moffett and Eric McPherson
Composition has always been important to Moffett as a way to express himself beyond the notes that come flying out of his bass. "On the albums I have recorded up until now, I've always composed all of the music. I'm starting to feel more comfortable expressing my musical vision and sharing it with the different communities of the music world. I'm pleased to do that. It's nice to be a bassist, but interesting being a composer and settling into another aspect of my career at this point," he says.
"In the music business, you have to make yourself as diverse as possible in order to keep your artistry going," he notes, so he continues to do work as a sideman with people like guitarist Jordan, and another guitarist Jana Herzen. "I'm modifying my sideman work, with the exception of people I want to work with, that I find musically interesting. If you look at my resume, there are so many great artists that I've already had the honor to work with and learn from. I have to start saving a little time for myself so I can share some of my own compositional ideas with today's music world. ... I'm enjoying it. It's always great to play with many different people in different settings, and continuing to enjoy the great gift of music."
With music all around his family, Moffett seems to have had little choice, but he's grateful for his life and music and has happily passed the gift on to his own children. He said growing up in the family band "had its pros and cons, like everything in life. But the positives certainly outweigh the negative. When I look back now, I realize I've actually been on the road 26 years straight. That's all I've been doing is learning music and performing it. But it's my music that I'm sharing or someone else's vision that I'm helping to build, or being a part of," he notes. "It's been a great run. I'm thankful to still be in the music business after so long and to look at it with a new understanding, a new vision, a rejuvenation. We got through ups and downs in life, and there's always another door that opens to allow you a light to transcend where you've been. That's part of life as a whole. ... As a parent, I've been able to communicate that to my own family. It's great, it really is. It's part of the life chain of having food or oxygen, the way that we feed our soul in order to keep going."
He took up the bass because the family band needed a bassist. "When I started in the Moffett Family Band I was playing trumpet. ... We had had another bassist at that time by the name of Patrick McCarthy, who was actually the principal bassist with the Oakland Symphony, who gave me some training as a youngster of seven or eight. Eight years later, I'm at Juilliard School of Music studying with Homer Mensch, and about six months after that, I'm on the road with Wynton Marsalis and I haven't looked back since. I've been on the road full-time since that period."
Like most budding musicians, he was influenced by many of the great players. He cites Stanley Clarke, Ron Carter and Pastorius as his primary influences, but adds "I'm into so many different bass players for different reasons. Ray Brown, Percy Heath, Larry Graham, James Jamerson who played on all those classic records for Motown. Paul Chambers, Scott LaFaro. They're all incredible players. It's not just one guy."
As for other influences, his father, an educator as well as a drummer, is key to his development. "I would say learning to play music from a philosophy my old man taught uswhich is freedom with discipline concept: the freedom to create the idea that you want, the discipline to have the technique to execute the ideathat's a nice way to learn how to play because it was based on having no limitations. Philosophically speaking, that's how I got interested in so many different kinds of music. [At home] one minute Bach would be playing, and the next minute Earth, Wind & Fire, and the next minute John Phillip Sousa would be playing in the house, because my dad was a music educator. The style of music never stayed in one arena."