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Kansas City, Get Ready To Be The Center Of The Bass-Playing Universe

Courtesy of KC Bass Workshop
KC Bass Workshop participants learn classical, jazz, rock, funk and bluegrass.

That low, rhythmic pulse you’ll hear in the next few days? That's Kansas City enjoying its time as center of the bass-playing universe.

KC BassFest started with a concert at the Blue Room on Thursday evening and closes with a finale on Tuesday, when a 60-piece bass orchestra performs what might be the most diverse concert played entirely on one instrument: The program includes Mahler’s “Symphony No. 1, Movement 3,” AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” local bassist Johnny Hamil’s Afro-Cuban “Bunny Wax,” and two numbers by the internationally famous François Rabbath, 84, who has traveled to Kansas City from France.

“François Rabbath is the best in the world,” said Hamil, the event’s organizer who plays bass for Mr. Marco’s V7. “He’s played with all the great musicians of our time: Quincy Jones, Edith Piaf, Ornette Coleman – he was also friends with Pablo Picasso.”

Now Rabbath is apparently friends with Kansas City’s bass-playing community, as well.

“He came three years ago,” Hamil said, “and I showed him my local musician friends, I brought him to the bass workshop and his jaw was on the ground — he didn’t expect to come to a cow town in the middle of the country to have this great depth of artistic statement. It's just a reminder of how artistic people can be and how deeply we’ve thought about these notes.”

Credit Courtesy of KC Bass Workshop
A participant in a previous year's KC Bass Workshop.

Most of the daytime workshops and evening concerts take place at Shawnee Mission North High School. And watching Rabbath play with Kansas City's young music students, Hamil said, “is really magical.”

Hamil started putting on the week of workshops and concerts six years ago, after meeting an innovative bass player named George Vance at a Washington, D.C., convention of the International Society of Bassists. Vance, known for his innovative approach to teaching young children how to play the large instrument.

“He took 5-year-olds and taught them the upright bass,” Hamil says. “Minutes after I met him, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I started my own young bass studio, which is highly successful.”

Vance died of cancer in 2009, inspiring Hamil to model the KC Bass Workshop after Vance's program.

“There’s the educational part, where people sign up to work with all the artists and learn how to play music over the course of five days. People mingle between classical, jazz, rock, funk, all the bluegrass guys come — name a style of music that the bass isn’t in. Everybody comes and plays and does their thing. Every evening there’s a concert. We’re showing off the bass.”

Besides the climactic 60-bass finale on Tuesday, the night light for Hamil is Sunday night at the RecordBar, when Hamil hosts an all-star lineup of Kansas City musicians to celebrate the release of his GAV7D project.

“There are 26 different local singers on the record. The majority of them are going to come in and sing,” he said.

“I see God in everyone,” Hamil said, explaining the project’s name, as well as his overall modus operandi.

“Everyone has a special quality, and every instrumentalist in V7 has a unique thing they do, and I’ve always composed around those people. I wrote a bunch of songs with lyrics incorporating what the Kansas City music scene has been doing since I started playing music in 1985. Getting all those singers in the recording studio took kind of an act of God. But they’re all my friends and knew exactly what I was doing.”

More information about the KC Bass Workshop and KC BassFest, as well as schedule and ticket information, is here.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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