Smooth JazzNotes

André Berry

 

A highly sought after bass player in the Smooth Jazz industry today, André Berry, is considered one of the very best! He comes prepared to every project, having memorized all of the songs before rehearsals even begin. Where some sidemen want to arrive at the gig with their sheet music, André commits all of the music to memory, welcomes rehearsals to fine tune his performance, so that at the show he is prepared, relaxed and ready to play with confidence, enthusiasm, and phenomenal stage presence. André has worked with many of the big names in Smooth Jazz; David Sanborn, David Benoit, Kirk Whalum, Chris Botti, Mindi Abair, Warren Hill, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Warren Hill, Peter White, Wayman Tisdale, Chuck Loeb, Marc Antoine, Jeff Kashiwa, Michael Lington, Everette Harp, Chris Standring, Chuck Loeb, Marilyn Scott, and Tom Scott, to name a few.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, André attended the Beachwood Recording School receiving top honors in his class in studio engineering and he also studied double bass for two years at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He moved to LA to pursue his dream, immediately enrolling in the Los Angeles City College Music program that fall. He stayed there four years taking all the available music classes, and playing in all the jazz bands under the direction of Doc Simpson & Woody James, until he landed his first real road gig with the "Busboys" of Eddie Murphy's "48hours" movie fame in 1989. From there he went on to join A&M records recording act "Total Eclipse" touring and featured as the opening act for “Mr. Big”. In 1995, André was hired to play in Rick Braun’s band and he found his calling, although he still gets down with his funk band “Deep Fried Funk Society”, and he is known to sit in with Randy Jacob’s “Boneshakers” on occasion.

André maintains his own website, which is filled with advice for young bass players; as well he maintains his MySpace page. André is known in the industry for being disciplined, prepared and relaxed, with a great attitude, and a big smile on his face.

SJN: When were you first introduced to music and how?

André: I was introduced to music when I was a very young kid, my parents started me in piano lessons when I was six or seven.  

SJN: When did you first discover the bass?

André: I went through a series of instruments, drums, guitar when I was 13, but I wasn’t real disciplined, I played on and off, then when I turned 16 I got a bass and became really, really serious. I started locking myself in my room and practicing eight hours a day and staying up all night and practicing, and I have been doing that ever since.  

SJN: Are you from a musical family? Siblings?

André: I am, on my Mother’s side. My Grandmother was a classical pianist and a church organist. Her sister was a singer. My Mother’s brother was a jazz trumpet player, her sister was a classical pianist, and my Mother just listened to music all of the time and sang in church, but nothing really serious. I got my musical genes from my Grandmother!

SJN: Do you have siblings and are they musical?

André: I do, two brothers and a sister. They could have been, my brother was very musical, he played the clarinet all through school, but my parents were really strict with him and made him take the college route. They wanted him to do the right thing and not sit around and play an instrument. My sister isn’t musically inclined, but my younger brother is and he played the bass also, but he gave it up and went to college. Now he is working at Kraft Foods. He’s a big time engineer there. So, they had it in them, but they chose the intelligent college route. Now they both make great money, while I hustle and piece it all together.

SJN: We understand that you studied double bass at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Would you please explain what a double bass is?

André: The double bass is just an upright bass. It is called a double bass because it is actually an octave lower than the electric bass, so it is an even deeper sound then you would hear on the electric bass. That’s why they call it the double bass, it is basically just the upright bass you see played in classical music and traditional jazz.

SJN: You attended the Beachwood Recording School earning a degree in studio engineering. Do you ever work as a studio engineer?  

André: I have and I still do. I engineered Warren Hill’s last PopJazz record. I engineered Rayford Griffins’ ‘Rebirth of the Cool’. I do countless demos for people in different studios. So, I still do that on the side.

SJN: Which artists influenced you when you were young?

André: Off the top of my head, Larry Graham, the bass player from Sly and the Family Stone. One of the first songs I learned was ‘Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself’. That was a huge influence! Between him and Michael Jackson, because the first records I owned were ‘Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself’ and ‘I Want You Back’. Those stayed on my turntable forever and the first bass line I learned was ‘Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself’. Then Larry Graham went out on his own and did six or seven solo records and I love those with Graham Central Station.

SJN: We understand that Rick Braun gave you your start in Smooth Jazz. Please tell us about how that happened?

André: I was playing a club gig with his drummer at the time Dave Karasony. We were playing and having a good time and Dave said, ‘Hey, I have this gig that you would be perfect for’. It turned out to be Rick Braun, so the next week, I was subbing for John Menzano with Rick Braun because John had something else. We did a four day engagement at Yoshi’s and Rick started calling me to sub for John. From there I got called to play with Jeff Golub, and from there Peter White, Richard Elliot, and I played with quite a few Chapman artists, then it branched out to Warren Hill. I started playing really steady with him, he called me all the time wanting me to be his primary guy. Later, I was fortunate enough to get hooked up with Mindi Abair and Dave Koz

SJN: You seem to prefer working in Smooth Jazz, is this your genre of choice?

André: It has been, but I think just coming here recently that I might have to change a little bit of direction. Smooth Jazz is slowing down in the sense that everyone is doing package gigs, so the work isn’t as prevalent as it was for as many bass players. If you get on a package, you are doing great. But, a lot of times you might not get a particular package and there a four artists out of the loop that you might have worked with. For example, recently I have been working with Jeff Golub and Kirk Whalum, but now they are on a package tour, so they are two artists who won’t be calling for work because they are doing a package thing. So, it is making me reassess the situation and trying to think, ‘Can I make enough of a living in Smooth Jazz’. It is my preference of choice musically, but I just don’t know if there is enough work in the genre. That is the dilemma I am facing right now.

SJN: Which of the Smooth Jazz artists do you consider to have influenced you the most?

André: They have all had a certain influence on me and it has all been about equal. As I play their music, I learn things from the music having played it. I don’t think that there is one person who has influenced me the most, they all influenced me equally.

SJN: You have worked with a lot of artists; tell us one of your favorite touring stories?

André: I was playing with George Johnson in the ‘Brothers Johnson’, replacing Louis Johnson. It’s not Smooth Jazz, but it is my favorite story. George wouldn’t introduce me because people thought that I was Louis and he was letting them think that I was Louis. So, I went over to him and said, ‘George, You’ve gotta introduce me, man’. So, he said, ‘On bass, my good brother’. So, I’m taking a solo and everyone is shouting, ‘Louis, Go Louis’ and I’m looking at George and giving him the evil eye. Then this one guy comes up to the front of the stage and goes, ‘You’re not Louis!’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God, George!’ So, after the gig I went to George and said, ‘Look man, either you have to introduce me as who I am, or I can’t play with you anymore. That was pretty wild experience, but I actually made him change the name of the act. I told him that he couldn’t use the ‘Brothers Johnson’ anymore because his brother wasn’t there. So, he started calling it ‘George Johnson of the Brothers Johnson’.

SJN: We see you on stage, but your job entails much more. Please explain some of the “behind the scenes” that takes place in your job?

André: The great thing is that all of the people I work for are really cool people and I think that comes from the fact that they were sidemen themselves. They know what it is like to be a sideman and they have respect for sidemen. Where as a lot of singers have never been sidemen and they figure that sidemen are disposable. They really don’t have any respect for the amount of work that goes into playing an instrument, the amount of time you put in, and they don’t place value in what you do, so that’s what I like about all of the artists in Smooth Jazz. They have all been sidemen for other people so they have respect for the sideman and the mentality and they treat the sidemen with respect and I really enjoy that about Smooth Jazz.

SJN: You have a funk band called the “Deep Fried Funk Society”. Please tell us about this band?

André: This band is my brain child to reflect back into my roots. Being from Cleveland, I grew up with the DAZZ band that rehearsed on the corner of my street. I met Bootsy when I was about 17. Funk bands were everywhere in Ohio. The list of funk bands from Ohio is staggering, from the Isley Brothers to Parliament, to Bootsy, to the OJ’s, to the DAZZ Band, to Slave, to LTD, Lakeside, to the Ohio Players. Funk bands were a huge thing in Ohio. Detroit had R&B, Motown, Philadelphia had Disco and Ohio had funk bands, so I grew up with that. The Deep Fried Funk Society is my tribute to where I am from. It utilizes singers, and a live horn section, and a rhythm section. It’s live music, it’s not loops. It’s live players playing live music. For me it is an outlet to do the thing that I grew up with because I don’t get to play straight funk anymore.

SJN: Have you done any interesting session work lately?

André: The thing that I have been doing that is really great is over the internet. People send me their songs, I play bass on them, and I send them the bass track and they insert it into their song. It has been really, really, great and they pay me through Paypal. It has been working great. I did Matt Marshak, Roselyn Brown from Alaska, Danny Jung from Korea, and a couple of other artists from Korea.

SJN: What other kinds of musical projects do you do?

André: I’m working on the next solo CD. I have three songs done for it and I am planning on doing ten songs. I am planning on having it ready for the Dave Koz cruise. This will be different from the first one as I am experimenting a lot more. I’m going to play a couple of pieces that are solo bass, it’s going to be real experimental. I’m going to do some classical stuff, I’m going to take some real chances with it.

SJN: On the personal side, how do you spend your leisure time?

André: (Laughs) Leisure time for me is after I come home from a gig and I turn on a movie. Every now and then, late in the evening, I get a chance to sit down and watch a TV show that we have Tivo-ed. That is about it as far as leisure time. Other than that, I am either learning music, doing a session, doing a rehearsal, doing a gig, or on my way to one.

SJN: We understand that you are married, please tell us about your wife?

André: She is a yoga instructor. We met at Los Angles City College. We were playing bass together in a Big Band. We just celebrated our 15 year anniversary and her name is Chutney. She is a very upbeat, a great person. She keeps me going because sometimes I get frustrated with myself.

SJN: Do you have any far reaching plans as to where you want to go in your life & career?

André: No I don’t. I take it one day at a time. There are some things I would like to do, but mainly, I am doing exactly what I like to do. I love playing with the people I’m playing with. I love playing with Mindi and I love playing with Warren, I love playing with Jeff Golub, I love playing with these people, so I am in a really great place. As far as long term goals, as long as I can pay my mortgage, I am a happy camper. I am blessed to be able to do what I do. I am doing exactly what my heroes did, just maybe not on as large a scale. I get to record records. I get to play the bass for a living. I tour all over the world. I can’t complain at all. I consider myself blessed.

SJN: Who are you playing with this season?

André: Mainly, I am back & forth between Mindi Abair and Warren Hill. Every now and then, Kirk Whalum has been calling me, but mainly this season, I am working with Warren and Mindi and I'm trying not to running into a any train wrecks schedule-wise between them.

 

 

Gratitude 2006

 

Find Andre at www.andreberry.com

 

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