I ask him to define funk. He says, “It’s what happens when a drum backbeat is accompanied by a lot of syncopation in music. Brazilian and Latin use syncopation but without the backbeat. Funk’s got a James Brown groove, Stevie Wonder, those guys…”
But it’s jazz to which Glen Fisher feels the closest. “There’s more interest in jazz everywhere in the country, but San Diego’s a little slow in that regard. We give up so much careerwise to live here, but it’s nice to live here. San Diego has an abundance of world class-musicians, but we don’t have an audience. People lean toward outdoor activities and water sports and things of that nature as opposed to seeing a concert in an intimate situation and really listening, you know? Going out in San Diego is more of a social thing and it involves a lot of talking and socializing. I’ve seen a correlation between thriving jazz scenes and cold weather, drastic climates, seasonal places. If people want to go out and it’s cold, then they have to go in someplace, like a jazz club. Whereas here you can go for a walk at any time or go to the beach. Latin countries have thriving music scenes, but it’s much more dance to straight-ahead jazz. For me it’s important that people feel like dancing. I’ve been most successful in putting a Latin beat to the jazz and calling it Latin jazz, and it seems to work best as far as keeping a club full. I love to sneak my jazz on them and they think its music they like, with that Latin beat, you know. Then when you throw out a straight-ahead jazz tune, it’s a different color and they’ll sit through it.”
Now the keyboard player, Mark Bentley, wanders into the garage. He’s 33, stocky with a dark ponytail and a small beard, a sad, serious face that breaks into abrupt smiles. He also sings—a raspy baritone that brings to mind the lead singer in Blood, Sweat, and Tears. The other musicians are still working on the bass line of the reggae-funk tune, doing it again, then stopping and talking about it.
“Take it from breakdown” says Glen.
“Are we keeping the rasta groove or going back into the other groove?” asks David.
“We put some kind of chord changes in it before, but it was different.” Glen tries to remember what they had done.
“That’s why you should tape it, man,” says Leon. He has a red jacket to match his red cap and he sits behind his drums like a red Buddha. The rain gets heavier and splatters off the parked cars. Leon hits his sticks together and they begin again. Belinda begins to sing. Her tone is like the tone you get when you run your finger around the rim of a wine glass. “Reggae music is the message of love. It’s something you must feel…”
Glen started playing acoustic and electric bass with the school orchestra at Richard Henry Dana Junior High—“which has since closed and they sold all the instruments”—then at Point Loma High. He is one of four brothers, and their parents started all four off in music. The father, Fred Fisher, worked as a physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography studying underwater acoustics. The mother, Julie Fisher, was a mathematician who taught at a number of local colleges and served a term on the San Diego Board of Education. At the age of 15 Glen was taken to a concert given by Count Basic and his Orchestra. “I saw Count Basic and I was hooked,” says Glen. “That’s quality musicianship when you can go plink on one single note before an audience of 15,000 and steal the show. That’s called the lethal use of a note.”
Glen began to play in a jazz ensemble in high school and began to study with Bertram Turetzky — “the world’s greatest bass player” — who teaches at the University of California, San Diego. Glen then attended UCSD for three years, working with Turetzky for a total of six. At 21 he entered the Vienna Academy of Music, studying classical bass but also playing jazz. He stayed in Europe for four years “gigging around Europe,” touring with Brazilian bands and learning Portuguese. “You can’t be with ten guys and not learn the language.” Glen met his wife, Judith, in Vienna and they have two children.
I ask him to tell me about the bass.
“The bass is the bass of the harmony. It’s the lowest note in the chord. Its functions are rhythmic and melodic—rhythmic like a drum and melodic like on the piano and everything else. It looks like an overgrown cello. The acoustic bass is one of the hardest instruments physically to play because of the tension strings. It’s the same as the violin, there’s no frets, those ridges across the fingerboard, so you have to memorize where the notes are. But the violin has very tiny strings and it’s hard to push down the strings, which creates physical problems with the instrument, especially getting it in tune and stuff like that. I would say that to play a stand-up bass you have to go through about ten years of sounding like hell before you can get it to work. I can definitely do a lot more with a stand-up bass as far as subtle inflections on the notes, bending the notes, sliding the note, making vibrato on a note. Because of the lack of frets you have a lot of freedom as to how you want to make the note sound. The acoustic is much more majestic, that’s for sure, much more noble.”
“An electric bass is an electric guitar with bass strings on it. It’s much easier to play an electric. With the electric bass you hit the note in that spot and that’s how it sounds. You have some control but not the kind you have on an acoustic. When I’m playing jazz, I want to play acoustic. When I’m playing funk I usually want to play electric. Playing the blues can go either way. Playing the Latin stuff, it’s fun to play the acoustic, but on Brazilin stuff, it’s fun to play electric. Notewise, both instruments are tuned the same way. However, nothing sounds like wood, and an acoustic bass is wood, that’s what you’re hearing, whereas with an electric bass you’re hearing the magnet pick-ups on metal strings. The acoustic can be more haunting. It can be more mysterious than an electric, but there can be great electric bass and bad acoustic bass, the colors are definitely different. In an electric bass you hear all the overtones so each note has a fatter, kind of fuller sound because of the way it’s amplified is more efficient, but that can be good or bad. The acoustic bass has a more hollow sound. It’s not quite as full, although it’s very rich.”