After 53 years of laying down the bottom end for everyone from Art Pepper to Madonna, bassist Bob Magnusson is calling it quits and withdrawing from performing in public. Magnusson came from a musical family. Both of his parents were heavily involved with classical music. “I never heard any popular music at home,” he recalled with laughter over the phone.
He played French horn and classical guitar until discovering the bass at the age of 19. “My older brother played sax in a rock band that needed a bass player, so I was drafted.” Friends turned him on to jazz and one album changed his musical direction completely. “Kind of Blue by Miles Davis totally blew my mind, and I was hooked forever,” Magnusson remembers.
Very early in his career, “Mag” got the chance to work with vocalist Sarah Vaughan. “I was just 23, and the drummer in that band was Jimmy Cobb, who played on Kind of Blue. I got to sit next to him for 3 years, which was amazing.”
So why is Magnusson retiring?
“I started having pain eight to ten years ago. I went to an orthopedic doctor and they said I had really bad osteoarthritis and that all the cartilage in my wrists, hands and fingers had disintegrated . So I kept trying to play through the pain, but I had to stop practicing the bass. And I knew that eventually something bad would come of that and I had a lot of anxiety about that. Eventually it happened: I was on a gig where they called a tune off at a tempo I could have played in my sleep when I was younger, but I couldn’t pull it off. Luckily, Rob Thorsen was in the audience and he finished the gig for me, but it was very embarrassing. When I was playing, I would hear things in my head that I couldn’t execute, and that was frustrating. That’s when I knew I had to retire.”
Magnusson will continue to teach at San Diego State University, Mesa College, Point Loma Nazarene, and a few select private students.
“I feel blessed. I have my family and I’ve gotten to work with so many of my heroes, like Joe Farrell and Art Farmer and Benny Golson. I don’t have a feeling of ‘woe is me.’ I get a big kick out of seeing how well my former students like Mackenzie Leighton, Sean Hicke, and Harley Magsino are doing.