Singing for his dishes

Jerusalem-based double bass player Simon Starr fondly recalls how doing domestic chores as a child in Australia inspired him to become a musician

By
June 10, 2015 20:56
Jazz musician Simon Starr

Jazz musician Simon Starr. (photo credit: GERSHON WAISERFIRER)

 
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Musicians cite all sorts of influences and events that kick-start an unquenchable interest in music, but it is doubtful that many put it down to domestic chores.

“My brother and I used to wash the dishes at home, and to make the time more enjoyable we would take turns choosing a record to listen to while we worked,” recalls Simon Starr. “Sometimes we took longer than was needed to wash the dishes, so we could hear another record.”

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That helped to develop Australian- born Starr’s musical sensibilities, and eventually set him on the road to becoming a professional musician who has plied his trade all over the world, on the jazz, ethnic, blues and rock sides of the music industry tracks, for over two decades and counting. While ensuring his family had clean plates to eat off of, Starr and his sibling got to hear some quality stuff from the domestic record collection.

“My dad loved classical music, jazz, rock and pop and blues. He loved everything.”

That clearly rubbed off on his son, who will present his latest album, 27/04, at a launch show at HaEzor in Tel Aviv on Friday (3 p.m.).

That paternal, somewhat subliminal coaxing also placed Starr in something of a time warp in terms of the chronology of 20th century music, and despite being born several years after The Beatles broke up, the Fab Four were among his earliest musical loves. That also pointed him in a particular instrumental direction.

“As a kid I used to listen to The Beatles on headphones, and the bass [played by Paul McCartney] was the loudest thing,” he explains.



“So I thought that the bass was obviously the most important instrument. That’s how I got to a double bass. I just liked how much presence it had.”

The instrument also resonated strongly with the youngster’s natural instincts.

“When I was young, I was a pretty bass character,” he laughs. “I felt things more down here [pointing to his belly], than up here [in his head]. So it suited my nature.”

Starr comes across as a highly energized character, and he appears to be the type who sets his sights on something and goes for it, hell for leather. That isn’t a bad attribute to have if you’re looking to get your foot in the door and get a career up and running. It certainly helped launch Starr’s acoustic bass endeavor off the ground.

“I started playing bass guitar when I was about 14, and double bass when I was 19,” he says. “I am a very extreme character so I got a double bass and I had a gig that night.”

He quickly discovered that there were some physiological factors he hadn’t taken into consideration.

“My fingers bled after that gig, like an abattoir, and I had blisters all over the place.”

But there is also the small matter of finger positioning along the double bass neck – surely, he had to have some technical knowledge to manage the outsized instrument? “It’s not brain surgery,” comes the typically confident retort. “I fooled most of the people. I knew enough, from the electric bass, to get through. The rest I made up with extreme enthusiasm.”

That go-for-broke mindset appears to have served Starr well down the years. 27/04 is his third solo album in his guise as singer- songwriter, and he has a dozen more in the jazz and world music molds, and he has played in over 50 projects as a sideman.

The name of the new release is also indicative of Starr’s go-withthe- flow ethos.

“It was just the date on which I received the masters for the CD,” he states matter-of-factly, “but, on reflection, I like the idea of that it is the reverse of 24/7. The album was made slowly, and evolved over a long time – the opposite of the 24/7 culture/mentality.”

Unsurprisingly, 27/04 is a widely- roaming affair. On the opener, “Overflow,” Starr displays cultured crooner qualities, while fans of samba music should be happy with “Gavriel.” “Hey Maddy” is something of a burlesque outing, seasoned with Middle Eastern riffs in and around Starr’s vocals a la Freddie Mercury, and “Umbilical” scoots back to the 1950s heyday of rock and roll.

On all of the above, and the others tracks which take in spacey, leftfield endeavor, ragtime-sounding piano lines and some more ambient- inclined material, Starr puts in an excellent vocal performance.

That might come as quite a surprise to local jazz fans who have become accustomed to seeing Starr do his bit on double bass, sans voice, for the past six or so years. Starr is clearly not an instrumentalist who finally got around to trying his hand at singing. He is a bona fide vocalist, and a fine one at that. He’s also a dab hand at songwriting.

The album is also well produced, by Alon Lotringer, and there are lush arrangements and tight harmonies throughout.

“My first permanent job was with a salsa band, on double bass,” notes Starr. “I’ve always just liked everything, every type of music, according to the Duke Ellington definition that there’s good music and the other kind.”

Starr’s eclectic philosophy also led him to round up a diverse group of sidemen for 27/04, which includes numerous stellar members of the local jazz and ethnic music communities, such as pianist Omri Mor, percussionist Itamar Doari, doyen of the Israeli jazz drummer sector Areleh Kaminsky, multi-instrumentalist Gershon Waiserfirer, dynamic drummer Shahar Haziza and veteran singer and vocalist Ori Harpaz, a member of the perennially popular Israeli folk-pop duo Haparvarim.

“The Beatles and Elvis, the Beach Boys, Paul Simon and the Everly Brothers, and that kind of thing, were my first love,” says Starr by way of expounding further on his impressively expansive stylistic reach. “I didn’t grow up thinking about any categories of music. I just loved singing.”

The latter harks back to Starr’s infant dishwashing slot.

“I got two things out of that. One was that I learned to sing harmonies well. My brother and I worked out how to sing in harmonies at an early age. The second thing was, I loved doing the dishes.”

Not a bad deal all round. The Starr family got clean plates, and we get to enjoy the bassman’s cultured dulcet tones.

To purchase tickets to the show visit http://tinyurl.com/Simon-Starr-Show.

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