M5: When browsing the internet, your name appears on various websites from musicians and projects. You seem to explore all kinds of musical universes; how did your love for music start and where were you born & raised, like where did your cradle rock and such?
CH: I was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1955. We moved around a bit and ended up in Andover, Massachusetts where we lived until I was around 13. We then moved to an island called Martha's Vineyard, which is also in Massachusetts. While I can't remember the exact date, I can remember the day when I was zapped by the calling of playing music. One evening my father showed up with a guitar and an amp for me, out of the blue. I plugged it all in and played two power chords and my life changed. It was like something awakened inside me.
M5: If you had any favorite musicians or players when growing up, can you tell us something about them?
CH: I began by listening mostly to rock stuff, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper etc etc. I remember one time I was listening to Cream "Wheels of Fire" and it really sunk in that these guys were REALLY playing. There was a shift for me to more musician based groups and to focusing on individual players. I rediscovered Hendrix and to this day he is still the man in my opinion. This may have been a result of the fact that I was playing more music myself and beginning to be able to hear a little bit more of what was going on. I worked my way backwards in a way as far as understanding jazz is concerned. I went from rock to fusion i.e. Miles "Bitches Brew" and "Live Evil" and Mahavishnu "Inner Mounting Flame", then moved back to earlier Miles, Bird, Monk, Bud Powell. Weather Report was a huge thing for me. I remember whenever a new disc came out I could look forward to being transported to another place. So individual player wise, here's a few:
This is a short list. So many many more I could mention.
M5: You're not from Philadelphia, but you moved there, so can you tell us some about Philadelphia Jazz in general?
CH: I moved here from Martha's Vineyard mostly because there wasn't a lot of musical work on the island (I worked painting houses most of the time I was there). We chose Philly because my wife's family lived here. After being here for over 20 years I'm very glad I came here. Jaco and Coltrane were both from here as well as many other luminaires. There's a wonderful community of musicians here that I've had the joy to work with. My only complaint is there isn't enough clubs to play at but we manage to keep it going somehow. Here's a partial list of some of the players of note here (I'm listing ones I've had the pleasure of playing with):
John Swana, Dave Posmontier, David Cullen, Uri Caine, Jimmy Bruno, Jim Ridl, Ron Thomas, Bob Howell, Tom Cohen, Butch Ried, Paul Jost, Ralph Bowen, Dan Kleiman, Tony Micelli, John Blake, Jef Lee Johnson, Erik Johnson, Kevin Hanson, Eric Sayles, Ben Schachter, Edgardo Cintron, Marlon Simon, Elio Villafranca, Ron Jennings.
There's many more. If they read this and don't see their names sorry! It was late when I wrote this ...
M5: You work(ed) or recorded with John Blake jr, Barbara Montgemery, Suzanne Cloud, Zan Gardner; it's all jazz from the Philadelphia area. Also Liz Carroll, a renowned Irish fiddle legend. And numerous other musicians appear when searching for Chico Huff on the net, such as Seamus Egan, John Ferenzik. From jazz to Irish music and anything in between, is there any 'logic' in your path or is it sheer luck and coincidence? Is your role as a bassplayer different depending on musical styles? And can you share some about working or recording with these musicians?
CH: I guess it's part logic and part luck. The logic is basically trying to be the best I can be with what I have, no matter what the situation. My path has always been to strive to improve and to respect the music no matter what style. I'm lucky in that I enjoy all styles and get something out of it always. I'm certainly not a purist. Jack of trades and master of none kind of thing. My role is very different from one style to another. Sometimes one of support and sometimes one of soloist and improviser. What I do when working in these different settings is to try and find parts that compliment the over all sound. I try and search inside myself for the feeling the music invokes. Not only the feel of the music and note choice but also the sound of the instrument. Sometimes I can remember other music of the style that I've heard that I try to emulate. With the Irish traditional music there's only a few bands with bass to learn from so some of what I tried to do came from the bodhran (frame drum) parts as well as the guitar parts. Also I always listen to the artist (when recording) for ideas and don't take it personally if they want something different than a part I came up with. I try to be open and play what they hear. The luck part I guess is just being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people. I'm not famous by any means but I'm thankful to be playing music for a living!
M5: Do you only play bass or also other instruments? Do you also write music of your own?
CH: I play a little guitar but mostly for fun. I write a little when I have time but I need to spend a lot more time on it before anyone else gets to hear it. Writing music is not a strong suit of mine mostly because I don't have the patience for it. I'm too anxious to get to the jamming part.
M5: What music influenced you the most when growing up?
CH: Pretty long list. Certainly the folks I mentioned earlier. Here's a partial list: Hendrix, Cream, Miles, Bird, Mingus, Weather Report, Captain Beefheart, David Bowie, John McClaughlin, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Monk, Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, Jaco, Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Return to Forever, McCoy Tyner, Stravinski, Aaron Copeland, Vaughn Williams, Jamerson, Alan Holdsworth and on and on .........
M5: BET Jazz Network's weekly show Studio Jams features different jazz greats (Larry Carlton, Pat Martino, Béla Fleck, Joey DeFrancesco and others) gathered in a studio environment while performing and improvising to some of their favorite tunes. You've been asked as well and this seems like an interesting ensemble, the musicians you worked with here. Chuck Loeb, Demetrios Pappas, Anton Fig etc ... what was it like?
CH: All the sessions I did for Tom Emmi were a blast. Everyone left their egos at the door and we just played. These sessions were an experiment by Tom and his folks, to put musicians who had never met together and film the whole process as they find common ground and play music. The first one I did was with Bobby Lyle and Terrence Blanchard. I think I did 5 of the shows which are all being edited now for broadcast. I think I felt the most comfortable on the one with Anton Fig and that crew. It was a little scary at first but once we started playing we started to communicate. Fun stuff!!
M5: You record as well as play live ... how do you choose the things you're gonna do, do people ask you or do you 'sell' yourself ... how does it work? And to what countries did you travel for gigs, where do you like it and why?
CH: I've never been very good at the art of self promotion. Usually it's groups or players I've played and/or recorded with that get an overseas gig that pays enough to bring me along. So far I've been to Japan, Morocco, Ireland, Belgium, Holland, France, Grand Caiman and Mexico. Most of the time I'm there for the gig and then I come home so I don't get to look around as much as I'd like. Japan was a two month gig so I did a lot of traveling though the gig itself kind of sucked. Ofcourse my favorite is Holland because I get to hang out with swordmaster/guitarist/mac master Emiel van Egdom and friends. Morocco was amazing because we got to play with local Gnawa musicians. Really transcendent experience.
M5: Did or do you listen to the music of Steely Dan? Any favorite songs?
CH: The first tunes I heard by Dan were on the radio; "Reeling Through The Years" "Do It Again" and "Rikki...". Though I listened a bit to "Royal Scam" (killer bass playing by Chuck Rainey) I really got into them with "AJA" and "Gaucho". Faves for me are "AJA", "Glamour Profession" and "Babylon Sisters". Talking about Dan makes me want to run out and get all their CDs and start listening again! I also wore out Fagen's "The Nightfly".
M5: What music do you listen to these days?
CH: It's wildly varied. I listen a lot to guitarist Adam Rogers and saxophonist David Binney, pianists Ed Simon and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, anything with bassists Jimmy Johnson, Gary Willis and Matt Garrison (Coltranes bassist Jimmy Garrison's son). I've also been listening to a lot of indie bands and artists. It's great to see a resurgence of great songwriting coming back. Here's a partial list of faves:
M5: You worked with Jef Lee Johnson and former Weather Report drummer Ishmael Wilburn in Paris, what was that like and can you understand why a musician chooses 'retirement' so early, like Ishmael did?
CH: Funny you should mention Jef as for me he has had the most profound effect on me to this date. Playing with him has taught me so much about just allowing the music to happen and not get in the way with self analysis or doubt. He is truly one of the most amazing musicians I've been blessed to work with. Working with Seamus Egan has also been a great learning experience for me. There's been many others and if any read this, I'm sorry I left you out! I can understand Ish's decision to get a steady job. Being a freelance player like myself is very tough. No benefits, not much in the way of job security. It's very difficult to stay true to ones creative vision. The bills have a funny way of coming due every month. I really respect the ones who have been able to do that. I had a family very young so I've had to compromise but happily I get to do enough good stuff to keep me sane.
M5: Something about your instrument, the electric bass. What 'brand' do you play and is there a particular bass you'd like for Santa to leave in your stocking this year?
CH: I play a Ken Smith 5 string bolt on neck bass. It's the happiest I've been with a bass in years. Very versatile and comfortable to play. I've had it long enough for it to feel like an extension of myself. I've imbued with enough me-ness now. Heh! Santa can feel free to leave me a six string Fodera bass if he deems me fit for it.
M5: We're almost there, just a few more questions now! Are there any songs you will never grow tired of playing?
CH: If you're playing with the right players, you can make any song brand new. All the jazz standards are always open for reinterpretation. I may officially be tired of playing "Blue Bossa" though ...
M5: Can you tell us something about your current projects or plans?
CH: I've been doing a lot of recording projects at a local recording studio called Morningstar. Just got finished with recording a second CD for a girl in her teens named Cat Tuttle. Very gifted singer/songwriter. Still doing some recording with Seamus Egan. We just finished a new disc for Solas and also finished bass parts for a disc by Solas members fiddler Winifred Horan and accordionist/vocalist Mick McAuley. Beautiful stuff! Soon Seamus will begin production with Antje Duvekot, a truly amazing singer/ songwriter, that I hope to be part of.
M5: Last question now, Chico: looking back on your years of playing the bass, in what respect can you describe your bassplayer years so far and do you have any goals you'd like to achieve, or ambitions burning inside?
CH: I guess one regret I have is not learning to read music more proficiently. I read sort of not so well. I'm at the "can't teach an old dog new tricks" stage now. I've been playing by ear so long that it's tough for me to get into any sort of regimen for teaching myself to read better. My strong points are more in the realm of coming up with bass parts where none existed before. My dream is to be touring the world with a creative project that people respond to in a big way. I've had the experience of really connecting a few times in life, where I really feel I've disappeared and I'm just a conduit for the music and that's where I want to live. Kind of new agey, eh?