BY ZIVIT SHLANK Stanley Clarke. Jymie Merrit. Derrick Hodge. Mike Boone. What do these cats have in common? They all play bass and all have roots in our City of Brotherly Love — and we all know Philadelphia and jazz have become practically synonymous. North Carolina native Madison Rast has steadily become one of the most in-demand sidemen in the 215 since making Philly home over 10 years ago. Tonight he will lead his own quartet for the very first time tonight at Moonstone Arts Center, aka the legendary Robbins Books in Center City, as part of Matthew Feldman’s monthly Lucky Old Souls concert series. Phawker recently sat down with Madison over a cup of Joe to find out more.
PHAWKER: Why jazz? What about this music sparked your pursuit of it?
MADISON: Well, I’ve always been interested in jazz, American music and there’s a lot to that. The roots of which came to us from Africa, then the Delta, Mississippi and it became blues, gospel, soul, R&B and jazz is a part of that tree. I like the whole tree. I really got into it in college. The concept of improvisation inspires me, and I just love the rhythmic aspect of jazz more than anything. You can find elements of jazz in hip-hop, funk, it’s all that. It’s the same root, the same acorn that made that tree. The more I learn about jazz, the more I dig it.
PHAWKER: What led you to the bass?
MADISON: I remember there was an orchestra that came to my elementary school; they were giving a concert for us. Someone would hold up a violin or a clarinet and show us what it sounded like. I recall the last person, in the very back saying “and this is the bass” and he held up this giant thing above his head! I was a really small kid then, but I remember seeing the bass, how big it was and thinking to myself ”that’s the instrument I want to play”! It wasn’t the sound of the bass initially, I’m sorry to say! As I started to learn and play the bass, I realized the instrument definitely suited my personality. I’ve always enjoyed being a sideman, helping to interpret somebody else’s vision. That enabled me to be a musical chameleon. I can do funk, jazz, and play with cabaret singers. This show coming up on Friday will be my first under my own name. It’s a new thing for me being a leader, writing music, calling rehearsals, etc and I like it.
PHAWKER: You’ve played sideman to some of Philly’s top jazz musicians including Orrin Evans, Terell Stafford and Joanna Pascale. What ultimately made you decide to finally get out there and lead?
MADISON: It’s always been my thing to be in the background, to lift someone or boost him or her up, I’ve always believed that to be a bass player trait. To finally make the move as leader has been really good, it’s been a great confidence booster. I’ve had a lot of personal stuff happen this past year, and it got me thinking maybe this is the time to finally do it, switch things up, get out of my comfort zone, challenge myself. I’ve written tunes over the years, but I never really found the right people who could interpret it, bring to this music what I’m hearing in my head. That’s until I started working with this trio of drummer Dan Monaghan and pianist Josh Richman. I have a good rapport with them, they know my playing and we’re also good friends both on and off the bandstand. I’ve got a good deal of trust in them, which is what I think music is all about. When you really get down to it, it’s about having each other’s back. That’s really important to me.
PHAWKER: With your original music, what kind of sound are you trying to achieve and project out there?
MADISON: The root of it is acoustic jazz; it’s straight ahead in its aesthetic. However, I also want to stretch that not only with my original tunes, but also with some really great and unique arrangements of standard jazz repertoire. We’re going to be doing a George Clinton tune for jazz trio, which is kind of weird and out there.
PHAWKER: Really? May I ask which song or do you wanna leave that as a surprise?
MADISON: You know, what’s funny is the whole title is so long. It’s “Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk”, but it’s also an arrangement of Three Blind Mice called “3BM”. It’s this really weird vamp, and I’ve taken bits of that because it’s one of those tunes where if you listen to Parliament, George Clinton just riffs the whole time, talking about Star Child, Sir Nose and this whole story. So, it doesn’t have a melody, it’s mostly this hook and bass line. So I’ve taken those elements, some cues and arranged it for jazz trio. I love doing stuff like that because there shouldn’t just be jazz music and you can’t touch anything else from other genres. I like a lot of music and want to explore that. I think anything with a melody you can do anything with.
PHAWKER: So for this show at Moonstone Arts Center (aka Robbins Books) tonight, what can a potential audience member expect?
MADISON: Well, like I said earlier, what I love most about jazz music is the rhythm. I like to move my body, I like to shake my butt, I like to have something to dance to. I like to think of it as mind and booty. I want there to be accessibility for people who don’t know a lot about harmony, but I want it to be very rhythmic and to challenge your sensibility of harmonies. There are unexpected pleasures that can come from that.
Zivit Shlank hosts overnights on WRTI