Nathan East reunites with San Diego
Acclaimed bassist Nathan East has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry: George Harrison of The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Barry White are among some of the many that East has worked alongside.
East has played in every genre of music from Motown to rock-n-roll, jazz and even pop. A star of shining success coming out of San Diego, Nathan East was the keynote speaker for last week’s North Park Music Thing. His extensive work with a multitude of musicians and know-how of the music industry made his presence at the event a perfect fit.
Although East was born in Philadelphia, he was raised in San Diego for the majority of his younger years where he was an aspiring musician trying to make it in the business. Earning his B.A. in Music Performance at UCSD, East’s intimate knowledge of San Diego and the music scene made him a must see at the event. If you were unable to attend the address and catch East’s panel, do not fret — I was lucky enough to chat with East and get his thoughts on an array of subjects.
Having issues with the speakerphone from the outset, I felt a bit like a fool. I was apologetic towards East for this issue, but in a cool, relaxed voice he said, “That’s okay, it’s no problem.” Once the dust settled I asked East how he was doing, and if San Diego was being good to him. East quickly retorted with, “Everything’s great,” affirming San Diego’s status as America’s finest city. After agreeing on his declaration of San Diego’s prowess, I dove right in to begin our conversation.
Addressing the first and most obvious issue, I inquired about East’s involvement in the North Park Music Thing, and why he attended the event. East stated, “I was asked to come to the conference as a keynote speaker for Saturday’s panel.” East, status as the keynote speaker, resulted, from as East puts it, “being from San Diego and spending a lot of time there in the neighborhood.” His intimate knowledge of San Diego resulted from his family relocating from Philadelphia to Hartley St. in Southeast San Diego when he was four. He attended local schools, and graduated from UCSD, which made him the perfect candidate for a keynote speaker.
East said the subjects of the address included “the transition from playing in clubs and popular local bands, to getting invited by Barry White to tour the country with The Love Unlimited Orchestra,” also the “transition from Junior High School to Crawford High School,” where he met his first actual mentor on the bass, Gunnar Biggs. East attributed Biggs with teaching him how to read music and showing him the ropes of the business and the bass.
East also discussed how UCSD professors Cecil Lytle and Bertram Turetzsky talked with him about moving to Los Angeles after graduating from UCSD and cranking out a career in the music business; basically how to make it in, as East puts it, “the big city.” Much of this information about his life and career is what East touched on at the panel, and he made it clear that if it wasn’t’ for people like Biggs, Lytle & Turetzky and the knowledge he received from them, he would not have been as successful as he is today.
Hearing what East had to say about his beginnings, we began to go more in depth — like the moment when he knew that music was what he wanted to do for a living. Like a true musician East gave a response nothing short of beautiful:
“Actually, I felt it from the first time I picked up the instrument. I felt in my heart that this was something I really wanted to do. I can’t explain why, but it was at a church called The Christ King where a bass guitar was just sitting on a stand there at the altar … no one was playing it, so I picked it up and instantly got the feeling that this is something I really love.”
It was as if destiny placed East and the bass guitar that started it all in the same room. The location of where he first met the love of bass only adds to the powerful aspect of destiny, almost as if God or the powers to be chose that single instant to intertwine their paths.
In all his years of playing the bass, East says, he has become comfortable with the five-string and six string- bass now, and has designed, working with Yamaha, his very own Nathan East Signature Model (BBNE-2) bass. Nathan has endorsed the brand for nearly 30 years. He also endorses Aguilar Amps and Dunlap Strings.
In all musician’s careers, they always have large influences in their lives, and East is no different.
“When I was playing in local bands in San Diego we were very influenced by groups like Earth Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, Kool and the Gang, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, and of course The Beatles,” said East. He has actually played with George Harrison of Beatles fame in his years of work as a musician.
Growing from those influences East has been able to tour with some of the biggest names in the music industry. Phil Collins and Eric Clapton are two tours in which East has had the privilege of joining. Despite being a jazz musician, East says, “It was a great experience because anywhere around the world these guys are selling out arenas and stadiums, and it’s just exciting.” He touched on the great perks of touring with such famous musicians, like flying in private jets, and “living the good life.”
East has an extensive repertoire of work in the field, however he is more commonly known for his involvement in the Jazz world, especially with his band Fourplay, which features Nathan along with fellow band mates Bob James (keyboards), Larry Carlton (guitar) and Harvey Mason (drums). With many influences in the jazz world East talked about one of his main influences, Wes Montgomery.
“He was one of my biggest early influences,” and in his opinion “is the world’s greatest guitar player,” East said. When he first heard Wes Montgomery play guitar, he felt that it was “so pure, and honest,” that, “it was something I wanted to master.”
Jazz is one of the most intricate and complex forms of music to play, with players needing a heightened sense of timing, structure, and precision. Being on the forefront of Jazz, East talked about how “the music chooses you,” and that there is something in jazz that resonates in your life.
Even though East prefers Jazz, he said he tries not to limit himself to any one particular genre, he thinks there is good music and bad music, and is really bothered by the fact that “we have to put a label on it.” A true musician through and through, East loves to play any genre of music, which explains his eclectic career, and he also mentioned “various opportunities music has afforded me” as a factor as well.
Being a veteran of the San Diego music scene, East feels that “San Diego has cranked out great musicians,” and since his day there has been a lot of music come out of San Diego, and the music scene has grown tremendously.
East also believes that if you are going to get into the business, “You better get into it for the long term, or not get into it at all.” You must “Be in it for the long haul, and don’t do it halfway — learn as much as you can.”
In order to do that, East feels that is very important for musicians to realize the potential of places such as Los Angeles, however he also feels “that things have changed enough that you can get it done from your local cities, but places in L.A. have a lot more studios, recording sessions and opportunities.”
Just finishing his tour with Fourplay in Korea and Japan, East mentioned that they will be continuing to tour and will be making a very exciting stop in San Diego. On August 21, Fourplay will perform at Anthology for a highly anticipated show, and a night of jazz. Along with their stop in San Diego, Fourplay will also be hitting the studio to push out a new CD for the beginning of the year.
East himself is currently working on a long awaited solo project but has also been in the studio recently working on the new Whitney Houston and Rod Stewart CDs, as well as participating in current projects by Lionel Richie, Michael Buble, Alejandro Sanz and Renee Olstead.
Playing his signature series Yamaha five-string bass (BBNE-2), East is a huge success story for San Diego. Being brought up in the area, and having a favorite food joint at the Old Spaghetti Factory Downtown, East is a San Diego legend, and a beacon for our city.
Ending the interview East left with this final comment: “I’m always amazed that there seems to be new talent, people coming up with new music all the time, and I’m always interested to hear what’s going on out there. Right now I’m thankful to still be doing what I love doing, for a living.”