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The next chapter in the bass line continuum

In this Arts and Culture feature we visit with Guelph musician and music teacher Jason Raso at his new home studio where he is planning the next chapter in his music career

Bassist Jason Raso, like many budding young musicians, had dreams of fame and fortune when he first started playing, but abandoning that rock and roll fantasy has allowed him to chart his success on a different scale.

“I got rid of that early because of the kind of music I wanted to play,” said Raso. “There wasn’t going to be a solo bass pop star. I’m not a famous musician and I don’t care all that much about that anymore.”

Raso was drawn to the freedom and improvisational elements of jazz and that has led to collaborations with many local musicians as well as some internationally known artists. He has released nine jazz and funk albums since 2001 and has played countless festivals and concerts.

He continues to perform but is focusing more these days on sharing his musical experiences as a music columnist, teacher and publisher.

“It has morphed more into the writing and lesson side of things,” he said. “I still like performing but it isn’t as much of a driving thing as it used to be.”

In 2009 he started writing a column for Canadian Musician magazine and that gave him an excuse to reach out to bass players he admired such as Billy Sheehan, Rhonda Smith, Meshell Ndegeocello, Sandy Horne, Tony Levin, Stuart Hamm and Alain Caron.

“I met Tony Levin in Kitchener where he was playing and interviewed him,” said Raso. “Stuart Hamm, we met in London and I ended up recording with Stu. I interviewed Alain Caron from Uzeb and I ended up doing a song with him too.”

Each interview became a lesson in music history and theory for Raso and his readers.

“I would interview a player and post that and it kind of snowballed,” said Raso. “Before you know it, I had so many interviews laying around that I put a book together.”

The compilation, Bass Line Continuum, was published in 2018 and tells the story of Raso’s growth and experiences as a player, teacher and music journalist over the past quarter century.

He was born in 1976 the middle child of three brothers. His older brother Adrian Raso is a well-known rock and gypsy-jazz guitarist and his younger brother Kristen is a drummer. His parents Mike and Bonnie Raso were his first musical influences.

“We had a really good mix of music happening in my home when I was young,” said Raso. “In one room I would have my dad listening to Chuck Berry and Otis Redding and in the next room, I had Adrian listening to Whitesnake. Then I would get in the car and my mom is listening to Queen, Prince and Elton John.”

It was natural for him to want to learn to play but the bass wasn’t his first instrument.

“I had a crappy drum kit when I was a kid but, truth is, I wasn’t really into it,” he said. “I wanted to do something, and Adrian was already playing guitar so, the idea was, ‘you play bass.’

The three brothers had the ingredients for a supergroup, but they were drawn in different musical directions.

“Everyone thinks it is some big rivalry and I’ve heard all kinds of crazy stuff,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it as a rivalry. I have always looked up to Adrian. He is the reason I am a musician and he is such a great player.”

Adrian showed him the value of practice and commitment and he threw himself fully into learning the bass.

“I loved it and even now I am a big bass nerd for sure,” he said. “I grew up listening to Billy Sheehan, Geddy Lee, Chris Squire and all these guys who do rock stuff.”

It was the 80s and, in the beginning, he was listening to a lot of rap and heavy metal.

“Bands like Whitesnake and Van Halen are what kind of got us into music in the first place,” said Raso. “It wasn’t until I started playing bass that I realized the bass player in these bands wasn’t really doing much. Then I heard Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius and I said ‘wow, you are allowed to do that on bass?’ It kind of opens up the whole thing.”

He started teaching bass in 1995 at Guelph Music.

“Adrian was teaching there, and they needed a bass teacher,” he said. “I was not ready to teach but there I was and I’m glad I did it.”

Teaching became the best learning experience he could ask for.

“It forces you to do stuff you might not have done or appreciated at the time,” he said. “A lot of time I would go home and say I have to figure that out this week so I can explain it to my students next week.”

The notes he put together for his students became the early drafts for a series of instructional books he has written for the legendary Mel Bay music publisher.

“I was pitching them Bass Line Continuum and I talked to William Bay who is Mel Bay’s son,” said Raso. “He asked if I had any ideas for more lesson-based stuff and I told him I had been compiling this book about chord tones for bass and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Raso has published two lesson books for them and has four others that are available as ebooks.

“I have started the work on the next round and eventually, I would like to get to the point where most of the stuff I teach on a regular basis is in book form,” he said. “It is easier to get through stuff and spend more time playing during a lesson than trying to write something out.”

He recently completed a home studio where he can compose, record and teach students either in person or online.

He has students from around the world and was already teaching a lot of his lessons online before the COVID lockdown.

“I know a lot of players who have really struggled during this time because they love gigging and miss going out and playing,” he said. “It hasn’t bothered me at all not to go out and gig. I love playing if the situation is good and you are playing with good people. It is obviously fun but I wasn’t sitting here Jonesing because I didn’t have a gig this weekend.”

It gave him an excuse to spend more time at home with his wife Nancy and their 13-year-old daughter Stella, who is developing into a talented musician as well.

“It was also a great opportunity to do some recording, write some stuff and improve the teaching material,” he said. “I find that stuff just as fulfilling as performing probably more so.”