Tim George
by Bonnie Schendell
There are certain musicians that play the circuit and make the rounds with the regular headliners in the smooth jazz world.  They sometimes, through referrals and subbing, find a way to play with everyone and become part of a stable of talent.  That’s how I came to know Tim George.  It seemed like every time I saw people booked by Steve Butler of MightyMusic Corp., I saw Tim playing with them.  So now, here’s a way for everyone to get to know about Tim a little more.

Originally from the small town of Manhattan, Kansas, Tim started learning about music from his family.  “My mother was a very good pianist who could read just about anything you put in front of her. My Dad and his four brothers sang authentic four part barbershop style harmony since they were in high school until they were well into their 70's. He also played the wash tub bass and ukulele with my mom when we had family jam sessions doing old standards and pop tunes. My Dad had a great ear and great sense of time when he would walk the dog on the old tub. When I got good enough to do paid gigs on bass in high school, the older guys I played with at various dances (for a much older generation) couldn't believe I knew so many old tunes.  My older brother played drums, so music was a huge part of my life growing up.”  The listening to all of this great music turned into playing when he was a youngster.  “I played drums at age 6 because my older brother had a drum kit and I wanted to do everything he did! My mom had me take piano lessons at age 9 and 10 but I wasn't into it at that time and stuck with the drums. I got pretty good at playing drums but there were too many drummers in the Junior High garage bands I was in and no bass players. I always liked the bass, so my Dad bought one for me for $25 at a garage sale and that was it. I practiced all through Junior High and High school and knew I wanted to play professionally one day.”

Tim was mostly self taught on electric bass. He played percussion in Junior High School and learned to read basic rhythmic notation. Since he took piano lessons as a youngster, he could read basic treble clef pitches. “I received my Bachelor of Music Education degree from Kansas State University and studied classical acoustic bass there, so all the theory, music history, ear training, and reading skills came from that education. All the jazz, pop, and funk music that I learned came on my own time, mostly playing by ear. My bass teacher (Warren Walker) was strictly a legit player so everything from him was with the bow, but those lessons with him (and my orchestra conductor) taught me about "music" as much as technique on the instrument.”

Influenced by his brother and wanting to do everything he did, Tim listened to and liked just about everything he liked. “He had a buddy, Jim Bristow, that was an excellent guitar player who was a huge influence on what music I listened to and played. In the 70's, I was into playing along with the Doobie Brothers, Chicago, Steely Dan, Led Zepplin, and Stevie Wonder because those are the records my brother owned. I learned all the songs by ear on all of his records. Then when I was in high school (because of hanging out with my best friends), I listened to and fell in love with a lot of the cool 80's funk with groups like Parliament, Cameo, Confunction, Isley Brothers, EWF, TOP, Brothers Johnson, Lakeside and the likes because of all the great grooves and bass lines. Then one day Jim brought me some George Benson and Joe Pass cassettes. I listened and said to myself, "I want to play like THAT on the bass." It was during my senior year of high school and all my years of college when I was consumed by all styles and forms of instrumental jazz. I loved everything from Oscar Peterson to Coltrane to Miles to the Brecker Brothers to Weather Report to Jeff Lorber to David Sanborn, and many more. If it grooved, I was drawn to it.” He listened to straight ahead, funk, and transcribed a lot of guitar and horn players solos in college. As far as bass players, Tim’s biggest influences have been Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Jaco Pastorious, Larry Graham, and his personal favorite, Marcus Miller. “There are a lot of other great players that I have listened to over the years, but those five are the guys who have influenced my playing the most.”

Tim has stayed very busy, playing with so many people over the years, but credits his beginning to the old adage, It’s Who You Know.  “There is an old saying that has never been truer than in this day and age which goes like this, "you have to be good, but more important, you have to know somebody." I was fortunate to know two very important, yet excellent sidemen in this genre:  Third Richardson and Ron Reinhardt. They are both Florida boys, where I live, and we have played together locally for years. Third hooked me up with the artists in the Steve Butler camp and Ron Reinhardt hooked me up with artists in the Steve Chapman camp. If you have the talent, make the effort to learn their music, give it your all in every aspect, and put on a good show, the artists will most likely use you again when the opportunity arises.”

And use him they have.  Tim’s resume’ is like a Who’s Who in the jazz world.  In the smooth jazz genre he has been lucky enough to hook up with Steve Butler of Mightymusic Corp in New York and Steve Chapman of Chapman Management in L.A., who have been referring him to some of the artists they book and manage such as Richard Elliott, Euge Groove, Mindi Abair, Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole, Warren Hill, Marc Antoine, Jeff Golub, Rick Braun, Peter White, The Sax Pack, Brian Simpson, Richard Smith, Jackiem Joyner, Marcus Anderson, Elan Trotman, Jessy J, 480 East, Matt Marshak, Jonathon Fritzen, Will Donato, and Blake Aaron. In other genres of jazz, he was fortunate to play with Ray Charles, Mel Torme, Louis Bellson, and Ed Shaughnessy.  So one might ask, who is left to play with?  Well, Tim offers up Jeff Lorber “because I listened to a lot of his music as I was learning how to play way back in high school and college.”  Other artists I would love to play with in this genre are Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, and Gerald Albright.”

Tim says that all of his gigs are so much fun and loves playing with all of the national recording artists he has shared the stage with, but he does remember fondly, the first time he ever played in front of an audience when he was in Junior High.  “It was in a talent show in Junior High School in front of a packed house. I was asked by one of the "popular girls" in school to play bass and get a rhythm section together (piano, bass, drums) while she sang the song "Evergreen." I worked on that song for weeks, had it memorized and everything. However, when it was show time I was a nervous wreck. I will never forget that moment backstage and they called her name. I walked out on stage with my bass, my tiny little amp, plugged it in, turned it on and when we started the tune, I played that first whole note and nothing came out of the amp. I looked down and my patch cable was coiled up on the floor and my bass was not plugged into the amp!!! I was so nervous it being my first show, I panicked and didn't want to look stupid so I just stood there like a statue and played the whole song without a patch cord and nobody heard one thing I played. It was the only show I have ever played where the audience did not hear one mistake from the bass player!  (laughs)

In today’s world where most people want to get rich quick and have their name in lights, Tim is a very humble standout.  He is quite content with his role as a sideman and takes it very seriously.  “If you are looking for more notoriety or more attention you need to become an artist and not a sideman, in my humble opinion. I am happy being in the back, out of the limelight but still being a huge part of the show. I think of myself like the center in football where I am in on every play, a vital part of the team, but not in the limelight like the quarterback and receivers. I like it that way and don't think I deserve any extra attention. Being hired to play the gig is more than enough gratification for me, as there are a LOT of great bass players out there who could easily get the call as well as me.”  But, there is a lot of his own music that Tim wants to share with everyone, so he is working on his solo CD.  “It will be more than just smooth jazz as I love all styles of jazz and improvisation. Writing songs with good melodies and non predictable chord changes is a slower process for me and takes me a little more time than some folks out there. I have about 6 tunes penned but am slowly working on a few more.”

After being in this business for a good long time, Tim has two words of advice for those up and coming musicians that want to stick around for longer than a minute – practice and listen.  “There is no substitute for practicing. Period. If want to get better at your craft, you have to have the instrument in your hands as much as possible. Also, critical listening to the styles you wish to play is crucial. If you are good at playing funk or reggae music, then you probably listened to a lot of it with a critical ear. If you want to pile on straight ahead jazz or Afro Cuban music on top of it, you better listen to and practice that stuff with as much appreciation and intensity. Those two facets are crucial for musical development.  Aside from the actual playing, your attitude towards the people who hire you is as crucial as your playing. I know guys who are fantastic musicians who don't get called because of how they present themselves both on and off the bandstand. If you are nice, friendly, humble, eager, show up on time if not early, and deliver the goods, you will get most likely get called back.”  His final bit of advice is do your homework on the music given to you. “You can be the best player in the world but if you have not learned the songs, all that talent does you no good. What the artist wants more than anything is for everyone in the band to know their music. Take the time to work it out at home in the woodshed and own it. I have heard from about every artist I have ever played for tell me that if you learn their show, they will remember you and call you for future gigs. I have also heard many of them say if you didn't do your homework, it only takes one time to musically screw up a show and you won't get called again.”

So, what does a guy who is in constant demand, writing his own music, and teaching do in his spare time?   “I like to work out, run, and spend time with my family. Living in Florida, going to the beach is a thing we all like to do in our down time. My other passion is college football. I like all sports but football has always been my favorite sport since I was 5 years old and I like to keep up with what goes on in the college ranks from the recruiting to game day.”

So, now when you are out seeing any number of your favorite smooth jazz artists, remember to take a good look at the bass player.  There’s a good chance it’ll be Tim George.

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