Fred Randolph Song Without Singing One of the busiest bassists on the rich San Francisco Bay Area music scene for more than 15 years, in demand for his work on acoustic, electric, and fretless bass, Fred Randolph has been an integral part of bands led by artists from Ian Carey and Akira Tana to Dan Hicks and Maria Muldaur. For his third CD as a leader, Song Without Singing, Randolph highlights his vibrant original music performed by his own fine quintet and other longtime colleagues. His Creative Spirit imprint will release the new disc, his first since 2006's New Day, on August 28.
Most of the 11 tracks feature the Honolulu native's working band of trumpeter Erik Jekabson, tenor saxophonist Rob Roth, pianist Matt Clark, and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte. "These are some of my best musical friends who always bring their 'A' game to a project," says Randolph. "Their individual and collective talent and creativity are indispensable factors in making the music come alive."
Among the guests contributing to Song Without Singing are percussionist Brian Rice, guitarist Matthew Heulitt, and pianist Marcos Silva. Vocalist Sandy Cressman, in whose band Homenagem Brasileira Randolph often performs, sings wordlessly on the samba "Pelo Mar"; accordionist Rob Reich stars on the set-closer "La Ultima Vez," a melancholy tango.
The title track was inspired by the music of Malian singer-songwriter Salif Keita and rendered by the band in 6/4 time. Highly syncopated Venezuelan 5/4 time, expertly anchored by the leader's acoustic bass, Wyser-Pratte's trap drums, and Rice's hand percussion, propels "Story." South African melodies and West African highlife rhythms infuse the lyrical and lively "How We See." "I'm not trying to be authentic when I'm writing ethnic music," he says. "I'm just influenced by it."
Like many young Hawaiians of his generation, Fred Randolph (b. 1956) took up ukulele as a kid, but didn't get serious about music until hearing Jimi Hendrix's album Are You Experienced? at age 11, when he switched to guitar. His guitar teacher soon turned him on to jazz guitarists Howard Roberts and George Benson. Moving to the mainland to attend UC San Diego, he checked out John Coltrane at the recommendation of another teacher. By the time he'd transferred to UC Berkeley to study political science, he was playing tenor saxophone for spare change on street corners near the campus.
Eventually he went on to work with San Francisco bebop saxophone legend Bishop Norman Williams and to study with the great Joe Henderson. He also studied arranging and trumpet with onetime Woody Herman trumpeter Jerry Cournoyer.
Fred Randolph Randolph continued his trumpet studies at Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) with Jay Rizzetto while working on his master's degree in composition. For his master's thesis Randolph composed a piece for string quartet plus bass. Hearing Cal State instructor Carl Stanley play the bass part he'd written prompted Randolph to fall in love with the instrument. Although he had an upright bass in his closet and was proficient enough to get an occasional gig on it, suddenly he was dead serious. He studied classical bass with Stanley, jazz bass with Frank Tusa, and electric bass with Kai Eckhardt, among other instructors. Randolph was soon a first-call bassist in Northern California and since 1999 has recorded with such artists as the Full Spectrum Jazz Orchestra, the Collective West Jazz Orchestra, Jim Grantham, Ian Carey Quintet+1, Melanie O'Reilly, Ian Dogole, and Orquesta Dharma, as well as with The Zone, a combo he co-led with trumpeter Graham Bruce.
Being able to play so many different instruments has greatly helped Randolph in his day job at Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School, which he's held down for the past seven years. "That's where my background comes in," he says. "Picking up a trumpet, a sax, a flute, or a clarinet and being able to play those parts is really nice. At Hayward State, I took every conducting class I could get my hands on, so when I teach symphonic band or string orchestra, I know what I'm doing, thank God."
Randolph's mastery of a variety of instruments, his studies of arranging and composing, his globe-spanning tastes in music, and his extensive on-the-job training in jazz, blues, Latin, and Americana groups, as well as with European classical ensembles, are evident in the boldly eclectic body of music he has composed for and performed with his own quintet over the past dozen years. Song Without Singing stands as the latest shining light in Randolph's brilliant musical journey.
The Fred Randolph Quintet will appear in support of Song Without Singing on Saturday 1/15/16 at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley.