If you have listened to a radio, watched a TV or gone out of your house in the last thirty years, you have heard bassist Nathan East. The Tarzana-based musician has 2000 recording credits that range from Kenny Rogers to Wayne Shorter. That’s East shouting “Put your feet on the ground” during Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” That same year he co-wrote the Phil Collins/Phillip Bailey hit “Easy Lover.” His funky bassline drives Daft Punk’s recent hit “Get Lucky” while Whitney Houston’s slow burner “Saving All My Love For You” is lifted by his patient support. Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” and Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” also feature East’s electric bass. But it wasn’t until March of last year that he finally saw his own name on the cover of an album.
“Nathan East” dominated the Billboard Smooth Jazz charts when it was released last March. Friends like Eric Clapton and Michael McDonald made guest appearances while drummer Ricky Lawson contributed to numerous tracks before his untimely passing last winter. The album was recently nominated for a Best Contemporary Instrumental Grammy Award and East has plans for a follow-up as well as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of his co-founding the band Fourplay.
East spoke to Artbound about a few of his more memorable live gigs in and out of the spotlight.
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From Herbie Hancock to Donald Byrd and the Mizell Brothers: meet one of the most iconic drummers in the history of jazz and funk.
Harvey Mason is a master of the drum. His work on Donald Byrd’s breakthrough LP Black Byrd showcased his signature loose, rolling funk feel, and soon he was a fully fledged member of Herbie Hancock’s seminal Headhunters group. After that the floodgates opened, with ‘The Mase’ laying down the rhythm track on classic records by the likes of James Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Ahmad Jamal, Bobby Hutcherson, Chick Corea, Minnie Riperton, Patrice Rushen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bobbi Humphrey, Gary Bartz – the list goes on and on. He’s also put the hours in behind the desk, producing records for the likes of Seawind, Midnight Star and Dionne Warwick. Besides being the go-to drummer of the Mizell Brothers’ biggest compositions, Mr. Mason embarked on a solo career and signed a five-year contract with Clive Davis’ Arista Records in 1975. For his five jazz-rock and disco-tinged albums for Arista (and Ratamacue released for Atlantic in 1996), he earned five Grammy nominations. His journey in the drum has seen him go from Atlantic City, Erroll Garner and Duke Ellington to fusion, disco and film scores alongside the likes of CTI, George Benson, and Quincy Jones, not to mention his own smash hit records.
The moment he picked up the bass as a teenager, Nathan East knew it was the instrument for him. He was certain his best friend in college would one day be his wife. And when his gut told him to buy a stone and stucco house high on a hill in the outskirts of Los Angeles, despite its $1.2 million price tag, he went for it.
Today, Mr. East is a Grammy-nominated bass guitar player who records and tours with artists from Eric Clapton to Daft Punk, Stevie Wonder and Phil Collins. He is still married to his college sweetheart. And nearly 20 years after he bought it, he is still living in that same house on the hill. “You just kind of know when something is right,” he says.
About one hour into the fascinating, just-released documentary Nathan East: For The Record, there is a quick scene of the bassist sitting on a sofa, quietly perusing his old calendar books from the mid-nineties. “I love keeping these around,” he says as he scans his life-at-a-glance in the little black journals. “It’s like a time capsule and I can go back and see what I was doing.” The entire scene lasts no more than forty seconds, but it is a moment in the film that seems to perfectly capture Nathan’s life and career. As the camera gently pans across and zooms in on the open pages, we see his clean meticulous handwriting, his attention to detail. The names of music stars and legends scatter across the calendar days that are filled with sessions to make and gigs to play, reading almost like a pop music history book. The man is in demand by the very best in the business. But an even closer look also reveals his self-reminders about those who aren’t the stars, written with as much care. Mom’s operation @ Sharp Memorial, right knee is inked in on the 4th, just above Herbie Hancock at Pyramid Studio on the 11th and Natalie Cole and George Duke at Ocean Way on the 18th. He has Mom and Dad’s anniversary on the 28th, the same day as a 9-hour Phil Collins big-band rehearsal in France, one box down from a session for the Escape From LA soundtrack. A flip of the page, more of the same. Sting, Elton, James Taylor, Don Henley. Aunt Doris and Uncle James. Birthday reminders about friends and relatives.
Fourplay would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year!
The future is shaped by us all, so let’s make 2015 a truly amazing year.
Peace & Love…
Over time, things change. Styles evolve. Clothes, hair, production, and music itself.
The icing on the cake may change flavors, but if you get down the cake itself, it is the same as it has always been.
The soul of music is the same, providing the nourishment to uplift our lives, and ambition to dream.
It is said that there are two days that are great in a person’s life…the day we are born, and the day we discover why.
We wish a special 75th birthday to Bob James.
Thank you for all the positivity you have brought to the world…
We are so thankful for the amazing people that make our lives possible, especially our fans!
We would like to wish each, and every one of you, a truly loving holiday season…
Bassist Nathan East and engineer Ed Cherney will be inducted into the NAMMTEC Awards Hall of Fame by the NAMM Foundation. The induction will take place during the 30th Annual NAMM Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards show on Saturday, January 24th in Anaheim, California.
Nominees across thirty creative and technical categories have also been announced for the NAMM TEC Awards. The TEC Awards are the longest-running awards show that specifically recognizes outstanding achievement in audio product innovation and sound production.
East has worked with some of the best in the industry that includes Daft Punk, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Beyoncé, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Barry White, Anita Baker, Forplay and Andrea Bocelli. East is one of the most recorded bass players in the history of music with more than 2,000 recordings. East played bass on Eric Clapton’s multi-Grammy award winning Unplugged album, as well as playing bass on the Daft Punk’s Grammy winning album “Random Access Memories” and in 2014 released his debut album as a solo artist to worldwide acclaim.
He has a B.A. in Music Performance from University of California San Diego, and as an educator has been teaching how to play bass guitar for decades.
What is the current state of jazz, you ask? You might ask genre-bending musician/producer/rapper Stephen Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, who also happens to be the nephew of John and Alice Coltrane. In a recent interview, Ellison lamented “it’s all gone quite stale over the past 20 years” and imagined that if Miles Davis “came back to Earth and heard a lot of these jazz cats, he’d be mad. He’d literally be mad, and he’d just go back to where he was dead at.” Given Miles’ infamous temper and disdain for the conventional, this isn’t hard to imagine at all. But whether you could call today’s jazz “elevator music” is a point I leave to others to debate.
HUGE shout-out to Grammy-nominated Nathan East for hitting 4…
Yes, 4 of Billboard‘s BEST OF 2014 lists, with his debut solo album!
Nathan’s self titled album is also nominated for the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at The GRAMMYs!!