Bassist Carol Kaye | Teen Jazz Influence Interview

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT CAROL KAYE:

Carol Kaye has been playing bass since 1963, but started out as a jazz guitar player in 1949. Her career commenced with her playing in all the jazz clubs in the late 1950s and she started doing studio work on guitar in 1957. She first became a recording bass player when one recording session, the bass player didn’t show up and she was handed a bass to fill in for him. Carol Kaye has done over 10,000 record dates which is over 44,000 songs. She has played on movie scores such as M.A.S.H., Mission Impossible, Adams Family, 1st Bill Cosby, Hawaii 5-O, Wonder Woman, Thomas Crown Affair, Airport and the Brady Bunch. She has played with musicians including Beach Boys, Ray Charles, The Righteous Bros., Johnny Mathis, Nancy Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Monkees, Sonny & Cher, Quincy Jones, Ike & Tina Turner, Mel Torme, Bobby Darin, Frank Zappa, and Wayne Newton.

THE INTERVIEW

HER ADVICE FOR THE FEMALE MUSICIAN:

The most important thing as a female musician is to have a good attorney – not an entertainment lawyer. You need to have a good regular attorney because you don’t want any kind of deals made that you don’t know about. “It’s a fallacy that you have to have an Entertainment Lawyer… no-way, and in fact I’ve seen them make secret deals with each other just have a ‘good lawyer period’ or one who’s not in with the rest of them. If it’s an Entertainment Lawyer, so many lawyers would make deals just to further their own careers and won’t handle things right for their upcoming clients but be more in favor for the company instead. I’ve seen it happen.”

“Unless you’re a huge big star, you’re always in some danger of deals being made without your knowledge and probably not for your own best interests but for the good of the attorneys. With big stardom, you command more power and more loyalty but even then, I’d be careful and always watch them. I know a few attorneys who are excellent but also many who are just terrible yet have the smooth charm and they can fool you — so you just need to find the right one as you climb the ladder of success.”

The thing about the music industry is that you have to do it well, and you can’t fall in love with the idea of being a star. “As a musician, you have to get your craft together and don’t believe all the compliments you receive – take everything with a grain of salt. There are a lot of good people in the business, but at the same time, if you are trying to make it in the business, there are some bad people who you really shouldn’t be around.”

As a musician, Carol Kaye had found it tough to make a living… but she’d always had respect and that was the “easy part”. “I’ve always had it very tough from the get go, with my poor days (I was struggling big time until I was about 28-29 years old and then it was better, but I worked day and night since I was 9 years old, that’s NOT easy at all).” Her career was very easy in the sense that she was well-respected by all musicians, but had a tough life supporting herself and her family, having children beginning at age 16, and responsibilities she always managed to take care of.

“Today there seems to be so much pornography, ads showing women’s bodies, and so much accent on sexual stuff, that I believe it’s tougher for women to get the respect they deserve when they’re professional musicians. And I believe the men respected the women in the music business a lot more in general in the jazz world of the 40s and 50s than they do in the general music world of today. The jazz world I think is better for women overall when you compare styles of music.”

“Don’t use drugs, don’t drink and keep in touch with real friends and family. It is tougher today to make it as a female musician even though there is more opportunity.”

Carol Kaye began working at the age of nine. After taking lessons for 3 months, she began her professional guitar career at the age of 14 and discovered that music was a good way to earn money to pay for food and other essentials in life. Music taught her the importance of being good at what you do. “I feel there is way too much emphasis on sex, image, beauty and having to look ‘sexy’ to sell yourself these days. Also, all I see on-stage sometimes are singers standing up, singing and pretending emotions… It’s much better to sing with your honest emotions than to pretend emotions and to ‘put on a show’ – that’s very facetious and phony; yet the public sometimes does respond to some of the energy of phoniness these days… I still think it should be more honest on-stage.”

Another piece of advice Carol Kaye has is to keep as much control over your product (your music). She suggests you start your own publishing company in your own name so you don’t have to get a special bank account. “If you publish your own songs and copyright them, youcan wrangle a better deal for yourself with companies, and keep some of the publishing rights. Ownership of your tunes guarantees you royalty monies and power for a better contract more in your favor with companies.”

DATING IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY:

Her first piece of advice, she found rather humorous. “Stay away from drummers – they are kind of wicked.” Although she says there are nice drummers, she has found them more likely to be trouble. đŸ˜‰

“Don’t date someone you are close with and work with, half the time it doesn’t work out and it momentarily wrecks your career. The man gets off scotch free, but women take more time to get over it. The best way to get over a relationship is to get mad. If you are angry enough, then you can perform even better.” Carol warns that you have to be careful with relationships and “that it has to be the right combination”.

MAINTAINING YOUR IDENTITY:

At first she found difficulty staying true to herself in her success. She knew that she had a lot of power. “The power comes from when you realize that because of you, artists have hits – you get a big head. You have to be careful not to let success turn your head. Make sure you keep your life centered well by having a good hobby or two away from the music business… it’s important to keep humble, and not believe all the praise.”

Carol Kaye has never had problems with competing with men. She was never mean, but let them know that she wouldn’t go for any foolishness. When you work with men in the music business, especially in studio work, it’s a very important business and everyone is super professional. Women are treated very well in the studio work.” She was also respected because she was better on her instrument than most men. “Don’t take your identity from men – don’t let them tell you how to be a girl.”

“There are a few lowlifes around, just ignore them, stay away from them. Sometimes feeding back to them word for word any insults they give to you, ‘you mean blah blah blah?’. Sometimes that stops them from tangling with you to argue….put it ALL on “them” – you don’t have to defend yourself to a low-life at all, they’re not worth the dust on your shoes. Really great professionals act like professionals.”

BEING LEFT OUT AS A FEMALE MUSICIAN:

There was one time where this one guy did a lot of record dates and everyone hired her except this guy because she was a woman. He was from the south and so he didn’t have a lot of confidence in her playing because of her gender. Then at one point he had to hire her, and realized that she was a regular person, but it was for about a year that he didn’t want to hire her.

SIGNIFICANCE OF IMAGE AS A PERFORMING ARTIST:

“Image to the artist is very important. Image to the musician is not important. When you play your music – it speaks. If you are a star – you have to craft your image. You have to sit and think about who you want the public to think you are.Music is a business. If you are an artist – you are the product, you have to look at yourself how an audience sees you and figure out how to improve.”

“Play your instrument, but don’t think of yourself as a woman. Think of yourself as a musician – don’t put woman first in your mind. Music doesn’t have a gender- guys don’t think of themselves as a male musician. If someone brings it up, don’t give it any attention. But if someone is really giving you a hard time, repeat back to him what he is saying. Twist it around so the rest of the people in the room will laugh at him and the will stop. If someone is giving you a hard time, depending on what type of person it is determines how you deal with it. You always have to act like a professional.”

“Practice – really practice – practice makes perfect. You have to really dedicate yourself to your craft.”

ADVICE FOR THE YOUNG MUSICIAN:

Carol Kaye’s advice for the young musician is to be wary of the music education that you are receiving. “People were playing tunes with a LOT of chords in them until Rock and Roll came along which don’t have a lot of chords. Today ex-rockers are teaching music and they don’t know their chordal theory at all, and so music education is suffering badly because they’re all teaching note-scales – music functions with chords, not note- scales…there’s a huge gap in good music education these days… be sure to study chords, chordal notes, chordal progressions, that’s the only way to play and write good music. Music has always had good chords and education today is lacking because of the lack of fine teachers like there used to be”

LOOKING FOR MORE INFORMATION?

If you are interested in reading more about the Carol Kaye’s career and her successes, you can visit her website. If you are a bass player and even if you aren’t, I personally recommend checking out her Playing tips page.

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Published on: December 5, 2012

Filled Under: Interviews

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