JOB TITLE: Musician
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: Listening to and playing music in people’s rooms. I came out of my shell, met lifelong friends, discovered what I wanted to do with my life, and acquired a lot of useful tools. What more could one ask for from a college experience?
How did you first get into music? My parents were huge music lovers. If they were home and awake, we heard music. I had poor large motor skills as a child. My mother thought that playing the violin would help. That was her story anyway. I started studying the violin in fourth grade, then viola later. In 1964, I got a transistor radio for Christmas and discovered Top 40 radio. I became fascinated by the way the voices, styles, and accents changed from song to song. The Beatles had just appeared, and Motown was in its heyday. It was a golden era. I was obsessed. A friend’s band needed a bass player. I got a paper route, bought a bass and an amp, and got going. After seeing B.B. King on TV in 1968, I fell in love with blues and the guitar, so I switched. Nobody I knew wanted to play blues, so I learned how to rock. I started working right away; I played my first paying gig when I was 16.
What led you to your love of jazz and reggae? My father loved jazz; his favorite musician was Duke Ellington. Every Saturday, he made breakfast so that my mother could sleep in, and he’d play music while he cooked. Jazz to me always meant, “Dad’s home, there’s a hot breakfast, and there’s no school.” I got interested in newer jazz at Trinity because my friends were studying it. There was a small group of us who loved jazz, sharing records and knowledge. I got interested in reggae through Cinestudio! West Simsbury, where I grew up, didn’t have a movie theater. When I discovered Trinity had one, I went to every movie they showed. The seminal reggae movie The Harder They Come arrived there in early 1973. When I saw the scene with Toots and the Maytals singing, I fell in love. I soon realized that Hartford had a large Jamaican population with its own record shops. I started buying and playing reggae imports, to the consternation of my jazz-loving friends. Believe it or not, I later worked with Toots for 22 years and won a Grammy for his album True Love.
You recently played at the Hartford Jazz Festival. What was it like to be back playing in the city? Well, I was born in Hartford Hospital, my parents and I went to Trinity, we all went to the jazz concerts in Bushnell Park, and you can see the Trinity Chapel from the stage. So, you can imagine! I played the festival for the first time with Monty Alexander in 2015. It was profoundly emotional. Lots of my friends were there, and Monty introduced me from the stage. This year was even more moving. While I was running the show and engaging the audience, I was also thinking about the long road I’d traveled to get there and the enormous part Trinity had played in it. It took a couple of days to recover.
You’ve played on Grammy-winning albums. What among your list of accomplishments makes you the most proud? That’s easy. My 2003 award from the Jamaica Federation of Musicians for contributions to the Jamaican music industry. To my knowledge, I am the first non-Jamaican musician to be so honored. It’s fun to win a Grammy, but they are often awarded based on name recognition rather than music. The JFM Award was given to me by my peers.
How did your time at Trinity help shape the musician you are today? The quality of the student musicians when I went there was remarkable. Plus, there were frat parties to play. I also saw incredible music on campus. Among others, I saw Mahavishnu Orchestra, Elvin Jones, Gil Scott-Heron, Fanny, the Fabulous Rhinestones, Dr. Feelgood, Aerosmith, The Persuasions, Blue Öyster Cult, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins!
Did you have a professor who was particularly influential? The whole Philosophy Department was strong and intellectually diverse. [Former Assistant Professor of Philosophy] Dr. Michael Lerner, who now edits Tikkun, was the most influential. He introduced me to Marxist philosophy, which has shaped my political and analytical thinking ever since. I’m not a classical Marxist, but I find some of the insights very practical.
For more on Bassford, including information about his first solo record, please visit www.andybassford.com.