Ithaca College Turns Up the Bass

By Dan Verderosa, June 22, 2017

Ithaca College Turns Up the Bass

On most days, you can find a wide array of musical instruments being played in the Ithaca College School of Music. But for one week this June, it was all about that bass.

From June 5-10, Ithaca College hosted the 50th anniversary convention of the International Society of Bassists. Nearly 1,500 people from 33 countries attended the event, which featured more than 200 presentations and performances, six international competitions, lectures, presentation of scholarly papers, body awareness clinics, group ensemble and technical training sessions, and independent programs for children and adult learners or amateurs. Among the acclaimed bassists in attendance were ISB founder Gary Karr, Christian McBride, Francois Rabbath and Rufus Reid.

“The 50th anniversary convention for the International Society of Bassists was a huge success,” said Nicholas Walker, associate professor of performance studies and ISB president. “New connections were forged between people of many backgrounds. Luthiers, performers, educators, engineers, academics, children and parents are writing to me from afar with jubilant expressions of their experience at the convention.”

Among the thousands in attendance were Ithaca College alumni eager to watch first-class performances, continue honing their craft and network with other bassists at their alma mater. “It is just a could-not-miss situation,” said Joey Arcuri ’09, who plays in a nationally touring folk-rock band called Driftwood. “Every corner I turn, I’m connecting with people.”

Many of the performances showed off the double bass’s versatility. Performers were just as likely to play Beethoven or Bach as they were Metallica or the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“I got to see so many different approaches to playing,” said Desmond Bratton, M.M. ’14. “It really represented Nicholas [Walker’s] whole thing, because he’s such an eclectic musician himself. There was such an eclectic range of types of music and approaches to music, but all at an extremely high level.”

The convention also included a college bass showcase featuring current college students. Ithaca College students played in two showcase performances on Saturday, June 10. The Ithaca College showcases included student-composed arrangements of modern pop music, such as the Backstreet Boys and Lady Gaga, as well as classical and contemporary pieces.

Katelyn Adams ’20, a performance and music education major who played in the showcases, said that the performances were the culmination of a semester of work arranging the pieces and rehearsing.

“It was really rewarding to see all of our hard work throughout the semester finally being put into place,” said Adams. “Just being able to look up [during the [performance] and see familiar college friends, but also a couple headliners — it was really cool to see them come out and appreciate the upcoming level of professional bass players.”

For children just starting out on the bass, the convention featured a Young Bassists Program. At least 45 youths under 18 attended special events with headlining performers, taking masterclass lessons with some of the best bass instructors in the world and playing in large and small ensemble performances.

While the bassists were busy practicing, learning and performing, a team of luthiers (someone who builds or repairs string instruments), set upon the ambitious task of building three basses from scratch within the week. One of the basses was raffled off and won by an ISB member. Another bass, which must still be varnished and strung, will be given to Ithaca College junior Kiefer Fuller, who was chosen after an interview with the ISB’s managing director and a lesson he had with ISB founder Gary Karr. The third will be completed at a later date and will likely be sold.

On display for the first time during the convention were the Scott LaFaro archives. LaFaro attended Ithaca College in the 1950s before beginning an illustrious career as a jazz bassist, playing in the Bill Evans Trio. He died suddenly in an automobile accident in 1961. The centerpiece of the archives is LaFaro’s bass, an instrument that was built in 1825. It was badly damaged in the accident that claimed LaFaro’s life, but was restored in the 1980s.

“Scott was an innovator in the music world, and he has been a tremendous inspiration to many bassists for over half a century,” said Walker. “The archives enable people from all over the world to come into contact with both his legacy and creative spirit.”

The archives were donated to the ISB by the LaFaro family, and will be housed at Ithaca College.