Nathan East — Featured Smooth Jazz Artist Archives (2016)

Jan. 2016

Nathan East — A Priceless Ambassador of Bass

Nathan East is probably the bassist on more of your favourite songs than you realise! In a career that has spanned more than 30 years, he has made over 2,000 recordings. He has been called the “most recorded bassist in music.” The thing is, you probably didn’t realise you were hearing him! Nathan has recorded with everyone from Barry White and Michael Jackson through Toto, Eric Nathan East picClapton, Daft Punk, and, of course, Fourplay, the c-jazz supergroup that he co-founded with Harvey Mason and Bob James at that fateful recording session for James’ Grand Piano Canyon album.

East’s career began when he was sixteen years old. After switching from learning cello to playing bass at 14, East joined a local band called Power, which was hired to play as the backup band for all the artists on a Stax review concert in his native San Diego. Among the artists on that roster was Barry White who, impressed by the band, hired the entire group to be his touring band.

While working with the Love Unlimited Orchestra, East completed his college education majoring in Music, turning down an opportunity to play with renowned fusion guitarist John McLaughlin to do so. Once graduated, he found himself in the studio recording with Barry White.

After working with White, East began to build a career as a session musician through his association with composer/producer Gene Page. East met Page while working with White. Page, impressed by East’s talent and music reading ability, hired him for various sessions he was involved with. This led East to work with a diverse array of artists including Norman Connors, Hubert Laws, Whitney Houston, Julio Iglesias, Anita Baker, and Kenny Loggins.

His association with Kenny Loggins began after a phone call came offering him the opportunity to play bass for him as his regular bassist was unable to complete a tour that Loggins was doing. East took the opportunity and had to turn down a call from Quincy Jones inviting him to play on the Michael Jackson album Thriller. This choice led to East’s first Grammy award nomination for the hit song “Footloose.”
It was after playing “Footloose” with Loggins at Live-Aid that Nathan met internationally renowned rock/blues guitarist Eric Clapton. Clapton had been standing at the side of the stage during the performance and approached the bassist after the show and invited him to “hang out.” This led to a friendship between East and Clapton which, in turn, became a working partnership lasting nearly thirty years, starting with Clapton’s 1983 album Behind the Sun.

As well as working with Clapton, East has had a long working relationship with the former Genesis drummer, Phil Collins, who produced the second Clapton album, August, on which East worked. It was with Collins and former Earth, Wind & Fire vocalist Phillip Bailey that East co-wrote the hit single “Easy Lover” for which they received a coveted Ivor Novello award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors. The recording came about at the end of a two-week session in London for Bailey’s album Chinese Wall. East then went on to make his first recording with Phil Collins on the album Hang in Long Enough. Since then, he has been Collins’ first-call bassist.
It is the polished bassist’s ability to be able to play in all genres of music that has helped him to establish a glittering career spanning the last thirty-odd years. During this time, he has won numerous awards, including most valuable player (bass category) at the international Rock Awards and three-time winner of “Bassist of the Year” at the National Smooth Jazz Award ceremonies.

Supergroup Fourplay came into being during the recording of the aforementioned Bob James album in 1990 with drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Lee Ritenour. The Grammy-nominated band has enjoyed consistent artistic and commercial success by grafting elements of R&B and pop to jazz, appealing to a broad mainstream audience.

Their first record, 1991’s self-titled release, sold over a million copies and remained at the number one position on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart for 33 weeks. Their next LP, 1993’s Between the Sheets, reached number one, went gold, and received a Grammy nomination. In 1995, their third gold album, Elixir, also reached the number one position and remained on the chart for more than 90 weeks.

Fourplay received a Congressional Record from the United States Congress, the House of Representatives recognizing them as distinguished members of the music industry. The award was presented by A. Robert Brown, Sr., Advisor to Congressman Ed Towns of New York at a Fourplay performance in Philadelphia. Fourplay is the only musical group in history to be recognized by the U.S. Congress.

By the end of 2012, Fourplay had released a dozen studio albums, all of which peaked within the Top Five of the jazz chart. All the while, East remained busy as a session musician. His profile extended beyond jazz and R&B listeners again in 2013, due to his involvement on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album, which was certified platinum and won Album of the Year at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony.

As incredulous as it may sound, given the artist’s vast résumé, East hadn’t yet released a solo album. That changed in 2014 with the release of his Grammy nominated, self-titled record. The album debuted at number one in the Billboard jazz charts and features several guest appearances from some of his long-time associates including Bob James, Chuck Loeb, Eric Clapton, Michael McDonald, and his son Noah East on piano on the track “Yesterday.”

In 2015, Fourplay celebrated their 25th anniversary with the release of the album Silver (reviewed in our CD Reviews section, by the way). The group, now with Chuck Loeb on guitar, featured guest appearances from original band member Lee Ritenour and Loeb’s predecessor guitarist Larry Carlton.

This year also saw the release of The New Cool album (also reviewed in our CD Reviews section), an acoustic jazz set with Bob James. This album, like East’s solo album, was released by Yamaha Entertainment Group, further cementing the strong relationship that East has with the Yamaha organisation that goes back to the mid-80s.

He was introduced to the Yamaha basses through the session bassist Abraham Laboriel whom he met at a recording studio in Los Angeles back in the early 80s. East was impressed by the sound of the instrument Laboriel was playing and enquired what it was. Laboriel showed him the Yamaha. East then went on a tour of Japan with Lee Ritenour and Abraham and was introduced to the Yamaha public relations team who showed him a Yamaha bass, similar to the one Abraham had been playing in the studio. East says in an interview on The Hub, “He put one of those basses in my hands, and I didn’t look back. I told him, ‘I have to go home with this,’ and I’ve been playing those basses ever since.”

Alongside all his playing engagements in 2012, East launched the Online Electric Bass School as part of the ArtistWorks Bass Campus www.nathaneastbass.com.

To encapsulate a career as far-reaching and stellar as that of Nathan East is an almost impossible task. To add to his blinding portfolio, he is also an accomplished amateur magician, yes, magician, and is a member of the Magic Circle and the Academy of Magical Arts. He also holds a pilot’s licence. Yes, yes, I agree with you, it seems there is nothing that Nathan East turns his hand to that he can’t conquer or achieve. Amateur and up-and-coming artists who are looking for a solid role model as inspiration should look to this well-accomplished and prolific virtuoso as the epitome of excellence driven by desire and determination. – Steve Giachardi