Norm Stockton: “I’ve always tried to make my music something that speaks to the heart”

Versatile bass guitar maestro Norm Stockton has worked with a wide range of artists over his decades-long career. He is equally adept at working with american idol star Clark Beckham as he is in smooth jazz-funk with Steve Laury of Fattburger.

His rock talents are immense and his thirst to explore the possibilities of I music in all its forms led him to explore the grooves of West African polyrhythms.

In addition to his bass adventures, Norm is an educator who has released a series of well-received instructional DVDs and the book, The Worship Bass Book: Bass, Espresso & The Art Of Groove. He regularly gives masterclasses at music schools in Los Angeles and London, and his website ArtofGroove.com (opens in a new tab) has subscribers from all over the world.

Norm’s solo works feature high caliber guests including John Patitucci, Gregg Bissonette, Etienne Mbappé and many more. He has worked with numerous Grammy winners and was the live bassist for cult music artist Lincoln Brewster for six years.

His music and his Christian faith are central to his life and work: there is a philosophical element to his music that is easy to appreciate. Now based in Orange County, Calif., Norm talks to us about five albums that marked key moments in his career to date.

Norm Stockon – Grooves and Sushi (2021)

“Sushi is sort of a recurring theme with me. I’m half Japanese, born and raised in Japan, so this is close to my heart. What was really exciting for me was that it was the first project I’ve ever done as a leader where everything was followed live.

A testimonial from the fabulous players on it

“The idea was that we would record a day and it would be done. Then I thought, ‘If we have to do this, how much harder would it be to have a camera crew there to film it so we can actually see the performances?’ It’s a much more complex process, but I was already too far down that road by then, so we did four different shoots with four different sets.

“We thought it would be kind of fun to have sushi and tell stories, and maybe even put some of those stories on the record! I had tons of fascinating conversations, so it ended up being a web series with people like Gregg Bissonette talking about working with Ringo, and Chris Coleman talking about playing with Prince.

“It was really a thrill and a challenge, because we were playing music that had never been played before, in an ensemble that had never played together. It’s a testament to the fabulous players who were on the project that everything went incredibly well.

Norm Stockon – Tea in the Typhoon (2010)

“When you are an independent artist, you have total autonomy over the artistic approach you take. You don’t have a label telling you it has to be more commercial or anything, so I’ve always sought to make my music something that speaks to the heart and actually moves someone on the plane. emotional. I was immersing the daylights out of me with the West African music I was listening to that inspired the writing.

It’s not crazy new ground, but the approach to time and the approach to groove and rhythm placement, it’s all very different from a standard Western approach.

“Technically, a lot of it is fingerstyle. It’s not some crazy new ground, but the approach to time and the approach to groove and beat placement, it’s all very different from a standard Western approach. Dave Owens, the drummer, introduced me to an album called Chokola by Jean-Luc Ponty; the rhythm section is all the West African players who lived in Paris at the time and they are just fabulous.

“From there, I started listening to other West African stuff, and I was shown this 12/8 stuff and this 6 out of 4 feel. These musicians do that, in a way seamlessly, back and forth, and to a Western musician, you’re like, ‘Man, this is grooving like crazy… but wait, where’s that one?’ It’s really interesting music.

Norm Stockon – Thinking About Sushi (2003)

“My first project as a leader – and where the sushi motif started. At the time I was a clinician with a Christian label called Maranatha! Music, mostly going to churches all over the US and Canada , doing educational stuff.

Everything was tracked using a Roland VS-1680 in hotels across North America

“I would have a room full of bass players and I thought it would be great to spend some extra days time and really teach some essential stuff. So it ended up with some videos, looking at the timing, the groove, the phrasing, without overplaying. Then people asked me: ‘Where’s your own music?’ thinking about sushi is my answer.

“It was all tracked using a Roland VS-1680 in hotels across North America, alongside a guitarist, Kevin Rogers. He would come in and we’d plug in and lay down tracks. I tracked my solo version of The Star Spangled Banner a night in New York with a view of Manhattan. It was quite a while. When we went to mix it, we couldn’t use the 1680, so we had to transfer it using MIDI timecode.

“In places I can say things have shifted a bit, time-wise, due to timing issues, but no one has ever noticed, at least not yet! Tangentially, however, one of the skills the hardest to develop is the ability to step back and go, “Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but it was musical. Use your ears to edit, not what the screen tells you.

Lincoln Brewster – Today is the Day (2008)

“Lincoln is a fabulous guitarist who played with Steve Perry of Journey for a while. He’s very well known as a contemporary cult artist and I’ve worked with him for quite a few years. It was a really important album for me, not just in terms of exposure, but because it covered a very wide range of styles.

It was a really important album for me, not just in terms of exposure, but because it covered a really wide range of styles.

“I came into music as a rock and prog guy, but then I saw Chick Corea play, and later the band Stu Hamm, which completely changed my trajectory. I could rock, but I was exhausted with that. Lincoln, however, is a rock guy. He told me it wasn’t a fusion album. There’s a different way of playing eighth notes in a rock context; different phrasing, note duration, and all that. We’ve done everything from John Mayer blues to caffeinated rockers and gospel rock type stuff.

“I grew a lot as a rock player on this album. It’s really easy to lose what makes it cult music, what makes it resonate with someone on a spiritual level. We have able to stay focused on where the music said what the lyrics said.The songs on this album are still played in churches every Sunday around the world.

Steve Laury – Dreams of Vineland (1996)

“Steve was the original player in Fattburger, a major smooth-jazz band in the United States and Asia. He’s an amazing jazz guitarist. This album was released on CTI Records, where George Benson, Ron Carter and so on were all artists.

Funnily enough, it came out the year after I first wrote it in Bass Player. I really felt that things were moving in the right direction at that time!

“It was my first real national release – everything I had done until then was with local or regional artists. That was when it was so exciting to see it on sale at Tower Records.

“I lived in San Diego where Steve was also based; we became friends and I played on two of the songs as well as doing all the sequencing for those tracks. I was playing a Modulus Quantum V SPI on this album.

“Later I used my MTD J5 which was a prototype for their Saratoga basses and eventually my MTD signature. It was Michael Tobias’ version of a kind of Jazz bass, and it’s a really good rock bass , with a very aggressive sound.

“On my first solo album, I used a lot of effects, then not a single one on Tea, but then I went back to more textural stuff – a less conventional application – on the last disc. Curiously, it came out the year after I first wrote it in Bass player. I really felt that things were moving in the right direction at that time!

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