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BBC 2007
BBC 2007, photo credit: Charles B. Ford, II 2007

Gerald Veasley's Bass BootCamp:

Is it for You?

by S.K. Wallace

It's approaching that time of year again when, nationwide and even overseas, bassists of all abilities and from all walks of life pack their bags and basses and head off for a long weekend of intense and immersive bass experience at Gerald Veasley's Bass BootCamp in Reading, Pennsylvania, March 28-30, 2008. The question is: Will you? "Music camp" can mean a lot of different things, and people have a variety of expectations when they attend one. Even a specific program can vary in content or delivery from year to year, be it better, worse, or just different. Two people can attend the exact same event and experience it in diametrically different ways. While I can't (and won't) tell you what to do, my intent is to share some practical information based on my experiences at Bass BootCamp in 2005 and 2007.


Gerald Veasley's Bass BootCamp's Mission Statement is "TO INFORM AND INSPIRE THROUGH HANDS-ON INSTRUCTION IN A CHALLENGING YET SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT." In BBC's group instruction, master classes, and special guest presentations, campers have access to some of the best bass players and teachers in the world. In past years, guest instructors have included Gary Willis, Anthony Wellington, Bakithi Kumalo, Michael Manring, Adam Nitti, Maurice Fitzgerald, Brian Bromberg, and Richard Bona. In addition to studying with the bass playing faculty, campers have had the opportunities to work with drummer/sound engineer Richard Waller, III and jazz musician/educator Chris Farr.

Adam Nitti's Bass Circle,
photo credit: Charles B. Ford, II © 2007

The first major activity is the "Bass Circle." Approximately six campers at a time go forward with their basses. Each person is individually taught a lick by Gerald Veasley or one of the other faculty members, and the group plays a multi-layered backup groove as the artist solos across it. It's a great hands-on icebreaker to get everyone playing and interacting with the faculty and each other. Also interesting is watching and listening to the instructors' spontaneously creating their own respective concepts in their unique and diverse styles. Be advised that the Bass Circle can be a rather lengthy activity that may go on for over an hour, given the sheer numbers of people involved.

Campers are divided into groups according to self-determined ability: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. Something I thought was particularly good last year was that the largest group (intermediate) was further divided into two subgroups to avoid overcrowding in group-level core classes and seminars. The different groups rotate among the various teachers for two or three hour-long core classes or seminars a day. Everyone has a chance to be in a class instructed by each faculty or teaching staff member over the course of the weekend.

Richard Bona, photo © by S.K. Wallace

In addition to teaching the groups' core classes, there are several activities for the whole camp assembly throughout the weekend: Gerald Veasley presents a daily "Motivational Series," and the guest instructors teach master classes. (Of particular note was Richard Bona's 2007 master class.) There have been other special-interest sessions on topics such as contract law, recording technology, and other aspects of the music industry. A nice addition to the 2007 activities was an (optional) Sunday morning devotional service led by BBC staff member Luther Dowdell.

Other events include concerts associated with the Berks Jazz Festival. 2007 featured a virtuoso performance by Brian Bromberg on upright bass and Gerald Veasley's Electric Mingus Project that included an appearance by renowned jazz violinist John Blake, Jr. (Note: Concert tickets are not included as part of the camp. One must purchase tickets separately through the Berks Jazz Fest.)

Sheraton-Reading, BBC 2007,
photo credit: Charles B. Ford, II
© 2007
Practical Considerations

Inclement Weather: March weather can be unpredictable in the Northeast. Last year, a fierce snowstorm hit on the day that camp began. Most of us were fortunate to make it in before things got too bad, but some folks were delayed considerably in their travels with late, canceled, and diverted flights; treacherously icy road conditions, etc. One camper who flew in from the West Coast finally arrived late Friday night after the first day's activities were over. A good thing is the official lodging for the campers is now also the BBC venue. [When I had first attended in 2005, campers were shuttled in vans from the hotel to a separate location for the camp events.] 2007 BBC faculty member Richard Bona's arrival from New York City via Amtrak on Sunday afternoon was considerably delayed, so his 1:30 p.m. master class had to be moved to later in the day.

Travel: Philadelphia has the nearest major airport. Some campers rent cars to make the approximately hour-long drive from Philly to Reading, but others question the economic sense of doing so when the rent car is going to sit unused the better part of three days. There's not much spare time to drive around shopping or sight-seeing, and that's not the point anyway (although those might be good diversions if one's spouse or other traveling companion isn't participating in the camp). Some attendees arrange carpools (but coordination of such is generally limited to returning alumni who are already in contact with each other.) When I attended BBC in 2005, there was a camp-sponsored shuttle from the airport to Reading on Friday morning, but the shuttle was discontinued by 2007. Last year, I took a (paid) shuttle service (informational link at the end of this article) from the Philadelphia airport to Reading.

Food and Lodging: One should be aware that room and board are not included in the BBC registration fee. The Sheraton-Reading (cf. informational link) is the official BBC venue and where most out-of-town campers stay and where many dine. (Snacks and bottled water are provided during the day, and there may be special events like a dessert reception.) Since hotel fare is not necessarily everyone's preference and can be costly, one may want to consider alternatives. In 2005, a couple of guys I know invented and opted for the "All Philly Cheese Steak Diet." (Yep, exactly what it sounds like.) On the opposite extreme, last year, there was the health-conscious camper who proudly announced he'd packed an entire suitcase of oatmeal and was frequently observed munching raw oats from a large, china serving bowl that he left lying around on the floor a couple of times-I saw someone trip over it once. Personally, I packed some energy bars for quick meals to save time and money.

Logistics: In light of the above (and possibly other) concerns, careful planning and flexibility are important. If time and funds permit, to get the most out of BBC, I'd recommend arriving early and staying late if at all possible to avoid missing anything. Some campers had to leave Sunday afternoon before Richard Bona got in; some people missed part or all of the first-day activities, even with the BBC kickoff's being postponed somewhat. Things may not go exactly according to the original schedule, and events may be shifted or changed. "Type-A" personalities who require everything to follow a plan to the letter and a schedule to the minute may need to adjust their mindset and expectations. Flexibility is required. Regardless, if one purposes to be fully present for whatever portion of BBC one attends, there is value to be found.

In Their Own Words

Bruce Yarborough, photo © S.K. Wallace

Name: Bruce Yarborough
Profession: Aircraft Pneudraulics Systems Mechanic
Bass Styles: funk, R&B, smooth jazz, Gospel.
Gigs: Benefit for the troops at Bethesda Naval Hospital, weekly church services around the D.C. Metro area.
Level of Bass Playing: somewhere in between intermediate and advanced
Years attended BBC: 2006, 2007

Why did you attend BBC?
I decided to go as I thought it would help my playing and for the opportunity to be amongst the great bass players of today and to meet people from all walks of life and from all around the world.

What did you like best about BBC?
The willingness of everyone involved to share whatever information they had about bass playing and being a bass player with all who were there... also the humanness of the great players...

Any advice to anyone considering attending BBC?
Go. You won't regret it.

Ryan Madora, Joyce Goodman, and Anthony Wellington, Bass Circle,
photo credit: Charles B. Ford, II ©

Name: Joyce Goodman
Profession: Recruiter
Bass Gigs: I play in a volunteer jazz orchestra and a Klezmer orchestra.
Level of Bass Playing: Intermediate
Year attended BBC: 2007

Why did you attend BBC?
I love playing bass and wanted to learn more and be with like-minded people.

What did you like best about BBC?
I loved the enthusiasm, positive energy, nurturing, and support from teachers and students. I was a sixty-eight-year-old white woman among seventy-five men of different nationalities and races, from teenagers on up. Yet, I fit right in. I was part of a select group that shared my thrill of playing bass. (It was extra-nice to be the ticket winner in a drawing for a brand-new Ibanez bass.)

Any advice to anyone considering attending BBC?
You will enjoy the music, camaraderie, and outstanding musicianship, but you might get more out of it if funk is your style. I would have liked the opportunity to play in groups with other instruments.

Hans van Dongen, photo © S.K. Wallace

Name: Hans van Dongen
Profession: Graphic Designer/Teacher
Bass Styles/Gigs: no gigs at the moment... before that, some fusion and some weird music gigs... weird, like, in no description to be found. It had some jazz, funk, rock and soundscapes in it. Great fun, but I got kicked out of this band. My main style is old- and new-school funk though.
Level of Bass Playing: Intermediate
Years attended BBC: 2005, 2007

Why did you attend BBC?
Well, if you can attend something like the BBC where you can get lessons from bass players whose CDs you have and where you don't have to be Mr. Bass Superman (or Ms. Bass Superwoman) yourself, the decision is easily made!

What did you like best about BBC?
The brotherhood... Everybody in the organization does his or her utmost to make everyone feel at home and welcome. This reflects on the participants. The fact that you don't have to be just as good as the instructors makes it all very accessible.

Any advice to anyone considering attending BBC?
Like they say at Nike: Just do it!

photo courtesy of Skip Metheny

Name: Skip Metheny
Profession: retired computer professional, (former aircraft mechanic, avionics tech, police officer, touring drummer, Vietnam veteran)
Bass Styles/Gigs: I play fretless bass in a dance band that plays funked-up versions of old-time, string band and big-band swing tunes.
Level of Bass Playing: serious enthusiast
Years attended BBC: 2005, 2007, 2008 (anticipated)

Why did you attend BBC?
To be around other bass players and learn from them...

What did you like best BBC?
The people - both campers and staff; the friendly, accepting environment...

Richard Bona's Magic Shoes! Photo © S.K. Wallace

Any advice to anyone considering attending BBC?
In 2004, I was a very beginning bass player. I felt a need to learn more, discovered the BBC online, and agonized on whether I should go. I felt too inexperienced; I didn't read music and felt I would not fit in with the "big boys." I went anyway, discovered that there were others just like me, as well of lots of "big boys" and girls too. Everyone was friendly and eager to share their experiences. It was such a great experience, I'm on my way back for the third time. If you FEEL that you want to come to the BBC, COME. My first time, I felt I would be the oldest and least experienced. Neither turned out to be true, but it did not matter. The weekend was very motivating and educational.

Informational Links

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S. K. Wallace About the author:

Bassist S.K. Wallace is a college chemistry professor, musician, and freelance writer.

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