SCOTT: The impression I get of the Lasted scene is that it doesn’t matter whether anyone outside of L.A. knows your name– if word gets around that you’re creative, you get work.
HUGHART: Well, that’s exactly right. There are a lot of bass players in town, there always have been. In the period of time beginning, let’s say, the late ’60s going up tot he middle ’80s, there was just a bonanza of work here, and luckily I was in on it. I’m a doublers, playing both electric and acoustic, and there weren’t a whole lot of us who did that. There are quite a few more who purported to be doublers but they just weren’t good on one or the other. So through that whole period of close to twenty years, Chuck Berghofer, Chuck Domanico, and I covered just about all of that. And there was more than enough to go around, believe me! I mean, we all just stayed busy!
That’s one of the things that’s changed that I’m really sorry about.. we all were a family back then, people kind of looked out for each other, and people would do things to help– like if it’s 3 a.m. and you’re nodding out, somebody would come up behind you and start giving you a neck massage and telling jokes to perk you up again. We all did that because there was plenty of work, and we were all helping each other get through it. Whereas now, there’s not so much work and people guard it so jealously that even people who used to be friends aren’t really friends anymore.
You were Ella Fitzgerald’s bassist for years in the early ’60s [playing on such tracks as “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”]. Did her pianist Jimmy Jones influence your playing? i thing he had an amazing ability to glide over the complicated changes in creative ways without getting too far out, and I hear that in your playing, too, on something like Natalie Cole’s “This Can’t Be Love”.
The first piano player when I joined her was a guy named Don Abney, a wonderful accompanist. Then Tommy Flanagan, then Jimmy Jones, and then Tommy again. Tommy actually probably had more influence on me than Jimmy in numbers of hours spent, but the things I learned from Tommy were pretty much the same as with Jimmy, and it had to do with exactly what you pinpointed about gliding over complicated changes in creative ways without getting too far out. Both of them were just giants at that; they’d find common denominators in the changes that facilitated that. Jimmy was one of my heroes in the arranging field, too, and I had many opportunities to pick his brain about his approach. He would show me one of his scores and point out that, as simple as it might look, there was always a voice moving somewhere. His influence stayed with me.
As for Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable With Love album, I know how arranger Bill Holman writes, and Bill knows how I play, and on those I got almost nothing but chord symbols. What you do is read the chart down the first time and make revisions, and the second time you play it a little different than you did the first, because now you know what the chart’s like. Bill Holman is one of my favorite writers of all time, I thin he’s a genuis. “L-O-V-E” — I think he nailed that chart so well that, I mean, in all my time with Natalie Cole, I can’t even guess how many times I played that– almost every night for eight and a hald years, and I still love it. I’d just as soon put the CD and listen to it right now, it’s that wonderful. This brings up a subject about bass lines and arrangers– most arrangers, if you press them enough, will admit that a nass player can come up with a better bass line than the arranger can.
And that’s almost universally true. I’ve only known a couple of people who wrote the kind of bass parts i would have come up with myself. Don Costa was very good at it, Victor Feldman was wonderful at it, and.. it’s a very short list! It’s one of the things I’ve concentrated on all my life, having grown up in music, I heard the right things, and later on found out why they were right. And I spent a good deal of my time when i was getting my college degree in music theory learning about voice leading, because that’s basically what the main element in comping up with a good bass line is, voice leading, what goes to what and what doesn’t go to what.