How My Funk Got Fretless
I had the amazing opportunity and privilege to spend one semester of my Berklee College of Music career studying abroad at the Phillipos Nakas Conservatory in Athens, Greece. Having never traveled to the “Mediterranean side” of Europe, I was full of many different emotions. Part of me was concerned about losing my hard-earned contacts in the Boston music scene during my 4 month-long detour. The other, more outspoken, part of me was ready and waiting for an adventure. After weighing all of the pros and cons, I made the decision to sublet my Boston pad, pack up the ‘ol bags, and start forwarding my mail to my new international address.
After arriving on the first day of school I realized very quickly how silly I was to question the opportunity in the first place. The other 11 Berklee “study abroad-ers” and I were filled with excitement as we walked through the conservatory door. Once we met our new teachers the musical connections started happening. Playing opportunities were around every corner.
The wealth of Greek and other Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern traditional music influences provided a whole new backdrop for my new Berklee friends and I to explore our own musical limits. For me this meant entering the world of fretless bass guitar. I had the opportunity to take private lessons with one of the most well known electric bassists in Greece, Yiotis Kiourtsoglou. My interests in playing fretless started with these private lessons in combination with a class called ‘Mediterranean Modal Systems.’ In this class we learned many of the ancient Greek Orthodox melodies and the different scales, tetrachords, and modes used to create them. One of the most interesting aspects of this modal system is that instead of having 12 available notes in an octave like we have in western music, an octave is split into 72 different notes. Once my ears got used to hearing these new tonalities, the musical possibilities started flowing. However, playing a fretted instrument seemed to be getting in the way. By expanding my gear arsenal to include a fretless bass, a whole new musical world was opened to me, and I could play all 72-scale tones at my leisure…
Since having returned from my study-abroad adventure, the singing voice of the fretless bass continues to be a crucial part of my musical endeavors. I didn’t abandon my fretted bass by any means, but when I play those semi-tones on my Fretless it immediately zaps me back all of the amazing sights, sounds, and people from my Berklee excursion to Athens Greece.