Rufus Reid Inspires Bass Fans on Campus Visit

Meghan Farnsworth, Staff Writer

Renowned bassist and self-taught composer Rufus Reid came to Oberlin from March 8–10 to teach a series of master classes. He advised jazz musicians, bass players and classical composers in subjects involving instrumental technique, musicality and living as a working composer. His visit culminated in a performance of the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble featuring Reid as a soloist. Reid is a performer turned teacher and composer. After years of studying and earning a degree in double bass performance at Northwestern University and performing with artists like Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Bill Evans, he has decided to educate the next generation of musicians in jazz and classical music. He is the co-founder of the jazz studies and performance program at William Paterson University and has made significant contributions to master classes and workshops worldwide.

Reid’s list of artistic accomplishments also includes composition. Since 1999, he has composed large- and small-scale works, which include pieces for string orchestra, large and small jazz ensembles, double bass ensembles and solo double bass. This is the first time that Reid has taught at Oberlin. His visit had long been anticipated since Peter Dominguez, professor of Jazz Studies and Double Bass, contacted Reid during the middle of last year.

“We had been planning this for a while now,” Reid said. “At Oberlin, I think there are some really wonderful and aspiring players. There is a lot of passion out here.”

Soft-spoken yet keenly attentive, he approaches teaching in a way that accounts for the student’s unique talents. He focuses on technique as well as state of mind, identifying any minute flaws in the student’s instrument that may be detracting from the projection of his or her sound. His senses are so well trained that, after only 15 minutes, he could locate and correct a range of issues, leaving all his students with a cleaner sound and improving their technical efficiency.

When observing students, Reid positions himself almost uncomfortably clo se to his subjects, allowing him to hone in on all the aural and visual information present in their practice. At one point, he asked a student to re-tune his instrument. With an unabashedly honest, yet encouraging air, he said, “I also go out of tune sometimes, but it’s our job as professional musicians to be able to fix these things on the spot.” Reid also took the student’s basses and tampered with their sound. He played it while simultaneously lifting it off the ground. “You have to fix this end-pin,” he insisted.

Another student played a movement from a Bach suite transcribed for solo double bass. “Now that you’ve warmed up,” Reid laughs, “play it again and remember to breathe.” With just this simple piece of advice, the student, on his second try at the Bach, improved significantly on both technique and musical expression just by relieving his nerves.

Reid’s passion, charisma and devotion to his craft comes through in his interaction with students. His advice never comes without careful consideration, and he never fails to provide the reasoning behind his critiques, emphasizing how they will help the student in the long run. As he said at one point, “We want you to be playing until you’re 85.”