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Joe Zawinul Italian Fansite
Interview with Victor Bailey
June 2001

Interview to Victor Bailey
by Marco Piretti

M: First many thanks Victor for accepting our interview. Can you tell us something about your first approaches with the bass instrument?

V: I started playing in 1975.From the very beginning I played every style of music-Funk,r&b,fusion,jazz,rock.I was always interested in every different approach to the instrument.I was looking for unique things from the very beginning as well.But I always put special importance on feel and groove.

M: Why did you choose to play bass? What are the characteristics of that insrument that fascinated you?

V: I was playing Drums in a band and the bassist quit the band right in the middle of rehearsal so I said "ok,I'll play bass".And I had never played before but I picked the bass up and played all the songs right away.So there was no question what I should do after that.

M: What do you remember about your beginnings with jazz music?

V: My father is a saxophonist and arranger so I had great jazz musicians in my house every day.Jazz is not something where there was any big,special moment when I discovered it.It was always there and I always played it.

M: What are the musicians who mainly influenced your music and your way to play bass?

V: My music is influenced by everyone I have ever heard.Name any great jazz,funk or r&b musician,they're an influence on my music.Bass playing wise,Stanley Clarke,Jaco Pastorius, Alphonso Johnson,Larry Graham,Paul Chambers,Ron Carter.

M: What are the experiences that you consider most important for your musical formation, before joining the Weather Report?

V: The most important moments in my life are times hanging with my father Morris Bailey Jr. as a kid.My father composed some great r&b hits in the 60's and 70's for artists such as Patti Labelle,The Stylistics,The Spinners,Nina Simone,Billy Paul just to name a few.My fathers brother,Donald Bailey was the original drummer in the Jimmy Smith Trio.So we had a parade of great jazz guys coming to our house on a daily basis. Also I had been a working musician since I was ten years old,starting on drums. So by the time I joined Weather Report I had done hundreds of gigs including playing with cats like Roy haynes,Sonny Rollins Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba to name a few. So I was young when I joined Weather report,but I was no rookie.

M: Can you tell us the story of your first approaches with Zawinul and Weather Report?

V: I was playing with South African vocalist Miriam Makeba and Omar Hakim played on two shows with us.After the second show he told me he had the gig with WR,that Jaco had left the band.He gave me Zawinul's address and told me to send him a tape. I taled to joe on the phone before he got the tape and he said "I haven't heard you yet but you're the guy I gonna hire.I can feel it".As soon as he and Wayne Shorter listened to the tape they called and I was in.

M: You was only 19 at the time, and you had the unenviable task to replace Jaco Pastorius in the band...

V: What's "UNenviable" about getting the gig with WEATHER REPORT after JACO PASTORIUS? On the contrary,it was a very ENVIABLE position to be in. It's really interesting, it's a very recent developement that people are asking what it was like to play with WR after Jaco as if I had something to worry about. Nobody asked me that at the time,or until very recently. If I wasn't as secure as I am I could almost find the question insulting. Maybe I think I'm better than I am or something but there isn't a man dead or alive that I would have any problem picking up a bass after,now or EVER. I stood on the bandstand more than a few times with Jaco (he sat in with WR once and around NYC at that time everyone sat in on everyone else's gig) and believe me,I had NOTHING to worry about then or now.And I say that humbly and with all due repect to Jaco as the great innovator of the instrument that he is. But I didn't get the gig for nothing.My role in the band was to function more as part of the rhythm section,which was exactly what was needed after five years of such a dominating bass presence as Jaco.That wasn't my choice.If were up to me I would have been playing solos and melodies on everything too. But that wasn't what was asked of me.And the response to the new more functional role of the bass was overwhelmingly positive.

M: What can you say about your relationship with Omar Hakim at the time?

V: Omar and I didn't really know each other at the time we joined the band.We had just played together a few times.But we always knew that we had a special connection when we played.because of that connection there was always a deep mutual repspect and out of that respect has grown a great friendship.That's my brother!

M: There is a video of one of your first concerts with WR at Playboy Jazz Festival 1982. You were playng mainly the "old" WR repertoire from the previous albums; also it was a participation of Manhattan Transfer to that concert... What do you remember of that period?

V: Actually we NEVER played "old " music when we joined the band.At the end of the show we did a medley of old tunes as an encore.But that was about it.We did play one tune from the previous band called "Fast City" but other than that we played all new music.. There's a video clip where you see us playing that medley and if that's all you see you might get a different impression.but that was about five percent of what we were doing.

M: And then the recording sessions of "Procession". By the way, for me it's one of the best WR albums. What do can you tell us about these sessions and the subsequent tour?

V: The only thing i can say about that time is that my head was spinning!I told everyone since I was 16 years old "I'm going to play with WR after Jaco" and it happened!So I was in heaven.I was just out of Berklee College of Music about a year so I felt like i was still in school. The best one on earth!

The Weather Report group in the "Procession" era

M: There are in circulation some videos of the 1983-84 period. The band seems to be at its best, very creative, a lot of new compositions....

V: The live version of our band was much better than any of the records we made.This was a great period for Joe and Wayne because there was a lot of room for expression.With Jaco there was a tendency to always fall into the "burning", high energy thing,but with us Wayne could get back to that thing where he plays three notes in five minutes and says more than most people say with a hundred notes!

M: People say that "Sportin' Life" can be considered one of the best WR albums, comparable with Heavy Weather, but the musical world was changed and that album had a limited success with public. What is your opinion about it?

V: The only difference between Heavy Weather and every other WR album is that it had a bonafide hit single (Birdland).That and that alone is the difference in sales not of WR albums,but ANYBODY"S albums.A hit is a hit,and Birdland is a true hit.

The last incarnation of Weather Report, 1984

M: What were for you the causes of the end of the Zawinul-Shorter collaboration with Weather Report? And why did you decide to continue the partnership with Zawinul into Weather Update?

V: You'd have to ask Joe and Wayne that.As for me there's no real separation between WR and W Update.We were supposed to tour and Wayne wasn't going so we kept going and that's it.

Victor Bailey with the Weather Update, circa 1986
Photo by Fabio Di Biagio

M: You had also an experience with Steps Ahead, what can you tell us about it?

V: The first Steps Ahead band I played with was a KILLER! Michael Brecker,Mike Mainieri,Chuck Loeb,Peter Erskine.That was one of the few bands I've played with where I was totally ready to go out on stage every night,and knew we were going to kill. It was just one of those groups where the chemistry was just right.It's the only thing I've done that comes close to the musical highs I used to get with WR,aside from my own band.

M: And then you was the Madonna's bassplayer for 7 years. It's a very different kind of music! Can you tell us something about your first contacts with Madonna and about your experience in these years?

V: Madonna is a very different kind of music than WR but that doesn't mean it's a different kind of music for me.WR was Joe and Wayne's music.I'm honored and blessed to have been a part of it but it's something I did,not who I am. Before during and after WR I've done tons of pop,r&b and hip hop records,so the idea of me playing with a pop star is nothing unusual.Anyone who bought a lot of other kinds of records besides fusion knew that I wasn't just a fusion guy. Madonna knew my work in all different areas of music,and when she called me it wasn't because I could solo.It was because I could give her what she needed,a big humongous pocket,and play damn good synth bass as well.

M: Then you resumed your collaboration with Zawinul into the Zawinul Syndicate and it was a great period for this band. Why did you choose to play again with Joe, and what are your memories about that period?

V: In 1997 the head of our label ESC Records asked if I would be interested in playing with Joe.Of course i said yes.I hadn't done anything as inspiring as playing with him since WR.So I was happy to join him.It's been great.

Victor Bailey with the Zawinul Syndicate

M: In 1999 you released also a solo album with ESC Records, Lowblow. It was your first solo album after 10 years, and you played also a Jaco tribute (Do You Know Who/Continuum). What can you tell us about that album?

V: Just listen to it and whatever you feel that's what it is.

M: Then you started also your own band. What are your comments about it, and you're planning to continue your activity with that band?

V: It's difficult in this time to start a band.The music I do doesn't sell a million records, and if you're not on tv with videos or on radio it can be tough to get a band started.but I had a very successful tour so I know I can do it. Of course I'll do my own band when we can get things going.

M: What are your general opinion about Joe Zawinul, as man, as musician, as friend...?

V: He's a great guy and a great friend.And a very great musician of course.

Victor Bailey's biography

A true champion of the electric bass guitar, Victor Bailey has distinguished himself as one of the greats on that instrument in the service of Weather Report, Weather Update, Steps Ahead, The Zawinul Syndicate and Madonna. As a leader he brings his impressive facility and undeniable groovepower to bear in the service of his own songs.

An accomplished composer with an inherent musicality that goes well beyond the bass, Bailey strikes a nice balance between virtuosic chops and solid tunesmithing on Lowblow, his second recording as a leader and his debut on ESC Records. Although it has been ten years between albums (his Bottom's Up on Atlantic came out 1990), the timing of Bailey's Lowblow is right on the money. "In the last 20 years, by the time that my generation of guys was mature enough to become artists, everything became so different," he says. "Straight ahead became the sound of 30 or 40 years ago. And electric music became smooth jazz. I think a lot of us reached a point where we got fed up. I hadn't made a record in ten years because every label wanted the radio thing. It took me that long time to run into a label guy (ESC Record's Joachim Becker) who would let me just play my bass and record the music I wanted to record."

In tandem with a pair of unparalleled drummers in Omar Hakim and Dennis Chambers, Bailey grooves with authority on tunes like "Sweet Tooth", "Knee-Jerk Reaction" and the exceedingly funky Larry Graham tribute "Graham Cracker". Special guests Bill Evans and Kenny Garrett contribute their own virtuosity on soprano sax while stellar support is also given by Wayne Krantz on guitar, Jim Beard, Michael Bearden and Henry Hey on keyboards. The burning samba flavored "Brain Teaser" is a stunning showcase of Victor's single note prowess while the lovely, melancholy ballad "She Left Me" features some of his most lyrical playing on the record. He affects a warm, rounded upright bass tone on the piano trio ballad "Babytalk", which features Jim Beard on the Wurlitzer piano and Dennis Chambers flaunting some supple brushwork. The title track highlights Victor's vocal scatting in union with his tight, staccato basslines and "Feels Like a Hug" is a melodic vehicle underscored by cleanly picked arpeggios and synth bass while also featuring some two handed tapping excursions on Victor's solo. Easily the most inspired track on Lowblow is Bailey's vocal treatment of the Jaco Pastorious signature piece "Continuum". Having memorized the song and the solo note for note when he was still a teenager, Victor would later put heartfelt words to the tune in memory of the late, great bassist who was such a towering influence on so many players. "I wrote those lyrics about a week after Jaco died," says Victor. "I can't even say that I wrote it... it just came through me. I wrote the lyrics exactly as they are in about ten minutes. I didn't change a word from that first writing. They just kind of flowed out and it just happened. Of course, I knew the whole thing intimately because I spent half of my childhood practicing it. Every day after school I had my routine of things that I would do. And one was to play 'Continuum'. I mean, I layed that song every day. To this day I can put that record on every day and listen to it. So I really knew the solo well and it seemed like the words already there. It was one truly inspired moment. It just happened and I'm very proud of it."

A native Philadelphian and current resident of Los Angeles, Bailey is a link in that long lineage of Philly bass that has produced such extraordinary players as Jymie Merritt, Tyrone Browne, Alphonso Johnson, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorious, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Charles Fambrough, Gerald Veasley and Christian McBride. And yet, he maintains that his mission on Lowblow went beyond that deep bass tradition. "The main thing that I'm trying to show as a recording artist is that I'm not a bass player," he maintains. "I don't play the bass, I play music. It just so happens that the instrument that I specialize in is the bass. In this post-Jaco and Stanley Clarke era, there've been a lot of records with a lot of phenomenal bass playing on them but not as much phenomenal bass music... things like Jaco's 'Teen Town' and 'Baha Mama' or Stanley's 'Schoold Days', which hold up as great pieces of music in spite of the fact that they were done on the bass. And on this recording I really wanted to show the music that I have inside of me and show that I'm more than a bass player but also a writer, arranger and composer."

Growing up in a musical household (his father Morris Bailey was a respected saxophonist and writer-arranger for many of the acts on Philadelphia Sound Records), Victor was exposed at an early age to a constant flow of great Philly musicians. "I can't say that I really had any mentors, per se, but I'd come home from school and my father would be there rehearsing with guys like Tyrone Browne. So naturally hearing somebody like that when you're 16 and you'd been playing for only a year... it was inspiring to me. After Tyrone would leave I'd want to stay up and practice until midnight... like six hours straight. So he was a big influence on me though I wouldn't say mentor." While still a teenager, Victor honed his chops on local gigs with the likes of organist Shirley Scott and jazz drumming great Mickey Rocker. "Philly is a great place to get your musicality together," he maintains. "The standard of playing is so high and there is so much competition. But it's a great education. If you're 16 and you think you can play and you wanna go to a jam session, you gotta get up and play with the older cats who run all of the club scene. So you have to learn how to play tunes and you have to learn how to play changes. You never step on the stage in Philly unless you really got it together." Larry Graham was a particular bass hero of his in those formative years. "I was a Larry Graham nut before I ever played bass," says Victor. "I played drums when Graham Central Station first came out. I went to see him at the Capitol Center in D.C. and just to sound of the bass alone... it was the first time I had ever heard anybody slapping, and just the sound of the bass was in my head for weeks. I knew he was hitting the bass in some kind of way but my seat was so far back, I really couldn't see what he was doing. But the tone of the bass being slapped and humped was just so phenomenal to me." "And like most guys of my age who are known as jazz guys, I grew up playing in a funk band, covering tunes by Larry Graham, Kool & The Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bootsy Collins. I kind of always played it in a real jazzy style and over time it sort of just became what it became."

After a stint at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Bailey migrated to the New York scene. It was on his first recording date in town, guitarist Bobby Brown's Clean Sweep (GRP), that he met drummer Omar Hakim. They also did two gigs with singer Miriam Makeba before joining Weather Report in 1982. "As far as chemistry, it was immediate," says Victor. "It's that thing that every drummer and bass player dream of. You have certain guys that you just hook up with, and with Omar I never have to think about where the time is, where the groove is, where the feel is. We just play and it's like instant communication. I think we have a good combination of the virtuosity and the education and the heart and the soul and the groove and all that, in equal proportions to each other. I think our styles fit each other because we're both funky but we're not really funk guys, and we're jazz but we're not really jazzy guys. When we get called for something and we know that the other guy is on the gig, we instantly know that it's going to be happening, it's going to be grooving and there's going to be a lot of energy. If it's an improvising situation it's going to be a lot of fun improvising. It it's a groove thing like Madonna was, it's going to be a GROOVE thing... capital letters, please."

The Madonna gig came after her 1982 appearance on "Saturday Night Live". As Victor explains, "They were just putting a rhythm section together for her appearance on the show and she knew who we were and asked the musical director to see if he could get us. So we did that show and she really enjoyed it and she said at the time 'Whenever I do a tour, I'm gonna use you guys.' And we were surprised at how hip she was. I mean, like, at the end of a songs at rehearsal we'd play certain things and she'd turn around and say 'Don't play that Weather Report shit at the end of any tune'. And we both said to her, 'You know about that?' And she sure did." Considering his deep-seated love of groove, Bailey was fulfilled in the pop setting of Madonna's music as he was in the jazzier realms of Joe Zawinul's world beat fusion music. "That is something that I've always been fighting, that notion that I'm a jazz guy," he says. "Fortunately, I've been able to transcend some of the boundaries. I mean, I'm just as happy laying it down with Madonna, and in her band I'm playing with the same heart and the same passion that I play with Joe." While he remains the bass anchor in the Zawinul Syndicate, Victor also eargely awaits the opportunity to spread the bass gospel on tour with his own band. "There's a whole new generation of kids out here who have never seen Jaco or Stanley Clarke. That's like my slot now, that's my audience right there. There's a whole new audience that I can turn on to that genre, that thing. It's like I'm carrying the torch. For real. I'm at the age where I'm one of the torchbearers." Victor carries the torch in fine fashion on Lowblow (Bill Milkowski)


Solo Album

Bottom's Up - Atlantic

With Weather Report

Procession - CBS
Domino Theory - CBS
Sportin' Life - CBS
This is This - CBS

With Steps Ahead

Magnetic - Electra Musician
NYC - NYC Records

With Bill Evans

Escape - ESC Records
Touch - ESC Records

With Joe Zawinul & The Zawinul Syndicate

World Tour - ESC Records

With Michael Brecker

Now You See It, Now You Don't - GRP

With Lenny White

Present Tense - Hip Bop Records

Victor Bailey Biography courtesy of EMMECI Srl


Click HERE to read the transcription of our live chat session with Victor Bailey - June 17th of 2001

Many thanks to Victor Bailey for releasing us this interview.
For more info about Victor, see his
official website (currently under construction)




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