The passing of Lloyd Brevett, bassist for The Skatalites, earlier this month marks the end of an era for the band at exactly the same time that Jamaica is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence. His contribution to the canon of bass playing and ska, reggae and rocksteady remains unmeasurable. There is an excellent piece in The Jamaican Gleaner written by Herbie Miller, director/curator of the Jamaica Music Museum about the recently passed Lloyd Brevett's bass playing style. It celebrates his self taught inventiveness and his enduring influence on multiple generations of bassists and musicians. If you are a fan of ska, then it is a must read.
I had the honor to meet Brevett, on the few occasions that my band opened for The Skatalites. It was a thrill to shake his hand, and he was a easy going man who was happy to chat about anything, including his bass playing style. Though known for his many inventive and innovative bass lines, Brevett was self taught and did not read music. This was always an added inspiration to me, as I picked up the bass with no training and learned to play completely by ear and through trial and error. According to The Gleaner story:
"An intuitive rather than a schooled musician, Brevett's playing was no less authoritative in terms of Jamaican bass attitudes than that of his counterpart Wilbur Ware's in American jazz. Discussing the origins of the Skatalites, McCook once told me: "Ya know, Brevett didn't read, he played by ear. But he was so talented. He was just a born musician.Just listen to "Downbeat Burial" to experience the full weight of Brevett's deft melodic and rhythmic playing. On songs like Roll on Sweet Don and Man in the Street (which still sends a shiver down my spine each time I hear its amazing opening), his walking bass lass lines introduce the songs and hold them in place throughout as the other band members solo and weave in and out of the steady foundation he constructed.
All you had to do was play the tune, he would just pick up from there and give it that feel."
I also asked Brevett about his inability to deal with notated music. In his straight-talking manner he lamented his shortcomings, saying he was overlooked for gigs with the jazz guys because of this even though he didn't think any of those other bassists with all their orthodoxy, had the beat or spirit to match his."
The article provides a touching and wholly appropriate coda to Brevett and the impact of his bass playing style:
"His desire to remain rooted in the tradition rather than opting for cliché was what allowed him to extend the idiom because though he respected it, he was not imprisoned by tradition. He embraced it as the medium by and through which extension occurs."