Featured Musician - May 2012  

Andrea Niemiec
Andrea Niemiec

Name: Andrea Niemiec

Instrument: Bass

Early Years/Education: I grew up in Silverton, Oregon and started playing bass in high school. My parents had a good record collection, [but] they were non-musical. Early on I listened to ‘60s and ‘70s rock and Motown. The Stax Records rhythm sections were good. Then I listened to alternative rock and jazz. Back in the day, you could find interesting and obscure jazz CDs and look through them. In high school I wanted to play in the jazz band, I thought it was cool. Played electric bass for a couple of years until I attended a summer jazz camp at the University of Oregon. I was there with my electric bass, I was an eighth grader. I didn’t start playing acoustic bass until I was 16. One of the teachers played a recording of Dave Holland playing a solo version of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” I said, ‘I don’t know what that instrument is, but I want to play it, it sounds really beautiful.’

After high school, I went to the University of Oregon and graduated with a degree in Jazz Studies. After that, I moved up to Portland to play in 2003. I lived up here for five years trying to make a living as a musician. I then went back to school at the U of O and did a couple of years in Mathematics and got a Masters of Education. I currently teach Math part-time at Lincoln High School in Portland. My parents, who tried to talk me out of pursuing music as a career, are really happy I went into teaching. My husband, drummer Jason Palmer, teaches full time for Portland Community College.

It’s a challenge for high school students to get started on the acoustic bass. It’s hard to get an instrument -- they’re expensive, and if your school doesn’t own a good one, you’re stuck playing on something terrible. Basses, in particular, can be real dogs, very difficult to play. Basically, having the set-up done correctly by a good bass luthier can make all the difference. Sadly, most high schools don’t have the budget to maintain the instruments properly. I think that discourages a lot of young people at first. Bands: Randy Porter Trio with Gary Hobbs; Dan Balmer Trio with Clay Giberson; Tony Pacini Trio with Mel Brown (subbing for Ed Bennett); Tom Grant in duo settings and casuals with a variety of vocalists.

Musical Influences: Really good bass players like Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Garrison, Ron Carter and Dave Holland, and all the bands these bass players were in. I love the music they played. Just getting to play with Randy Porter, for example, has been a big influence, too. Having studied in college with Dave Captein and Alan Jones has also been an influence.

Most Satisfying Experience: It’s really just a treat every day I get to play with people like Alan Jones, Randy Porter or Dan Balmer. Every time I get to play a gig with them, it’s a great experience. And playing with other people too: I think you learn something every time. With piano players you’re trying to figure out some of the harmonic things or interaction or textural things they’re trying to get you to move toward. With drummers, it’s time feel, bass and drum time feel; and adding a horn player, it’s group playing technique. I try and anticipate what they want me to do. Improvised music is an incredible art form.

Favorite Recordings: Dave Holland – “One’s All” (solo); Oscar Peterson Trio - “Live from Chicago” (w/Ray Brown); Kenny Wheeler - “Angel Song” (Dave Holland on bass); Ravel - “String Quartet in F”; Debussy and Ravel - piano trios (Andre Previn + 2 string players); Aretha Franklin – “Greatest Hits”; Joe Henderson (w/Christian McBride) - “Double Rainbow”; Frank Sinatra & Count Basie Orchestra - “Sinatra at the Sands”; Stevie Wonder - “Songs in the Key of Life”; Red Garland Trio - “Red Garland’s Piano” (w/Paul Chambers). I love the harmonic language of Kenny Wheeler’s work, and Ravel and Debussy--those records (and others by Kenny Wheeler) have been greatly inspirational. Dave Holland’s melodic solos and bass playing are the perfect counterpoint to Kenny’s work. The Oscar Peterson trio w/Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, is one of my all-time favorite groups in jazz -- and Ray Brown pretty much wrote the book on how to play the bass. I’m also a huge fan of Paul Chambers’ work -- the Red Garland Trio records are a great example, as they were well-recorded, and I think he really liked working with Red. Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin are just two in a long list of early R&B/Soul musicians that I love. Their bands sound incredible, and their singing is always inspirational -- as is the singing of Frank Sinatra, particularly in the context of the Count Basie Orchestra. You’d have to look around for quite awhile to find something that swings harder. Frank’s phrasing is incredible on this record and another that he did with Basie, and the band sounds awesome.

Discography: I’ve been in the recording studio, but nothing has been released. I did something with Alan Jones, Nancy King, Dan Gaynor and Kelly Jo Phelps in 2005. I’ve recorded with Randy Porter and Alan Jones in Randy’s studio a few years ago, and did something with Toby Koeningsberg and Jason {Palmer] about six years ago.

Gigs: Wednesday, 5/2 w/Andrew Oliver and Ji Tanzer at Ivories Jazz Lounge, 8 pm; Tuesday, 5/8, at the Art Beat Festival at PCC with the Randy Porter Trio, 1:00 pm; Friday, 5/25, with Tim Wilcox Quartet at the Camellia Lounge, 8 pm.

Future Plans: Feel lucky to be playing now, don’t know what the future holds. I’d love to teach bass. I’ve taught middle and high school kids at the summer music institute put on by the University of Oregon for the past 10 years.

Other: I’m so impressed with how different all the various bass players sound here in Portland. Like Ed Bennett’s style of playing ... he gets that wonderful Ray Brown gut string sound. Then you have someone like Dave Captein, who has virtuosity and plays different styles of jazz. He has chops on the electric as well as acoustic. Then you have David Friesen and Glen Moore, who each have a unique voice on the instrument. They don’t sound like anybody else. The city is blessed to have such a wide variety of bass players.

-- by Rita Rega