The members of Denver's thriving jazz scene are a varied lot. But musicians like Ginger Baker, Ron Miles, Hugh Ragin, Art Lande, Joe Bonner, Geoff Cleveland, Sam Coffman and University of Colorado jazz-studies head Greg Carroll have one thing in common: their fondness for bassist Artie Moore.
A native Coloradan, Moore, 33, exhibits a becoming modesty when discussing his status as the jazz elite's favorite bass player. While relaxing, unshaven and barefoot, in his Park Hill home, he recalls his sister Melanie telling him, "You should play bass, because bass players will always work." Moore's current schedule supports her claim: He's been known to sit in on as many as nine shows a week. But his popularity has more to do with his versatility and skill than it does with his choice of instrument. He loves the bass with an intensity that informs his every note. "Some people will say the piano is God's instrument, because it has harmony and melody and everything in between," he allows. "But I think bass is God's instrument, because it's the foundation of modern music. Bass plays such a major role in every style--in every style."
Moore took up the bass in fifth grade, and as a student at East High School, he performed in a band alongside classmate Miles. "We used to go out and just play," Moore comments. "I really didn't know anything about music, but they would always throw out standards and stuff. It was fun."
After graduating from East in 1982, Moore worked for a handful of environmental and chemical firms. In a sense, he was following in the footsteps of his chemist father by entering these trades. But music was also a Moore family tradition: Dad was a trombonist, Mom played the piano, and Artie's two sisters were proficient on flute and viola. As a result, no one was surprised when, six years later, Moore's interest in the bass compelled him to travel from Colorado to Philadelphia in order to pick up one that he coveted--the last instrument from a closed music store.
It took a while before Moore was ready to embark on his new career. "I spent about a year and a half, maybe two, just by myself, doing long tones and scales and stuff," he points out. "And I took a couple of lessons from Kenny Walker. He said to listen to Paul Chambers--and all the old great ones, basically--to learn how to create bass lines and motion so that your lines are interesting and have a continuum."
Many listeners would argue that Moore has long since absorbed these truths. But he continues to refine his touch in an effort to achieve maximum sound with minimum effort, in the manner of bass legend Ron Carter: "There is actually a way to strike the string--to physically strike it and get it to vibrate the most--without having to overwork or overplay." He adds, "Recently, it's been more important for me to physically learn the instrument and where all the notes are. I want it to be rote, without having to think about the physical part of the instrument, because bass is really physical."
These instinctual qualities shine through on Moore's CDs with Miles, including Woman's Day, which was released on the Gramavision imprint earlier this year. Given the sensitivity he displays, it makes perfect sense that free-form combos such as the one that teamed Derek Bailey, Bill Laswell and the late Tony Williams are what most deeply inspire and influence him. "After a while, I think that music doesn't have to have a form and a melody," he enthuses. "It can be just sounds and events."
Nonetheless, Moore is no jazz snob. To increase his energy prior to a concert, he often listens to the Rollins Band, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots--and he derives great enjoyment from battling raging guitars to a draw or generating wet funk lines that would do Bootsy Collins proud. He sees his eclecticism as a tremendous virtue: "I think it kind of makes me a different player. I feel fortunate that the people I get to play with--guys like Ron and Geoff Cleveland and Art--are actually open to that."
Likewise, Moore has no objection to mainstream styles. But while he expresses deep reverence for jazz standards and declines to criticize artists who cover them ("It does serve a great purpose," he claims), he politely prefers to tackle original music. "You can only play 'Satin Doll' or 'Misty' so many times," he says. "I hear some players cycling through the same series of tunes. For me, that would be kind of frustrating. I guess it would force you to learn one tune really well. But there's millions of songs. Why just focus on a certain little area?"
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Because he's so in demand, Moore has largely avoided the curse of subsidizing his more avant-garde tendencies by playing smooth jazz. "It's probably great for some people to go out and just play gigs," he acknowledges. However, he says, "I would rather not play music just for money, but actually to get something out of it. And I think that's what I've been fortunate to be involved in: very interesting projects and interesting music."
According to Moore, his various engagements are linked conceptually by an important characteristic: "All the individuals, on their own, are creative individuals. They're people I want to be around." The music, meanwhile, is "a means of therapy, I guess. A means of escape and removing myself from the planet for a while."
Between performances, Moore has started writing compositions of his own. But his mission in life remains to play the bass as well as he possibly can. If the learning curve of musical progress was comparable to human development, he insists, "I'd still say I was a baby." But he'd be the only one.