March 2009

Dave Carpenter

(11.4.59 - 6.24.08)

The sum of a man’s life is difficult to measure and nearly impossible to describe in several hundred words. However, when a comrade-in-arms falls, one is summoned to characterize this person, in part to help assuage the grief as well as to help make certain that his or her accomplishments will not fall between the cracks and be forgotten.

Dave Carpenter left us so suddenly this past summer that we’re all still scrambling for words, not to mention how to fill the gaps in our musical worlds. The loss of any friend or colleague is devastating enough, but the sting of Dave’s death has been particularly keen for every musician who knew or admired his work. Dave Carpenter was not the best-known bassist on the scene, although his name was always at the top of any musician list I would compile during the past 10 years or more. And he left us music galore to remember him by.

Dave left his home town of Dayton, Ohio in 1983 to tour with the Buddy Rich band, and then worked with major artists including Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Mike Stern, Allan Holdsworth, Sadao Watanabe, Alan Pasqua, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Celine Dion, Michel Legrand, Barry Manilow, Toots Thielemans, Ringo Starr, Harvey Mason, Chick Corea, Brian Wilson, Boz Scaggs, Lalo Schifrin, Michael McDonald, Hubert Laws and Clare Fischer.

Dave and I first played together, if memory serves correctly, on a recording session for Venezuelan pianist Otmaro Ruiz. My immediate impression was of how comfortable everything felt rhythmically. Upon further musical investigation at various sessions and gigs, I realized that Dave knew any standard that would be mentioned as a possible song candidate, and that he owned any style or genre of music or direction where a piece of music could go. He became an indispensible part of recording projects that I produced, and of two bands in particular: the Lounge Art Ensemble, a horn trio with Bob Sheppard, and the piano trio that Alan Pasqua, Dave and I shared.

The concept (or conceit) of the Lounge Art Ensemble was to take existing jazz standards’ chord changes and put not only new melodies atop them, but also come up with a clever title for each song. Things like “Did It Have to Be You?” (based on “It Had to Be You”) or “Worth the Wait” (“Just in Time”). Dave easily won the contest with his “I Hear a Rap C.D.” While there were plenty of saxophone-bass-drum trios around, relatively speaking, none of them enjoyed the luxury of the incredible six-string electric-bass chord comping that Dave could provide while at the same time taking care of business in the walking department. He played 4/4 like the best bass players, he comped like a terrific keyboard or guitar player and soloed like the hippest horn player. He was a one-in-a-million musician. Having worked so closely with another singularly gifted bassist for several years, I can say with total certainty that Jaco would have loved Dave Carpenter.

Dave always watched the drummer, something he learned to do while playing with Buddy Rich. It proved to be a wonderful way of playing in the rhythm section, especially in the piano trio when we would tackle really slow tempos. We could “open” up a bar by playing the next bar’s downbeat on the “phat” or late side, and Dave would always be right there.

Dave was simply one of those bass players who made the drummer sound better, and made the whole band feel better. He had the ears, the hands, the touch, the experience, hours, wisdom and the soul: Dave Carpenter understood what it was to be a bass player. Carp was hailed by listeners and critics alike for his playing on both acoustic and electric basses. He made any piece of music sound and feel better by his incredible musicianship, uncompromising beat and unerring ability to choose the right note at the right time. His musical presence is missed by all who knew and heard him.

I penned a few words for a memorial tribute that was held in Dave’s memory at the Jazz Bakery in August. A who’s who of the Los Angeles jazz scene was there in support of one another. Here’s what was in the program booklet, with apologies for any redundancies in my praise for the man: “Dave Carpenter played with a lot of musicians. If you’re reading this, the chances are pretty good that he played with you. It’s safe to say that everyone in this room today felt that they could claim Dave as their own—a musical best friend. More than any other musician I’ve ever known, Dave had the knack and the ability to complete a band. He was a bassist’s bassist, a drummer’s most trusted ally, a singer or horn player’s dream and a piano player’s best accomplice. The man knew more songs than anyone, it seemed, and he always chose the perfect note to play. His accomplishments on the acoustic and electric bass were of a singular nature. Dave Carpenter was truly great. Dave was also one of the sweetest human beings the world has known. Even when he got surly, losing patience at the idiocy of some dopey situation, his humor got the best of us. You could only love Dave Carpenter … and that’s why we’re all here today. Dave, we’ll always miss you.”

1 Comment

  • Nov 05, 2011 at 04:08PM Matthew Whaley

    I will always remember Dave as a tuba player as we were both in the High School marching band and concert band together. He graduated two years ahead of me so when he left, I moved into his spot as squad leader and first chair tuba player, I had also been asked by the band director to learn the double bass to fill his vacancy in the orchestra. He was a model for me and I tried to emulate him and follow his example in not only the way he played, but also the way he handled himself in difficult and unpleasant circumstances. He was soft spoken and humble, never a show-off; he despised that in other players. Being a professional muscian was his ambition. He played double bass in the orchestra, played electric bass in a High School jazz ensemble named, 'Impulse,' and played tuba in marching and concert band. He also joined the musician's union at the age of 16.
    I lost contact with Dave after High School; I've been living here near San Francisco for more than thirty years, but I had read about his success through an article in a magazine. One day a few years ago, I brought home the "Channel One Suite" DVD from the library and was surprised and excited to see that Dave was living his dream. He made it! From that time on, I began searching for his music and collecting the various artists' CDs that his playing is featured on. ("Jazz For Peanuts," "Overtime, etc.)

    I only wish I could have seen him again.

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