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Press & Reviews - Pondering the Sushi CD

2001 Pondering CD review by GlobalBass.com


Norm Stockton ImageFaith Forward
By Brent-Anthony Johnson
Globalbass.com

In these days of musical diversification as a financially motivated end to being a full-time musician, Norm Stockton stands as an example of directive thought process in his approach and niche. Specifically, Norm is a bassist who finds satisfaction, and employment, as a bassist and instructor for a Christian "Worship Team" that records and performs in the state of California for Maranatha Music. Norm, also moonlights as a clinician for MTD instruments, and private instructor as he promotes his two-volume instructional video titled "Grooving For Heaven" - which is geared toward the Christian bassist. All of these facets form a balanced and well-rounded life for Norm and his family.

Most recently, Norm has released a critically acclaimed premier solo disc titled, "Pondering The Sushi", which can be obtained directly from Stocktones Music, www.mp3.com, or at live events. The disc is fantastic, to say the least, and Norm covers a variety of styles to the material while displaying his impressive plucking-hand approach!

I met Norm a couple years ago - after buying the "Grooving" videos - and we've been chatting ever since. Beyond being mere contenders for the scant number of Christian sessions in the U.S., we are both fathers and husbands who's first priorities are to pursue those things that are consistent with specific direction and calling for our lives! As Norm says, "the providing thing is all on God." Right on!

In the following interview (compiled from several email exchanges), we cover a wealth of information about Norm "the band leader/solo artist"; Norm the "video instructor", and about... Norm, the bassist!


BAJ: Hey bro! Let's begin at the beginning... Tell us about your childhood! (Laughter) More specifically... tell us about where you grew up, and your start as a bassist.

NS: I was born and raised in Japan, where my father was a civilian working for the US Navy as an electronics engineer. I had the typical musical experiences as a child... enduring piano lessons for a short time! It's amusing, because Ray and Susie, my older brother and sister, were childhood virtuosos on the guitar and piano, respectively. I was more into GI Joe and Matchbox cars, man! Although I definitely enjoyed listening to music, it wasn't until I was 15 that Paul McCartney's bass lines on the Beatles' classics motivated me to remove a few strings off of an acoustic guitar and try my hand as a bassist. It just took off from there...I was definitely hooked! I proceeded to dive headlong into progressive hard rock, and eventually into R & B, funk, jazz, and anything that grooves, really.

BAJ: What do you identify as your primary role as a bassist. And what are the primary ways you find yourself working that matter into fruition?

NS: It is ALL about the groove. That's totally my objective as a bassist. I must say that it wasn't always that way! I spent many years being a much more of a riff-oriented player, and was primarily concerned with whether or not I was playing enough blazingly fast runs! It wasn't until I moved beyond my focus on progressive rock and began to explore other genres that I came to realize that the bass guitar is first & foremost a rhythm instrument. I'm not dissin' anyone who explores melody or harmony on their bass; my only point is that it CAN'T be that at the expense of rhythm. Any working bassist will attest to this. Consequently, my primary focus in any musical situation is to ensure that my bass is making a rhythmically cohesive and solid statement with the rest of the ensemble, and that the tune is anchored... and saying something, musically.

BAJ: Amen! Who do you site as your primary musical influences, and do you have a current working dialogue with those musicians? Also, what are the "10 Essential Discs" in your life?

NS: On bass, my influences are definitely folks like Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, John Patitucci, Alain Caron, Abe Laboriel, Steve Bailey, Japanese bassist Tetsuo Sakurai, Brian Bromberg, and for amazing groove and feel... Neil Stubenhaus. More recently, I've been really listening to a lot of ex-John McLaughlin Trio bassist Dominique di Piazza lately! He's simply amazing - both as a musician and person. I've had the profound honor of becoming his friend, recently spending 10 days with him in the south of France, and even studying with him a bit. Otherwise, I have met and spoken with most of my influences, but I wouldn't say that I have a working dialogue with them. For music in general, I've been profoundly influenced by the music of Bela Fleck, Jonatha Brooke, Sting, Jungle Funk, DC Talk, The Crusaders, Seal, T-Square, and a bunch of other bands I'm not recalling immediately. I really do enjoy just about any music that is well crafted and emotive, regardless of the genre. Case in point would be my list of 10 essentials! Here's a rough stab, in no particular order:

  1. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
  2. Mercy, Brian Duncan
  3. Wind Loves Us, Jinsaku
  4. UFO TOFU, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
  5. Plumb, Jonatha Brooke & The Story
  6. Jesus Freak, DC Talk
  7. The Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting
  8. Healing the Wounds, The Crusaders
  9. Tales, Marcus Miller
  10. Faith Hope Love, King's X

My honorable mention would definitely be Front Page, the debut project by a trio of the same name featuring Dominique DI Piazza, guitarist Bireli LaGrene, and drummer Dennis Chambers (with a cameo by John McLaughlin). It contains some fabulous music, and recently won the French equivalent to the Grammy award. The only reason it isn't on my "Top 10" list is that I just got it, and am still acquainting myself with the tunes.

BAJ: Tell us about the decision making process that resulted in the new disc!

NS: Actually, it was simply the desire to finally bring to fruition some of the music that I'd been wanting to express for years. A lot of folks know of my playing through the Maranatha clinics or the Grooving for Heaven videos, or are unfamiliar with my playing but have grown curious after having my mug imposed upon them in Bass Player magazine! (laughs) Pondering the Sushi is my musical "other side". It's the kind of music toward which I gravitate if given the freedom. It was a tremendously gratifying experience to complete that project, and the feedback has been really encouraging. I think what resonates with listeners is that I tried to be accessible without adhering to the "smooth jazz formula", and entertaining without turning it into an over-the-top fusion fest. I just tried to give the listener the sense that this was a group of living, breathing musicians telling a few musical stories, in a reasonably organic, vibey, and occasionally quirky way!

BAJ: I believe the inside cover of "Pondering..." shows a photograph of you with a beautiful MTD 7-string. Is that your main instrument now? Also, which instruments did you play on the disc?

NS: Ahhh, yes...the MTD 735! What an incredible instrument! Actually, it is not my main axe, though... I tried for about 2 weeks to transfer all of my "bag" over to the 7... But, then came the overwhelming question, "WHY?" ha! It is just too much instrument... too much fingerboard expanse... too many strings to mute, etc... to make it my primary instrument. I will always be a 5-string player. In my mind, it is the perfect balance of range and manageability. However, the 735 was tremendous for this project, allowing me to do a lot of chordal, melodic and solo passages in a register that my MTD 535 couldn't attain. I think the 735 recorded really well, too! The other instruments I used on Pondering the Sushi include a Modulus Graphite Quantum 5-String with piezo bridge, a Peavey B-Quad Fretless 5-string with panning strings (ala Brian Bromberg), and a 70's Fender P-Bass with flatwound strings.

BAJ: Tell us about your great relationship with Michael Tobias, and the MTD basses he's built for you.

NS: Michael is a super guy and brilliant Luthier. It is a real honor to know him and be associated with him and his amazing instruments. I met him a number of years ago after having a couple of phone discussions during which I agonized over wood choices and colors for the 535 I ordered! I ended up doing a clinic in the Northeastern U.S., so I was able to drop by and personally pick up my bass from his shop in New York. Bear in mind that I was getting this bass sight unseen - with no real idea of what it was going to look or sound like! All I knew was that it was going to be a 5-string, and blue! Well, I walked in, met the man, and he pointed over to his worktable at this blue-ish brown masterpiece. To this day, I've never played a bass I prefer to this one. Thus began a beautiful friendship! (laughs) He subsequently built me my 735, and has sold a number of 535's to folks who've either fallen in love with mine after attending a clinic, or seeing the Bass Player ad. I try to visit Michael at least once, or twice, a year - usually when I have a gig in the New York area. We share a passion for good food, which is plentiful in his area due to its proximity to a renowned culinary school... it's always a great hang!

BAJ: Are you still playing the Carvin hollow-body electric/acoustic 5-string as your main fretless bass? I love that instrument's sound...

NS: Thanks, man. Yes, I love it too. It is my main fretless! When I'm home, I usually travel with a double gig bag that contains my 535 and this Carvin. As far as I'm concerned, it's the hippest of Carvin's contributions to the bass world to date! I've played a whole bunch of other acoustic bass guitars, many costing exponentially more than the Carvin, and have yet to find one that surpasses it for playability and tone. The other cool thing is that this bass is utterly immune to the feedback tendencies that plague most other acoustic bass guitars - due to the relatively shallow body. It is the bomb!

BAJ: Will the disc be released in the US, or only as an import?

NS: I have not actively pursued distribution in the US, although "indie" interest has been expressed. In this genre, it just seems that such distribution doesn't have a lot of benefit for folks other than the Larry Carlton's of the world. This was definitely impressed upon me by several established jazz artists I know in LA - who strongly urged me to keep it as a self-release vs. going with a smaller independent label. I suppose if a well-established label expressed a true interest in getting it out there, I would consider it. Thankfully, there is a fair amount of interest in this project simply from folks who've been to a clinic, seen the videos, or the various advertisements... So, direct orders from my website: (www.normstockton.com) have been reasonably consistent. Otherwise, I'm more interested in getting distribution established in Europe and Japan - where this style of music is more broadly embraced, and where the internet maybe isn't quite as viable or established as a marketing tool. Hotwire Records in Germany has expressed the intention to include a track on the upcoming bass compilation, Bass Talk 7.

BAJ: When and where did you record "Pondering..."?

NS: I recorded it pretty much throughout 2000, and it was recorded literally all over the US. Much of the tracking was done using my Roland VS-1680, which I packed in a flight case and carried with me on my trips. As a result, I did tracking in hotel rooms, green rooms, and churches all over America. The most memorable sessions for me were tracking a Latin horn section in a church's green room in Orange County! I also captured some fabulous work by Kansas City guitarist Kevin Rogers - in a totally impromptu recording session in a Raleigh, North Carolina hotel room! There was another great session when I recorded my solo bass version of the national anthem while looking out over Manhattan one evening last May! Pondering the Sushi will be profiled in the upcoming edition of the Roland Users Guide publication - as it was totally enabled by their VS technology. I had a blast doing this project, and I'm really grateful to have had the opportunity.

BAJ: Are you touring in support of the disc? Also, are you slated to begin sessions for a follow-up disc?

NS: I am presently getting a band together to do some live gigs, or "Live Sushi", if you will. (laughs) The challenge will be to assemble the group in a manner that balances the musical needs while keeping it small enough to make traveling feasible. Based solely on economic considerations, it's pretty hard to take 6 or 7 cats on the road anymore. As far as a follow-up disc, I'm still recuperating and regrouping in the aftermath of this production! I'm confident that there will be another CD, but I probably won't begin actively working on that for another year or so.

BAJ: Let's talk about the "Grooving" videos, and how that started...

NS: The Grooving for Heaven videos came about in response to so many folks at clinics expressing that they'd really dig it if I could hang out with them personally for a few more days, and really give them the one-on-one thing. Obviously, that wouldn't be feasible from a practical standpoint, but it got me thinking, "If I COULD hang out for a few more days, what would I share with this person?" The Grooving videos are just that... They contain much of what I consider to be the essentials of being a functional bassist, and not just in the worship environment. The positive response I continue to receive from both secular and Christian sources, including the endorsement by none other than Abe Laboriel Sr., has been unbelievably encouraging.

BAJ: Right on! Abe is an incredible player, and a wonderful human being! It's pretty obvious that your target audience is the Christian bassists. Was that because there was no such thing in the marketplace, previously?

NS: Well, it is true that I wasn't aware of any other resources targeting bassists in the church setting (perhaps there actually were, and I just wasn't hip to them). However, I definitely wasn't exclusively targeting Christian bassists; 95% of what I covered is totally applicable to any musical context.

BAJ: Do you plan to release a video that is more universally oriented, or is the instruction of Christian bassist your decided niche?

NS: You know, I do really dig encouraging and building up folks who are "ministers of groove", so to speak! But as I said, my focus is not at all limited solely to players in the worship setting. The vast majority of my private students aren't Christians, and I've no intent to limit my view to the church exclusively. Not to go off on too much of a tangent... But I think it's worthwhile to clarify: Everything I do as a musician, and as a person, is a reflection of my relationship with God and a response to the tangible, astounding things He's done in my life... whether I'm playing in a worship setting; doing a club gig; hanging out over Starbucks with some friends, or spending time with my family. I don't, at all, subscribe to the notion that we Christians should go live in a commune and be introverts. Christ called us to be Light and Salt to this world. I'm totally inspired by musicians who are believers, yet are totally relevant and pursue both their faith and their music wholeheartedly and without compromise... guys like Abe Laboriel Sr., Alex Acuna, Will Kennedy, John Patitucci, Justo Almario, etc. I've received some really great feedback from non-Christians who've viewed the Grooving video's as well. As a matter of fact, the Bass Frontiers magazine review was a case in point. I think a player can easily see that a huge part of what I discuss in the Grooving curriculum is fully relevant to music in general.

BAJ: Is there a book in the works, or other types of instructional materials forthcoming?

NS: I'm brainstorming a bunch of different things along those lines, but nothing has solidified yet. Some possibilities include a music-minus-one book & CD set for the Pondering the Sushi CD, or a Grooving for Heaven Volume 3 that takes over where Volume 2 left off, and progresses well beyond. Some folks have expressed an interest in a Grooving for Heaven clinic, which could be a lot of fun and is something I'm checking into presently. One of these days, when my computer folks get my "group e-mail" function back up and running, I'm going to bounce these ideas off the folks who've registered in the guestbook at my website, and see what people are really after.

BAJ: Can you give us a list of discs you've played on as a session bassist?

NS: Actually, my discography isn't that extensive, as most of my recording has been for artists at the local or regional level. A few higher profile projects might include: former Fattburger guitarist Steve Laury's Vineland Dreams (CTI) - which reached #7 on jazz radio charts; Peter Shambrook's Live at Cafe Lido (Frontline) - which featured Rob Mullins on piano. Also there is a Christmas compilation CD (Oasis Music) - where I contributed bass on a very hip arrangement of "What Child is This?" with Sparrow recording artists Luna Halo. Otherwise, most of my "name recognition" associations have been in the live setting.

BAJ: Give us more of a peek at your home recording set-up, and also tell us your views on the importance of home recording... and practicing! What are you practicing these days?

NS: I have a Roland VS-1680, as well as a 16-track ADAT studio with BRC, etc. I'm really not into becoming a serious engineer with serious ("$ERIOU$"!!) stuff - ALA ProTools and the like! Who knows, I might eventually have to go down that road. But I already feel like I spend more time looking through manuals than actually making music. Isn't that a major frustration with being a musician these days? It IS cool that the technology is accessible for pro-quality stuff to be done in home studios... But, I'm just constantly trying to gauge how much of it I really need to acquire. As far as I'm concerned... as long as I can track something with reasonable fidelity to a format that I can take to a big studio for mixing & mastering... I'm perfectly content. Hence, the VS-1680 and ADAT's totally fulfill my requirements! I am spending any practice time these days investing in improving my time, broadening my assimilation of the fingerboard, and developing my jazz vocabulary. I really got into jazz through the back door, having come from a rock background. So, I am confident that I will spend the rest of my life exploring that enormous world. Otherwise, I'm always exploring new slap techniques.

BAJ: I'm hip. Where will the next year see from Norm Stockton?

NS: More clinics around North America with Maranatha Music, and possibly some Grooving for Heaven clinics at various music shops in those same cities while I'm there. There will probably touring, in support of Pondering the Sushi. The media has been very favorable toward the project (if anyone's interested, they are invited to peruse the "Press Reviews" area of my mp3 site at the following link: http://artists.mp3s.com/info/255/norm_stockton.html ). But, hopefully LISTENERS will come out and support the "Live Sushi" gigs and/or Grooving for Heaven clinics! By the way, my road schedule is always available on the "Haps" page at my website, and I really enjoy meeting folks who've "met" me while surfing the Internet.

BAJ: Finally, you mention cooking and other aspects of "every-day life" in your videos. What are some of your other interests, and how do those elements influence you as a player?

NS: Actually, my interest in cooking is purely as spectator... and also as partaker! I'm not much of a cook myself (just ask my wife!). My other interests include sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing (is it apparent that I spent 5 years of my childhood in Hawaii?), and spending time with my incredible wife and daughters. They are such a treasure to me.

BAJ: Thank you for your time, Norm



This page reproduced by the kind permission of GlobalBass.com.

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