June 25, 2022
Originally from Lima, Peru, bassist Jorge Roeder has become renowned as one of the most versatile and expressive bass players today. Combining a symphonic imagination with the intimate lyricism of a folk musician, the aggressive energy of a raw rocker with the buoyant rhythmic sensibilities of his Afro-Peruvian roots, Roeder conveys a wide spectrum of influences within a resolute foundation. In his hands, says the Ottawa Citizen, “the music feels like it’s dancing from the ground up.”
2020-2021, pandemic aside, were years in which I was part of “Squint” by Julian Lage, “Human” by Shai Maestro and “New Masada Quartet” by John Zorn. The latest records I did with the three bands I play with are truly my favorites. Plus, in January of 2020, I recorded “El Suelo Mío”, my first solo album. So, these past years have yielded works of which I’m most proud.
I see my role in the musical worlds that I contribute to as flexible. Aside from the more traditional bass role of “holding it down”, I feel I’m encouraged to instigate, disrupt, create new improvisational paths. It’s a role that I think everyone in the band has, and it’s very satisfying to see my bandmates transcending the traditional roles of their instruments and become vehicles for catharsis. I am so lucky to work with people that aside from being absolutely mind-bendingly incredible musicians - who, by the way, don’t need the bass to spell anything out for them - are so open-minded as to not only allow for this, but to eagerly encourage it, thus welcoming a nightly risk.
I started on guitar at age 8. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t know I was allowed to quit. I didn’t want to disappoint my mom, so I kept it going for years. When I was 13, grunge and alternative rock were ubiquitous, and I got very much sucked into that world. Started a band with school friends playing covers of Nirvana, Radiohead, The Cranberries, Live, REM, Soundgarden, etc. The band had one too many guitar players so I was assigned the bass. I took the role to heart, and I started dissecting the bass part on every recording I heard, playing along with the radio, figuring out every bass line I could. I grew fond of bands that had creative bass lines. At around the same age I started playing the cello, and a whole other scene of classical music was happening around me. I got to play with a symphony orchestra, study abroad with cello masters, but my heart wasn’t quite with the instrument. Every time I played in an orchestra, I envied the double basses. In my senior year in high school I made the switch, and I fell deeply in love with the instrument. It seemed like the perfect merging of my cello and electric bass worlds. Jazz shortly ensued…
At a low point in my career I had the immense honor of meeting Charlie Haden. He gave me words of encouragement that helped me get out of my head. I am forever grateful to him, and his body of work has been such a huge guiding light in my approach to music. He was the main influence for “El Suelo Mío.”
Right before the pandemic hit, I had a pinched nerve in my neck that rendered my right arm unusable. It was a very scary moment, in which I had to entertain the possibility of not being able to keep playing. I had to cancel recordings, tours, shows, etc. Luckily, the pandemic also canceled most things at about the same time, and gave me time to rest and reassess how I was treating my body. I slowly re-learned how to play, how to stand, how to use my back, hands and arms in a less abusive way when playing. My only regret is not doing this work earlier.
Right now my favorite tool is my Grace Felix preamp/blender. I travel everywhere with it. It helps me to send two very high quality signals (DI and microphone) to the PA of any venue I play in. Therefore I can have a fairly consistent tone when playing live.
Well, this may only apply to people with similar personality types as me, but I’d say: Don’t wait for it. There’s no one out there to save you - and that is a good thing! You have to figure out your own path. In the world of music it may appear that we all have the same goals, but we most certainly do not. My goals, in short:
1. Cathartic joy on stage
2. Enough money to pay the bills
Both are constant goals, never ending. I may achieve them every night, or every month in the case of my second goal. But there’s no guarantee that they will be achieved tomorrow or next month. During COVID both goals were impossible to achieve. And yet I am happy. I think flexibility and adaptability are very important, and what allowed me to not despair. You may have slightly/totally different goals, and that is fine. But acknowledging these goals is what leads you down your path.
You will hopefully encounter great teachers, mentors, colleagues that may help you see the way ahead. It is good to have paradigms, even living ones. But they can only do so much for your artistic development. Especially since, in my belief, the Art of Music tends to benefit greatly from being deeply personal. The one thing you have to offer that is truly unique is you. We tend to forget this since we try to imitate, emulate, honor other people. The Masters, as we often say. This is very helpful at the earlier stages of musical development, when one is trying to learn the language. But I think it is necessary to be able to cultivate and discern your own voice.
Also, do try to keep an open mind. It’s hard, and it’s constant work, since the world is out to close it. It feels like a conundrum to have some preconceived notions not affect your musical decision-making, but it’s what helps to enter musical situations with as much openness as possible. This is of course on a scale, and in the context of years of learning the craft and experience with performance.
I tend to favor headphones to speakers when I work for various reasons, one being that I live in an apartment in New York. Headphones are such an important part of my work, since I’m able to record, play along recordings, learn new music, create new musical exercises for myself, all this without worrying about being a noisy neighbor.
I’d like to add that playing with John Zorn’s New Masada Quartet is such a wonderful trip. It’s so unique to have a conductor in an improvised setting. It may seem incongruous on paper, but it makes total sense with Zorn, because in music, he really knows what’s up. Over the years I have developed a decent radar for what makes sense in music, but his radar is truly other-worldly. Gifted beyond measure. And he puts that radar to great use in real time, having the ability to play, see the road ahead, and conduct with so much speed and agility. And intention! Playing with him is a very fast-paced, intense, focused work, and such a joy and adrenaline rush at the same time. And having Julian there, an incredible force of nature and such a dear friend. And Kenny! Bringing the intensity to stratospheric heights. Having admired the Masada book for so many years, it’s a dream come true to bring new light to these songs.
The LCD-X headphones really have changed my listening experience. They have unlocked a series of nuances in the tracks that I know - I now hear things that were hidden before. I've been using them to listen to final mixes and masters, and they allow for a very detailed and more efficient evaluation. They also make the listening process far more enjoyable than before, being so comfortable and having such an incredible sound - they make me want to listen to more music!