Playin’ Around With Playbook: Nate Farrington
Hey everyone! This past week on Playin’ Around With Playbook, Sammy and I stepped out of our comfort zone to speak with classical bassist Nathan Farrington to get his perspective on jazz.
Nathan Farrington has been the principal bassist for LA Opera since 2016. He regularly appears in the bass sections of many of America’s top orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, and the Seattle Symphony.
He also pursues chamber music and solo opportunities avidly. He has appeared at the Marlboro Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, the Olympic Music Festival, the Chamber Fest in Cleveland, and at the Da Camera Society. Wherever he is performing, Nathan makes sure to take along his trusty guitar and paris singing and playing operatic arias and folk songs alongside his bass playing.
In addition to his performance interests, Nathan is deeply interested in cinema. His LA based audio company, Hazard Audio, connects top classical minds with the artistic minds in movie and TV production. His life in each of these fields has helped him engage in new and interesting projects highlighting the natural strengths of each of the two worlds.
Below is a transcript of our conversation on March 17th, 2022. Click here to view the full interview.
TRISTA FORD: What have you been listening to lately?
NATHAN FARRINGTON: I’ve been listening to Daphne Creato, a latin jazz monster we’ve been working on a project with to bring to the American Concert Hall.
TF: Who inspired you to pursue bass, was there a particular educator or bassist?
NF: My mother ruled with an iron fist. I was playing piano when I was three years old, although I’m a little bit dyslexic. So we were into this situation where I was progressing pretty quickly in terms of the difficulty level of what I was capable of playing, but my reading wasn’t progressing at the same speed. If I could memorize it, I could play some pretty hard stuff. I was frustrated and miserable to read this stuff effectively. I made everybody around me miserable as a result, like it was just awful. You got a screaming three year old who never wants to be on it. My mom was like, screw it, baselines are much simpler. There’s one line, I’ve got a friend who teaches the bass, let’s get him out of the piano lesson and into something else. Everybody needs a bass player. Maybe we’d get some money for college. That was it. Like she switched me over and it just worked.
SAMMY MILLER: Why do you think you’re not afraid to break? Why is it that you’re so different from most classical musicians in terms of sensibility with this kind of stuff?
NF: At the heart of what I enjoy about music is collaboration. There’s a moment in a young musician’s life, where the music making, if they’re going to go do it for real, they’re really going to fall into this sort of obsession that it takes to dedicate your life to it. The community and identity become a part of who they are and what they associate with in terms of the instrument and where the instrument fits in their life. That’s what’s actually so interesting about Playbook is that it very clearly expands the community opportunity, and gives you a chance to more easily plug in with other people and learn from other people. You can spend your time virtually, not just completely alone, but growing. The fun of the whole thing to me is producing someone else’s dishes on the highest level, and there’s nobility in that, and there’s amazing teamwork that can go into doing that. But that’s not the same thing as receiving other people’s energy and understanding of who they are and hearing what that means and being a part of it.
TF: Do you notice any changes in musical students like exploring today versus when you started out?
NF: At the heart of what was prescribed at conservatory is this really interesting notion that the score itself is an almost religious reverence given to what’s on the page, particularly those classical masters. As you delve into their accomplishments and coming up with what they came up with, you understand how that works and and it promotes this idea that you are but a simple vessel through which their genius can flow. It imposes a lot of guidelines and it takes your ego out of the equation for a while, while you get better at the instrument. Eventually, it dawns on you that an instrument is an expressive tool that’s meant not to deliver just simply the genius of Beethoven or Bach, but rather, is there to help me express my relationship with Beethoven and Bach. That’s the crux of the biggest epiphany that I’ve had as a musician since I left school. What does live music actually provide? You have YouTube right now where you can go find 100 years of people playing this music beautifully. And so what is the point? Why is it important to get up and go experience something in a live way? You go there to see if it means something to you, and you go there to determine what it means to you. I think that’s the only thing that live music really has to offer. I would say that’s been the big development of my thinking. I don’t want to see Sammy just channel his favorite jazz guys’ tune. I want to see Sammy’s interaction with that tune. I want to feel his ideas in that tune. I want to judge him for it and see what it did to me and see what it did to the music and it’s the only real meaningful excuse to me about why we should invest in live music.
TF: Why do you feel platforms like Playbook are so important for young students today?
NF: The communal aspect is what sustains you when you’re not fabulous at the instrument, but you’re pursuing it with all your might. It’s that communal pursuit of being able to express yourself. It’s a long pursuit, and the thing that sustains you is other people pursuing it as well. It becomes part of who you are and becomes part of who they understand you to be and it is a vehicle to promote that side of things. It is a slog inside that practice room alone when you’re young, and when you’re not that capable on the instrument. It can be rough. I think that playbook is an incredibly versatile tool for that moment in time.