'It's about sharing what you know, who you are," says master Philly bassist Gerald Veasley says. That's why he, his wife Roxanne, and his pal Lee Patterson started the Bass BootCamp in 2002. For its 14th iteration this weekend, they're all heading to Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West.
"There are unanticipated rewards to be found at the camp," Veasley says. "So many people come, thinking that they're going to get tips on how to better play bass, and wind up with real-life breakthroughs." Bassists conquer fears, develop camaraderie, and embrace community.
Currently, Veasley is finishing two recordings: one, a series of no-overdub, "garage-jazz" tracks known as the Purple House Project; the other, his takes on the Philadelphia soul canon: "You Are Everything" as a jazz ballad, or "Wake Up Everybody" as a gospel cut.
All that on his plate, and still, he and his wife ("I'm good at dreaming; she's good at executing") manage their yearly Bass BootCamp, an idea inspired by bassist Victor Wooten's music and nature retreats in Tennessee.
For its first 13 years, Bass BootCamp was held outside the city: in Reading, near the Berks Jazz Festival; on a Smooth Jazz Cruise; somewhere away. This year, it's at the Crowne Plaza, with all-day intensive workshops, study sessions, motivational speakers, free technology expos (Saturday only) and, for those who can't sleep, after-midnight sessions.
"You have to leave the world behind - business, family - and immerse yourself in an environment where you'll feel the freedom to play in public when, for the most part, you were probably only playing in private," Veasley says.
Veasley wants you to show what you don't know and tear down the walls of ego as he, the instructors (such as, this year, Doug Wimbish of Living Colour), and fellow student bassists create a loving vibe of support.
The criteria for instructors is simple: Challenge students, but be respectful and human.
"I don't want players that need their egos massaged, instructors who set themselves apart as stars," Veasley says. "We're in close quarters for a short time, so the students shouldn't be embarrassed to play in front of you. They need to feel immediately that you're human, approachable."
Like his brand of jazz, Veasley is mellow, soulful, and quick to improvise. He's so chilled out and nice, it's hard to think of him with a gruff boot-camp mentality.
"The [boot camp] name is a misnomer," he says with a laugh. "There are no push-ups, and nobody berating you. It is challenging, especially in its number of hours - over 30 - and how much we expect of you. There is no hiding. Everybody must play."