7 min read

Interview With Rick Kilburn

Rick Kilburn
Anubhav Chakraborty

September 18, 2021 7 min read

Rick Kilburn, a former New York City resident, has received four Canadian JUNO awards, has formerly shortlisted for a Grammy, and has received other west and east coast awards for his extensive work with musicians as a jazz record producer. As a bassist, he has worked with the elite of the jazz world including Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Diana Krall, Paul Desmond, Lionel Hampton, Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, Joanne Brackeen, Mose Allison, and countless others. Always with a recording project on the go as a record producer, bassist Kilburn performs currently through live streaming and online events. The short film documents Kilburn’s life and includes solo jazz improvisation, film clips of Kilburn performing, photographs, and stories.

Hi Rick! It’s a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for taking the time to do this. The first question that I am meaning to ask is, what do you think would have happened if your father had an extra guitar lying around when you were growing up? 

Hello AC! The pleasure is all mine. Thanks for being interested. It’s funny to remember back to the days when I was just discovering Music and realizing that I wanted to pursue Music as a career and Lifestyle. Dad’s 1952 Gibson Les Paul caught my attention very early on and I wonder if it was simply because it had a shiny Gold Top. lol! I  believe that even if we had two guitars, I would have ended up as a Bass Player. The guitar requires a certain mind to play and sadly, I’m not from the guitar mold.

You have been working for more than 5 decades. What do you consider your most fulfilling achievement so far?

Yes, I have been playing Bass for 58 years now and in that period of time have enjoyed many rich experiences through music. My most fulfilling achievement so far without a doubt would have to be living in New York City as a Jazz Bassist for a decade. Moving to New York opened up the possibilities of playing with so many great, and established musicians.

There’s something very interesting that you mentioned elsewhere about occupying your physical body with your spirit body at a minimum ratio of 51% spirit to 50% physical body when talking about the spirituality of the art.  Could you please elaborate on your spiritual pursuit of music?

Well, the pursuit of music to me is a spiritual (of the spirit) pursuit. In order to play an instrument both individually and in a group, one must be centered and living in the moment. I look at the 51 percent spirit to 49 percent body as a minimum place to strive for. Thinking in terms of awakeness and not being awake. Funny, I was talking to my Spiritual Adviser Michele Ley, whom I studied with for six years and continue to stay in touch with. I mentioned this concept to Michele and she asked me why I would choose to be 49 percent not awake? Haha! Well, no argument there. The ultimate goal would be to occupy your space with a much higher weighting toward the Spirit. I have experienced  times while playing where I have felt like I was so in the moment while playing that it felt like I could do no wrong.

Growing up in a musical atmosphere, what inspired you most?

It was fantastic to have a family so interested in Jazz music. When I was a young fellow, before my teens, famous musicians would come over to our house to visit Dad. I remember playing card games with Wes Montgomery and his two brothers Monk and Buddy. They didn’t seem to mind getting down on the floor and playing with me. I’m sure that had a big influence on me and the way I viewed musicians.

You grew up in Canada and then moved to New York?  How was the transition from Canada to New York and back to Canada?

I actually moved to Edmonton first as I heard that Dave Young was moving there to play Principal Bass with the Edmonton Symphony. I stayed in Edmonton for two years studying with Dave and playing with Dale Hillary’s band Hourglass. I then Moved to Boston in order to study Arranging and Composition at The Berklee College Of Music.

Which was the turning point of your musical career?

One Sunday afternoon, I was playing with a quartet led by Clarinetist/Composer Robert Fritz, at a church tea concert. There were three women and a man in the audience. The women were members of the Church and the man was a friend of Roberts’. I was happy to be introduced to Jerry Bergonzi. It shows you that even with a tiny audience, things can happen. You just have to show up and play your best all the time. I didn’t have a phone in Boston but about three months after this gig, I received a message to call Jerry and once I reached him, I found out that the Bassist with the Darius Brubeck ensemble (Earthrise) was leaving and would I be interested in moving to New York City to play with Darius Brubeck along with Two Generations of Brubeck. Only one answer to that question! YES!!! This set me up to play with Dave Brubeck, and family, and friends and eventually move on to the Mose Allison Trio who I worked with for many years.

Except for Jazz, which genre of music fascinates you? 

I love Latin and Brazilian Music! Particularly Cuban and Puerto Rican styles in Latin. I had the great pleasure in New York to play with Gusto Almerio’s Latin Big Band and while in Boston, I was fortunate enough to play with the great Brazilian Trumpetter, Claudio Roditi who introduced me to Chet Baker and Airto Moreira and Flora Purim and Stan Getz.

If you could go back in history and work with any musician, whom would you work with?

I always wanted to play bass in the Bill Evans Trio. I suppose this came about from meeting Scott Lafaro when I was young. His bass playing was so melodic and I strive to play in that way.

Who are your favorite artists? I ask you this because you have compared playing bass with creating abstract art. Are there any particular pieces of art that fascinates you?

Harry Web was a Vancouver Avant Garde artist who was one of the mainstays at the Cellar Jazz Club in the 1950’s and ‘60s. I was John Fischer’s roommate in Tribeca, NY, where we shared a 2000 sq. ft. loft. John, being an Avant Garde painter and sculptor, as well as an Avant Garde pianist and band leader. John’s band was called “Interface.”

How was your experience working with Kerilie McDowall in her beautiful documentary of you?

First of all, when Kerilie asked me to do this documentary, I said no. She asked again, and I said no again.. Lol! Kerilie kept asking until I said yes, I will do it. Kerilie was very relaxed to work with. She created a good environment for story telling and came with a list of questions that she wanted answered. Very organized. Kerilie’s crew were very friendly and accomplished at what they do, as well. I have noticed that when Kerilie takes on a project that she is totally focussed on the task at hand and will work at it until she feels that it’s ready. She certainly did that with InTheZone:Rick Kilburn.

Lastly, being a producer, do you have any advice for the young musicians who are just starting out professionally?

As a young musician starting out, my first thought is that you likely know what style of music you like and who your favourite musicians are.

If you are wanting to play music, then study your favourite musician and copy what they have played.  If you are wanting to be a producer, I suggest that you listen to your favourite producer’s work and see if you can reproduce their sound. Keep at it.. 


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