Dill Katz - Bass

“Rent-a-bass” could be Katz’s calling card. But that of course just refers to one small part of this seasoned player’s arsenal. Not only does he hire out his two uprights to visiting American and European musicians, he’s also been a solid professional for more years than he probably cares to remember, playing with the likes of Nucleus, Paraphernalia and District Six. A well respected teacher, he can also regularly be found laying down the line at one of London’s premier jazz venues, the 606, either with his own quartet or with Steve Rubie’s group Samara.

Growing up with a father who was a classical violinist and a mother who was a classical pianist meant that Katz was immersed in music from an early age. “My parents performed as a duo, as well as being respected teachers.” Katz started his musical journey at the age of ten having some private lessons on the classical guitar, “I guess I agreed to classical guitar lessons to appease my dad, whose regard for populist music was somewhat negative!” Katz would later have private lessons on the double bass – again classical. “This had nothing to do with school,” says Katz. “It wasn’t particularly noteworthy for having a good music department. My only musical contribution at school was to form The Nocturnes, a ‘Shadows style’ group with talent drawn from two local grammar schools.”

“Music college – what music college? The truth is out! I’m ‘formally self taught’, as Jaco put it. In my teens I had been listening to a lot of populist guitar culture, before I started to embrace the whole bebop and post-bebop cult, listening to all those great bass lines.”

Katz started his professional career in 1963 settling in Dublin. “I initially started out as a guitarist, then when the bass player in the band unexpectedly left, I volunteered to take the bass chair. I guess that must have been late-1964. I remember trading in my 61 Strat for a 63 Precision – aaargh, if only I’d kept all those part-exchange axes!”

Back in London Katz became aware that there was a market for hiring out double basses and purchased his first double bass in 1968 for £149 from a player in the Covent Garden orchestra pit. “It was a French Mirecourt and it was in a sorry state [hence the price], so I left it in the capable hands of luthier Neville Whitehead who lovingly brought it back to its original splendour. He had it for over a year. Fortunately he finished it just in time for Eddie Gomez to use when he played a season at Ronnie’s with the Bill Evans Trio.” Katz continues. “As this bass proved to be such a popular hire instrument, I was constantly on the lookout for a similar second instrument to cope with the occasional double booking situations and it wasn’t until sometime around 1983 that I found another Mirecourt sitting in a tiny violin shop which used to be situated by Tower Bridge, and which has sadly since closed down. This bass clearly had a better provenance than the other in terms of the quality of workmanship and a different tonal quality, making it a nice contrasting alternative for the visiting bass players to choose from. Essentially you were either after a Gomez, Clarke, Patitucci or, a Haden, Brown, Grenadier performing instrument!”

Back to bass guitars. “This gets a bit vague,” says Katz. “I traded in the 63 Precision for a Gibson EBO in 1965 – I think it was at Selmers. And then in quick succession I suffered from bad ‘trade in’ deals on a Gretsch and a Fender Mustang at Selmers and Jennings music shops respectively.” This experience clearly coloured Katz’s dealings with the music stores and he has bought all of his subsequent instruments through private hands. “I bought a maple neck/ fretboard Precision and a converted fretless Jazz bass privately in 1973. They were both in very good condition – I believe they were both 1970 vintage. Then I bought a Musicman Stingray (with a maple fretboard) for session work, once again privately from the same source in around 1978, which I still have.” Katz strings up his electrics with medium gauge Elites – “it’s part of a sponsorship deal.” The French Mirecourt uprights get the star treatment though – Pirastro Evah Pirazzis (also part of a sponsorship deal). When it comes to amplifiers, Katz has perhaps understandably, lightened his load. “Throughout the mid-1980s to 2000 I was endorsing Trace Elliot products. But as my lumbago has since become annoying, I’ve moved on to the Ampeg Portabass range of lightweight products. I use two PB 250 pre-amp power amps, one of which I hook up to two PB 112 cabs (12” speakers) for gigs, while the other gets coupled to a PB 11O cab (10” speaker) for rehearsals and teaching.” He continues. “They’re great little units. Not only are they lightweight, they’re also modular and easily portable and they sound exceptionally good – not only for bass guitar but acoustic bass too!”

“My double basses are fitted with David Gage ‘Realist’ pickups. They may not necessarily be the ultimate choice – the Fishman ‘full circle’ is very popular – but I believe the Gage pickup suits the tonal responses of the French Mirecourt basses, taking away the slight tendency towards G string whine and adding the right ratio of bottom end richness without boom.”

“What do I currently play? A 1962 fretted Jazz that I acquired in 1989. And I can only describe it as coming back to a very welcome place!”

– David Gallant

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