Rick McLaughlin, bassist and Assistant Chair of the NEC Prep Jazz Department, is awesome. Explanation isn’t even necessary. When you meet him, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
About Rick McLaughlin: Rick grew up in the Midwest, but just recently passed the “halfway” mark, meaning he’s spent just a little bit more than half of his life in greater Boston. He moved here in 1992 to attend the Berklee College of Music, but ended up getting both his BM and MM from NEC. He feels blessed to be the father of two young kids and lives in one of the ‘burbs (one of the more urban ones!). He bikes into Boston 3-4 days each week and coaches youth soccer. He currently has no pets, but feels lucky to have had a dog named Walter for Walter’s entire life.
Fun fact: Walter (Rick’s dog) was named for Walter Page, the influential jazz double bassist known for a style of playing called walking, which Rick and Walter did quite a bit.
Rick McLaughlin teaches private jazz bass lessons and various Jazz classes (History of Jazz, Jazz Theory II, and Jazz Theory III) at NEC Prep and is also a faculty member at NEC School of Continuing Education. Also, as Assistant Chair, he takes care of various administrative duties, alongside Department Chair of Jazz, David Zoffer.
Q&A with Rick McLaughlin
What is your earliest musical memory?
My father is a musician, a jazz drummer, and taught music in the public schools. Several memories blend together: him practicing drums and vibraphone in our basement; a concert band performance he gave as a member of the percussion section, and a drum solo from that same concert; the sound of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road coming from Dad’s reel to reel player and Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits on Capital Records coming from the turntable (not at the same time, although that would be very interesting). I have no idea which was first!
What made you choose bass?
My father helped. At that time, he was teaching junior high band, and had an electric bass at school. I was playing alto saxophone, and was dabbling with playing bass lines baritone saxophone. I asked Dad to bring home an electric guitar so I could start working on some rock music, but he brought home an electric bass instead. After playing one note, I was hooked. Double bass came along a few years later, when I was working as a teenager in a local music store. The luthier had a double bass in a bunch of pieces, and agreed to put it together for me. I had gigs lined up on double bass before he finished the work!
Are there any musicians in your family?
In addition to my father, his father played cello and alto saxophone, and my mother’s mother was a church organist at a Lutheran Church – my great-grandfather was the minister.
If you could be anything other than a musician, what would you be?
I love all the arts, so probably a photographer or author, or arts administrator… or a professional cyclist… or a chef.
What do you like doing outside of music?
I love being a dad more than anything else. That means cooking, coaching soccer, doing elementary school homework, reading Harry Potter out loud, and a million other fun things.
Most inspiring composer or piece of music?
Too many to mention! I love Wayne Shorter’s current band, and have been honored to know, study with, and play with musicians like Bob Moses, George Russell, and Steve Lacy. Mahmoud Ahmed, the phenomenal Ethiopian singer, is a constant source of inspiration, whether I’m playing with him or not.
What are the last 3 pieces/songs you listened to?
“Blues in Orbit” by George Russell, but from the Gil Evans record Svengali; “The Earth Died Screaming” by Tom Waits from his record Bone Machine; “Serrado” from Djavan’s album Alumbremento.
What do you love most about NEC Prep?
The positive, high-energy curiosity that enthusiastic kids and their parents bring to the school.
What’s the best piece of musical advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?
Steve Lacy told me that the best way to compose is to write down your idea, then fold it up and put it in your pocket. Then, go grocery shopping, or do some other relatively mundane activity. Every now and then, stop moving, take out the paper, look at your idea, and mull it over. The act of mulling it over is an essential part of the process.
Any advice for young musicians in general?
Do not be limited by genre. And, once you have played a great deal of repertoire, deeply understand the music from both historical and theoretical points of view, and have accomplished a relatively high level of technical facility, begin to make musical decisions for yourself. The greatest artists of the past century have transcended genre, and have had a DIY approach to their playing and their career. Speaking of career, it is your responsibility to make a career for yourself; no one will make it for you, but if you work hard, treat people with respect, and approach the world around you with humility, many people will help you.
See, I told you he’s awesome.