Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2017: Buster Williams (Festival Edition)

Luc Guenette

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Luc Guenette was playing the electric bass in high school until Steve Kirby put an upright in his hands at the U of M Summer Jazz Camp. He says he had to build the right muscles to hold it and deal with never-ending blisters, but he wouldn’t dream of switching now. He leads Sir Luc and the Dukes, a jazz-fusion dance band, and is one of a posse of young livewires hosting a new Thursday night jam at X-Cues on Sargent. When he’s not sending out good vibes on the bandstand, he’s developing his craft as a luthier, attending to these sensitive instruments as they deal with Winnipeg’s climate.

How do you describe the role of the bass?

The bass is the bridge between rhythm and harmony. A great bassist needs to maintain the groove continuum, but also be melodic and quick-witted enough to work with the drummer to build, change, and grow a piece. I love being able to subtly enhance what other musicians on the bandstand are playing with my rhythmic and melodic choices. A good drummer is always doing this, so why can’t we?
I love being able to make people move with music. Playing the upright bass, your body and hands are already positioned like you’re dancing with someone, so it feels natural to play rhythms that make you want to move. As the instrument becomes natural, you notice the audience is dancing with you. James Jamerson, one of my favourite bassists, remembers attaching a rubber band to a piece of wood as a kid, then sticking it in an ant hole and playing for the ants to dance.

Who are your jazz bass icons?

John Clayton! He truly is one of the most versatile artists. As a bassist, he has had an incredible career, playing with the Basie Band, Diana Krall, and Quincy Jones, to name a few, and he studied with one of my other bass idols, Ray Brown. As an educator, he was on the board of the Jazz Education Network (JEN) and has a YouTube channel where he teaches you basic bass technique. As a composer, he co-leads the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and has written for enormous names like Yo-Yo Ma and Whitney Houston. I had coffee with him in San Diego at the JEN conference a few years back and I can say that he is one of the nicest people I have ever met.

Who’s on your playlist at the moment?
For a long time, I listened to a single record so much that I could sing every part of every song on the record, and everyone around me would be tired of hearing it. Now I’m using music streaming services to find one new album every week to broaden my library. Still, I have some favourites that I listen to a lot:

  • Christian McBride’s Kind of Brown. Christian puts on a bass masterclass on every album.
  • D’Angelo’s Voodoo. These guys play waaaaay behind the beat and it’s perfect.
  • Erykah Badu’s But You Caint Use My Phone. These covers about telephones are great. The drum part on “Hello” is a standout.
  • Frank Sinatra’s Live at The Sands. This is Frank at his best, with Count Basie’s Orchestra playing some of Quincy Jones’ most incredible arrangements. So many powerhouse musicians!
  • Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny. Why? Bassist Paul Chambers.
  • Chet Baker’s Chet. This album of ballads was one of my first jazz inspirations. Chet wanted so much to get the Miles Davis sound that he hired Miles’ rhythm section.

Tell us about your band, Sir Luc and the Dukes.

I think of Sir Luc and the Dukes like a soup pot—the soup stock is jazz, and we just keep adding different genres of music that each of us like to play. It lets us revisit music we loved before we got into serious jazz study, and bring those tunes to another level. Most importantly, we want everyone to dance! At our Cube Lounge gig at the Jazz Festival, people will hear arrangements of Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and others.

As a jazz grad making your way in the world, what has jazz taught you about life?

Be humble. Support and love your neighbour, and help them grow. In return, you will help grow an inclusive and supportive community. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to play and hear wonderful music in Winnipeg, so it’s important to continue to make it flourish!

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